Thursday, April 17, 2014

Visiting Disney with Food Allergies

Guest Post by Nina Fabinski, Mom of 2 Food Allergy Kiddos & Disney Vacation Planner

When I found out my son (now 2) was allergic to dairy (and now eggs and peanuts), I thought the world was gonna end.  I didn't know where to start.  I decided the whole house would be dairy-free, and I went Vegan.  I later discovered that my daughter also had food allergies.  Needless to say, I totally freaked.  I needed a vacation to help deal with all this new stress.  But where does one go when life with food allergies seems to be taking over?


Disney is the Most Magical Place on Earth.  And when it comes to food allergies, this is especially true.  Disney prides itself on being awesome with food allergies, and it's the one place at which I feel comfortable vacationing and dining with my family.  

Between both my kids' various allergies and my personal decision to be vegan, Disney is the only place that allows all of us to relax, eat together, and enjoy.  It’s the only time I don’t have to cook or stress over FOOD.  And it’s the one place my kids can be like all the other kids...sitting at a restaurant, eating normal, delicious food, and even enjoying dessert.

Disney takes the time to train all their staff on food allergies, especially the wonderful chefs.  They take food allergies very seriously.  When dining Disney, all you have to do is list your allergies at reservation, and then ask for the chef at mealtime.  The chef will come out and discus your food options and return with the most wonderful meal ever…safe, yummy, and completely special.  

Disney is often the first time a food allergy person can experience a safe doughnut, cupcake, or even pizza.  The looks on my kids' faces when the chef comes out with dairy-free, egg-free, and gluten-free Mickey Waffles melts my heart.  

Disney has Food Allergy Kiosks at Animal Kingdom that sell safe food AND provide information about the safe restaurants throughout the park. 

As a Disney Vacation Planner, I know the in's and out's of booking Disney vacations.  I pair my clients up with the best resort package for their family's needs and find the best deals.  With my personal knowledge of food allergies, I can help people feel safe and comfortable when dining at the parks or on a cruise.  I have countless tips and advice for people dealing with food allergies, including a list of all the quick service restaurants that are better at accommodating food allergies.  I also provide tip cards that help you plan out your days based on crowd levels and hours.  I give out free gifts, and my company has a referral program for spreading the word. 

If you’re considering a Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or Disney Cruise Line Vacation, I can help walk you through the steps to ensure that your vacation is food-safe and magical in every way.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear how wonderful the chefs were, how accommodating the staff was, and how the food was so delicious.  But the best is hearing from parents that their food allergy child was so happy at Disney.

My Disney vacation planning services are actually FREE.  If you would like more information about planning an allergy-safe Disney vacation, please contact me.  I can’t wait to help you plan the most magical vacation ever.

Nina Fabinski – TMC (The Mouse Connection) Travel

About Nina:  Nina has been planning Disney vacations for a few years for family, friends and friends of friends (word spreads).  She just recently started officially working for a travel agency that is Disney-oriented.  Her Disney obsession started long before food allergies, during her honeymoon at "The World".  Before food allergies, she was helping guests with other dietary needs like veganism and paleo.  She has now visited Disney with her own food allergy family three times so far.  This winter they plan to return to Disney with all their new food allergies, and she is looking forward to another fun and safe trip.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Easter with Food Allergies (Part 3) ~ Dairy-Free Menu Plan

We celebrate Easter at Jeff's parents' house as they are very understanding and accommodating of the seriousness of food allergies.

My mother-in-law can even cook safe dishes for Miles, which is awesome.  When we arrive, we all give a last run-down of what we have for Miles to eat. And my MIL is great about saving all the containers, wrappers, boxes, etc. that ingredients came from so we can double check everything one more time.

Miles usually eats the ham cooked by the in-laws.  His pieces are cut first before any cross-contamination can happen.

Then he can have some straight veggies like corn or green beans.

We might make a corn dish, something a little fancier than plain corn since it's a holiday. We do scalloped cream corn.  One can of cream corn and one can of drained corn with crushed saltines over the top and baked in the oven until heated through and bubbly.

We also like to bring the sweet potato dish which is delicious and milk-free. It's your classic potatoes with butter and brown sugar baked in the oven. We just use Earth Balance buttery spread and nobody could guess it's milk-free.

