13 Gluten-Free/Allergen-Free Holiday Tips

Posted on November 16th, 2013 by Alison | ADD A COMMENT »

If you are gluten-free or have any other allergy or dietary restriction, it is important to have strategies for navigating the holidays so that you can attend the celebrations stress-free and, hopefully, enjoy them too!

Here are some practical tips for coping with holiday events:

1. TELL THE HOST

There’s nothing worse than going to a dinner and having the host prepare an entire meal that you cannot eat. Make the host aware of your dietary restrictions and you might be pleasantly surprised by the effort that he or she goes through to accommodate you. Gluten-free diets and food allergies are becoming more common and people are more knowledgeable about special diets, so give your host a chance!

2. OFFER TO BRING A DISH

The easiest and most sure-fire way to make sure there is something you can eat at a party is to bring a dish. Whether you purchase something safe or make it yourself, you will be guaranteed not to starve. If it’s desserts you miss most, then bring treats. If bread is what you need, then bring dinner rolls or cornbread. There are many available gluten-free prepared foods and baking mixes that will help to fulfill your cravings.

3. HELP PLAN THE MEAL

Who doesn’t need help with the holiday meal? If the host is a family member or close friend, offer to help plan the menu and even assign dishes to guests if appropriate. That way, you can have some control over what dishes are going to be prepared, or at least you will know ahead of time what the meal will entail.

4. DO THE GROCERY SHOPPING

If you have been living gluten-free or with food allergies for a while, you know your safe foods, which means grocery shopping for your foods is easier for you than for anyone else. So if you are visiting relatives or friends and plan to make a dish while you are there, make time to go to the store. It will take the pressure off of your host and give you assurance that your ingredients are safe.

5. OFFER SUGGESTIONS

What not to do: call your host and say “Oh, by the way, I’m gluten-free. Thanks!” click. Don’t expect your host to know what gluten-free means or how to avoid another ingredient that you are sensitive to. What you can do is offer suggestions for foods that you know are safe. For example, if the host is serving ham, you can let them know some of the brands that are gluten-free: Costco spiral ham, Niman Ranch, Honeybaked Ham (they recently changed their honey glaze recipe to be gluten-free). You could suggest a ready-made gluten-free bread to use for their traditional stuffing recipe and some safe brands of broth (Pacific, Imagine, Kitchen Basics are some).

6. GET IN THE KITCHEN

Holidays hosts will often accept help in kitchen, especially if they get overwhelmed when it gets closer to mealtime and they haven’t finished preparing everything. While you are in the kitchen, you can check ingredients in flavoring packets or canned soups – stuff that goes into those “old favorite” recipes.  Maybe you can even intervene in the gravy-making and use cornstarch or arrowroot starch instead of wheat flour to thicken. If you are not a chef, at least you can get an idea of what you can and cannot eat.

7. ASK QUESTIONS

You’re not going to be able to guess what’s in a dish just by looking at it, so you will need to ask questions about ingredients and how the food was prepared. When in doubt, leave it out.

8. READ LABELS

Have you ever looked through other people’s garbage or recycling bins? Sometimes you just have to know… what brand of chicken broth did they use? Are these crackers gluten-free? What ingredients are in the seasoning packet used in the dip?

9. EAT BEFORE YOU GO

You never want to show up to an event starving if you aren’t sure what’s going to be served. Have some food in you before you arrive. An empty stomach can lead to heightened emotions and if you are drinking alcohol, can lead to something worse. Put a buffer in your belly just in case.

10. BRING EMERGENCY FOOD

It’s always a good idea to stash a snack — in your purse, in your car, even a pocket of a jacket. Rice crackers, nuts or a bar are easy to transport and nibble on in a food emergency.

11. BRING YOUR OWN MEAL

If you have so many food restrictions that it would nearly impossible for your host to know what to feed you, take the pressure off and just establish that you will be bringing your own food. You will be safe and won’t starve and your host, though she may feel bad, will most likely be relieved.

12. BE PATIENT

You might fully understand your diet and the reasons you are doing it, but others might not get it. Don’t expect your friends and relatives to understand your special diet right away, especially if you rarely see them. There is a learning curve when it comes to eliminating gluten, or dairy, or anything else. You may feel frustrated, but they may be just as frustrated as you.