Sometimes I make homemade rolls or bread, like these hot cross buns from Food Allergy Mama.

Jeff's mom usually makes Jello jigglers in festive shapes which are safe....if Miles' pieces are set aside ahead of time.

Then for fruit, we usually make some candied apples using safe butter and brown sugar for something a little more tasteful than plain fruit. Also fruit salads with bananas, apples, pineapple, cherries, etc. are fun. He  doesn't get the jello salads that everyone brings because of ingredients like cottage cheese or sour cream.

As for dessert, I have plenty of cake and cookie recipes to choose from these days! I make enough to share with everyone.

Our Vanilla Cake recipe is very popular this time of the year.  Aren't the bunny cupcakes adorable?!

So tell us, what is on your dairy-free Easter menu?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Easter with Food Allergies (Part 2) ~ Safe Treats & Hunts

Holidays have become a lot about the food, and Easter is no exception.  While I do try my best to make Easter baskets and Easter hunts as fun as possible, I keep in mind that it doesn't ALL have to be about chocolate and candy.

Useful gifts and toys are enjoyed by children as much as sugar so keep that in mind.  Last year we got the boys a CD player for their room and a children's Christian CD.  It's something they still enjoy a year later and remember as a special Easter gift.  :)

Here are some other non-food treats that can be exciting to find in Easter Baskets.  With a handful of non-edibles, you won't have to find as many food treats which is always good for the teeth anyways!  

Non-Food Easter Treats

Fun Band-Aids
Duct Tape
Craft Kits
Coloring Book
Butterfly Net
Stuffed Animal
CD Music
DVD Movie
Video Game
Gift Card
Coupon Booklet
Travel Games

With that said, let's move onto some dairy-free treat options.  You can't get away with NO sweets in the Easter basket, right?!  Always check labels for yourself, though.  Ingredients can change at any time.   

Mainstream Treats for Toddlers

Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs, Lorna Doone

Teddy Grahams
Lorna Doone 100 Cal Packs
Safe Cereal
Mini Oreos Packs

Mainstream Dairy-Free Candy

Fruit Snacks
Name Brand Jelly Beans like Jolly Rancher or Starbursts
Dum-Dum Suckers
Trident Original Gum

Organic Allergy-Free Treats

Easter Lollipops!

Alternative Baking Company Cookies (contains or processed with tree nuts & peanuts)
Lucy's Cookies (contain soy)
Natural Candy Store (one-stop-shop for many of the treats above and more) 

Allergy-Friendly Easter Egg Hunts

We always avoid large community Easter egg hunts.  I don't ever remember enjoying those as a child myself so I don't feel like we are missing out on anything in that regard.  

The ideal Easter egg hunt for us is to just do it with family, cousins, and close friends who know and understand our situation.  You can put together any fun hunt within a backyard or home.

Usually parents give out plenty of chocolate in the morning so it's easy for me to request an "all allergy-free egg hunt" later in the afternoon.  If you can, just offer to bring a couple bags of safe candy.  Have the other parents bring stickers or pennies or something else non-food if they aren't sure what candy is safe.

If you can't get a completely allergy-free hunt going, offer to host one yourself and make it allergy-free.  Or just pass on a hunt if you don't think it will be safe enough.  OR try doing a color-coded hunt where each child hunts a certain color.  Make sure your allergy child has all safe treats in their plastic eggs.  If the hunt has allergen treats in it, though, make sure hands are being washed as needed.  If one child had chocolate, you don't want them touching your child without washing hands first.

If your children are passed the toddler years like mine, you can add some fun to a hunt by making it a scavenger hunt.  I think that is a great alternative to large community cattle calls...uh....I mean Easter egg hunts.

My boys love doing color-coded, scavenger egg hunts with a non-food prize at the end.  That reminds me, I probably need to go Lego shopping soon!  :)

Do you have any other safe treat, gift, or activity ideas for food allergy kids this Easter?  We'd love to hear in the comments.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Milk-Free Find ~ Hebrew National Beef Franks in a Blanket

Hebrew National are our go-to dairy-free hot dogs.  I actually could never eat another kind of hotdog for as long as I live.  Hebrew National taste so good, like real meat, and are not slimy and full of mystery ingredients.  

The hot dogs are not cheap and neither are these new Beef Franks in a Blanket.  But they are such a fun occasional treat when they can be found for a bargain.  They can run about $10 a box, but I have found them on good promotions a few times at Target.  When I do, I snag up a couple boxes.  Today I got two boxes for about $5 each after using my Cartwheel app, my Red Card, and a gift card back promo.  I think there has been Ibotta offers for these, too.  Keep your eyes peeled for the deals. 

I don't buy much processed, frozen food but these are one exception.  They make a great treat for Miles on  "Carry-Out" night.  :)  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Doing Carry-Out with Food Allergies

This is what happens when Mom has been sick for a week...carry-out.  And as you know, carry-out with food allergies isn't exactly an easy thing to do.  So I thought I would show you how we managed it tonight. 

I will preface with a shout-out to my darling husband, who has held down the fort all week.  By that I mean, he's done breakfast and dinner and put the kids to bed while I lie on the couch moaning from sinus pain.  Granted, I didn't get a sick day off this I still had the kids during the day (remember, we home school), but the kids did great in giving me as much rest as I could muster.  And Miles became a pro at making lunch for himself and Graham.  I think I may stick with that little routine!

Anyways, I could tell Jeff had just about had it with kitchen duty.  He was keeping up well through the week but by the weekend, he was over it.  Dirty dishes everywhere, crumbs on the floor, Friday's home school still strewn out on the kitchen was bad.  So as I lie on the couch moaning this afternoon, I offered, "Honey, you deserve a break from making dinners.  Let's get carry-out.".  Actually, I haven't eaten much dinner this week and Panera soup was sounding appetizing.  Maybe that's why I really suggested it?  But either way, Jeff deserved a break.  ;)  

SO, after another dose of Sudafed, a lathering of some essential oils, a glass of hot tea, and a 30 minute catnap, I managed enough gusto to even offer to pick up the food.  I haven't left the house since Tuesday...can you say "ready for some sunshine?!"  

First stop, Panera.  I grabbed my and Jeff's favorite things.  We don't insist they be dairy-free.  

Second stop, this is most important...the health food store.  I grabbed Miles his new favorite "carry-out", Tofurky Pockets.  They didn't have his favorite version, BBQ Chicken, but they did have pepperoni.  He was still pleased.  Just in case there was any chance he might be a little upset about having food allergies on carry-out night, I picked up some So Delicious soy ice cream that would be sure to lighten the mood.  ALSO, the Panera plain potato chips are dairy-free so he got a bag of those, too.  

Third stop, McDonald's.  Graham just loves their hamburgers, but only gets them on special occasions.  We don't let Miles eat there even though I know many of you on Facebook talk about having dairy-free success with some McDonald's items.  Miles has a very severe milk allergy, and we just don't chance anything not pre-packaged and labeled.  I got Graham a hamburger and french fries.  I did not get a Happy Meal because that would upset Miles, and Graham totally gets that.  I love that he is so sensitive to Miles's feelings.  Nobody was getting a new toy tonight.  

Then I headed home with the food from my three stops.  I know some of you handle "carry-out" much differently, and that's ok.  I just wanted to show you what is working for us right now.  We don't do this often, MAYBE once a month.  And everyone seems content.  On the way home I thought about it some.  Really, if we all went into a restaurant, would we all order the same exact dish to make it fair?  No, we would all get our favorite dishes.  That's kind of how I do our carry-out.  Of course Miles can't have Panera or McDonald's, but Tofurky is one of his favorite food treats right now.  Mom didn't make it, and it's safe.  It's working, and I'm glad.  :)  We may have to tweak the system down the road, and we'd be willing in order to keep Miles content.  We are prepared to make changes when needed.

What do you think?  If you are doing carry-out with food allergies, how do you do it?  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Easter with Food Allergies (Part 1) ~ Safety at Family Gatherings

I wrote this post when Miles was two-years-old.  We do some things differently now that he's 7, but these are still good tips for parents of mostly any food allergy age.    