13. DON’T PREACH

Let’s face it — we all have family members we think are in denial and need to eliminate gluten and/or something from their diet. But while they are eating Aunt Susie’s famous pumpkin pie at the Thanksgiving table is not the time to get on your soapbox and let them know how eating gluten-free will change their lives! Talking about reflux, migraines and bloating are probably not be what people were looking forward to when they arrived at the holiday gathering. So hold off on your sermon — maybe after the holidays when they are feeling ill (from all that holiday food) would be a good time to broach the subject.

Do you have tips to share? Feel free to provide them in the comments section!
Need a Pep Talk?


A Gluten-Free Pep Talk For the Holidays

Posted on November 12th, 2013 by Alison | ADD A COMMENT »

Holidays can be a stressful time even without special dietary restrictions – people are dealing with family, travel, expenses, and cooking for guests. Add in a gluten-free diet, or a gluten-free-plus diet and it can make for some challenging moments. When you are the host of a holiday meal or event, you are in control of your menu, but if you are the guest with a restricted diet, a holiday event can stir up a myriad of emotions. I was diagnosed 11 years ago right between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I remember what it was like to be surrounded by food but feel like there was nothing safe to eat.

Whether you are new to the gluten-free diet or have been doing it for years, you may experience any of the following emotions as a guest at a holiday event:

  • Anxiety
    • Will there be something I can eat? Will there be anything I can eat?
    • This anxiety causes many people to just stay home!
  • Fear
    • Will I get sick… (again)?
    • Fears about cross-contamination can get in the way of any enjoyment of a meal.
  • Embarrassment
    • Will my friends and family think I’m a pain? What if they made me something special and I have to ask about the ingredients or cross-contamination? Will they apologize again and again that they are eating something that I can’t eat?
    • Sometimes you just want to disappear!
  • Sadness or Anger or Resentment
    • Why can’t I enjoy the freedom that everyone else can? How can I enjoy this meal if I can’t have Aunt Susie’s famous pumpkin pie?
  • Hunger!
    • This may just be a psychological hunger, as there may be enough food to eat, but it feels like there is so much that you can’t have.
  • Kids emotions may be intensified:
    • Quote from my daughter: “It’s hard because you walk into someone’s house and there’s all this good stuff all around that you can’t have and you can only have the other stuff like turkey and vegetables.”

I want to tell you a little story about one of my emotional moments…

I was out at a dinner recently in Las Vegas for a work event. I was with a table of about 14 people I didn’t really know at a restaurant that I was told was a Thai restaurant called Jasmine in the Bellagio, so I felt confident that there would be something I could eat. After we got the menus I realized that it was in fact a Cantonese restaurant and when I asked the waiter what I could have on the menu, I was told that there was only one dish that I could have. While everyone else was ordering appetizers, and plates to share, I felt so uncomfortable and was overcome with this feeling that I was going to cry.

I was then mortified that I, a grown woman, would cry in front of all of these people, and what would they think of that?? So I had to have a self-coaching moment – you know, when you’re like:

“C’mon – pull yourself together! You can do it. It’s just one meal. You’re going to get through this. Do not cry. Do not cry!”

I had to look down, pretend I was doing something on my phone for a minute, and gather myself. It turned out that the one dish on the menu that I could have was delicious and… imagine… I had a fun time enjoying the non-food part — the company of the people at the table and the view of the dancing fountains of the Bellagio out the window.

So if you find yourself in one of those tough moments this holiday season (or ever after), try to find your Inner Coach to help you get through.

Maybe you need this kind of coach:

Or someone a little more smiley :):

Or maybe you really need this guy!

Whichever one works for you, use that Inner Coach to guide you when you have feelings of despair. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, find what you can eat, and get enjoyment from things other than the food. Rather than stand around the appetizer table, have a conversation with an elderly family member. If you can’t nibble from the dessert tray, play with the kids or hold a baby or look through photo albums… and don’t forget to appreciate the dancing fountains outside the window!

Happy Holidays! :)
See also: 13 Gluten-Free/Allergen-Free Tips for the Holidays


Gluten Intolerance Group of Marin November 2013 Meeting

Posted on October 29th, 2013 by Alison | ADD A COMMENT »

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Whether this will be your first or fiftieth gluten free holiday season, navigating this social, food-filled and tradition-laden time can be challenging!

Our next meeting will give you some strategies so you can be safe and satisfied at your holiday events.