Easter is upon us, and we all want our children to have a fun day. Although planning a holiday around milk allergies can be stressful, it can still be a special celebration if we plan ahead.  Here are some things we do to keep our holidays as safe as possible:

  • If you have a choice, plan to attend the smaller gatherings. The less people, the less chance that someone will feed or offer your child something that's not safe.
  • Plan to celebrate the holiday with people who understand the seriousness of food allergies.
  • Communicate with the hosts and attendees ahead of time to menu plan. If they have been accustomed to your food allergies for some time, they may be willing to make or buy safe foods and you may be comfortable letting your child eat them.
  • Bring a few safe dishes that everyone can enjoy. Dish out your child's portions first and get enough for leftovers. Once it's open to everyone, you don't want to dish out anymore for your child. It may become contaminated with a milky utensil or have unsafe food dropped in it by the time you go back.
  • Pack a safe meal for your child even if you think the family meal will be safe. Something could always happen to mess up the safe family meal so make sure you have back-up.
  • If there are people at your gathering who do not know about your food allergies, do not hesitate to make an announcement (perhaps before the family prayer) that there is a child with food allergies who should not be fed ANYTHING by anybody. If you're still nervous, don't hesitate to put a sticker on them that says, "Do not feed me. I have food allergies."
  • Don't hesitate to pass on someone else's dish even if they say it's milk-free. If you aren't comfortable trying it, just say you brought your child's own food to be safe. Most everyone will understand your caution. And if they don't, it's better to offend someone than to have your child in the ER on the holiday.
  • Keep the dairy foods out of reach of your allergy child as much as possible.
  • Have a special area for the dairy-free foods you don't want anyone to get into.  Label the containers as dairy-free & off-limits.  And even hide them if needed.  
  • Don't hesitate to suggest that everyone wash hands after the meal.  If your allergic child is a baby, people are going to want to hold him or her.  If your child is a toddler or older, he or she will be sharing toys, electronics, etc. with other kids.  
  • If your child is younger, keep him or her in your site at all times. Jeff and I take turns watching Miles. Sometimes Grandma takes a turn too. You never know when those little hands will grab for something.  Or when someone may offer them food.  This means meal time AND play time.  
  • If your child takes daily medication for allergies like Clariton or Zyrtec, make sure they take their dose for the day before going on your outing.
  • Don't forget to pack your EpiPen and Benedryl and medicine dropper/cup!

Do you have any other safety tips for celebrating holidays in a large group?

photo credit

I am linking to Allergy Free Wednesday.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Dairy-Free Taco Lentil Soup

The other night my dinner plan got tossed due to a busy day, and I had to come up with Plan B at 5:00 pm.  Putting together a meat dish was out.  So I used some dried lentils and some fresh chicken broth made the night before and threw this soup together.  It took about an hour total to make.  But with only one pot and 6 simple ingredients, I felt like I had had the night off.  

In the recipe I say 2-3 cups of broth because I started with two and as everyone was going in for multiple servings, I added another cup of broth to stretch it.  To say that this dish was a hit would be an understatement.  We had no leftovers, much to my dismay.  I love reheating soup for lunch!  And this would reheat well because there is no thickening.  Plus, soup is always better the second day after the flavors meld overnight.  What a pity that it was all gone.  But what a success that Miles and Jeff each wanted three bowls!  ;)  And even our picky little Graham chowed down one full bowl.  

The corn?  It MAKES this soup.  It adds a nice sweet touch.  Don't leave that corn out.  Buy GMO-free, organic if you must.  

The broth?  Nothing beats making it homemade but in a pinch, I will use Swanson's.  Check the labels!

The diced tomatoes and blue corn chips I get at Aldi.  :)  

For dairy-free shredded cheese, try Go Veggie or Daiya.  

Alrighty, onto the recipe!  


Makes 6 Servings

2-3 Cups Chicken Broth
1/2 Cup Dried Lentils
1 Can Diced Tomatoes
1/2 - 1 Cup Frozen Corn
2 Tbs Taco Seasoning
Tortilla Chips
Dairy-Free Shredded Cheese (optional)

Pour broth and lentils into a large sauce pan.  Place on medium-high heat until boiling.  Turn down heat to low-medium and cook lentils, covered, for 30-40 minutes until tender.  

Place diced tomatoes in blender and pulse a few times to get rid of big chunks. 

When lentils are cooked and tender, add blended tomatoes, corn, and taco seasoning.  Heat through and serve topped with tortilla chips.  Dairy-free shredded cheese can also be added as a topping.
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