With eleven years of gluten-free holidays under her belt, local blogger Alison St. Sure (Sure Foods Living) will share strategies for how to stay safely gluten free during the holidays, including knowing where gluten can hide in holiday foods and addressing the social challenges of parties and family gatherings.

Local chef, Amy Fothergill (The Family Chef), will join GIG of Marin to share her new cookbook, The Warm Kitchen, that includes a chapter dedicated to holiday recipes and will be available for purchase. “If living gluten-free makes you feel like you are missing out on some of your favorite foods, then this book is for you,” says Amy.

Mark your calendar now—don’t miss Amy’s demonstration of how to make a gluten free pie crust that will wow everyone around your holiday table, whether they eat gluten free or not. Also, we will hold a special raffle featuring cookbooks and holiday foods.

Whether you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or are learning more about gluten free living for yourself, family or friends, we welcome you to the GIG of Marin. New members, friends, and loved ones are always welcome.

You can RSVP here or on our Facebook page. RSVPs help us plan logistically for the meeting, but if you haven’t RSVP’d, please come anyway! You are always welcome.

The Gluten Intolerance Group of Marin will meet:

  • Tuesday, November 5
  • 7:00 to 9:00pm
  • Community Room at Corte Madera Town Center (upstairs at PF Chang’s end) 770 Tamalpais Dr. Suite 201, Corte Madera, CA, 94925

We look forward to seeing you!


Gluten-Free Allergen-Free Halloween Candy Guide 2013

Posted on October 6th, 2013 by Alison | Read 13 Comments - Add Your Own »

The ultimate gluten-free allergen-free Halloween Candy Guide is back! I’ve updated the list in 2013 to reflect ingredient changes and current manufacturers statements by web and phone. To print this list, click on the Print icon above the title. (If you don’t see the print icon, click on the title of the article first.)

Each candy shows if the ingredients contain wheat/gluten, milk (represents all dairy), soy, egg, tree nuts, or peanuts (6 of the top 8 allergens — fish and shellfish are not included since I have not found this to be a concern with candy). I included coconut where I saw it on a label but not as a tree nut since most allergy organizations do not consider coconut to be a tree nut. (The FDA, however, has required coconut to be labeled as a tree nut.)

Note: Please, as always, double check ingredients and also check with the child’s parents before giving them any candy or allowing them to eat anything! I will not be held liable for any accident occurring due to the use of this list. It is meant as a guide only.

Need a short list? Check out these:
Gluten-Free Halloween Candy Quick List 2013
Allergen-Free Halloween Candy Quick List 2013

CONTINUE READING ARTICLE »


Gluten-Free Halloween Candy Quick List 2013

Posted on October 6th, 2013 by Alison | Read 9 Comments - Add Your Own »

This Gluten-Free Candy Quick List 2013 includes candies that do not contain wheat or gluten as an ingredient. I have included the allergen statement if it mentions wheat or gluten. For the complete listing of allergens and company statements see the Gluten-Free Allergen-Free Halloween Candy Guide 2013. For a quick list of candies that are free of the top allergens, see the Allergen-Free Halloween Candy Quick List 2013. To print this list, click on the Print icon above the title. (If you don’t see the print icon, click on the title of the article first.)

CONTINUE READING ARTICLE »


Allergen-Free Halloween Candy Quick List 2013

Posted on October 6th, 2013 by Alison | Read 4 Comments - Add Your Own »

This is a quick list of allergen-free Halloween candy for 2013. This list includes candies that do not contain gluten or the top 8 allergens (wheat, milk, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish or shellfish) as an ingredient. I will mention if it contains coconut (most allergy organizations do not consider coconut a tree nut however) or sesame (companies are not required to list sesame) if I saw it on the label. I have included the allergen statement if listed.

For the complete listing of allergens and company statements see the Gluten-Free Allergen-Free Halloween Candy Guide 2013.

For a quick list of candies that are gluten-free, see the Gluten-Free Halloween Candy Quick List 2013.

CONTINUE READING ARTICLE »


Food-allergy-friendly (and healthy) lunch box options for kids

Posted on August 19th, 2013 by Alison | Read 3 Comments - Add Your Own »

When you have a child with food allergies, you can’t rely on any school-supplied lunches, if any are even offered. You have to make lunch every day. Any mom who packs lunches can relate to the morning drill of hoping you’ve done enough grocery shopping to find enough food to put in your kids’ lunchbox that day, while also trying to make it healthy and desirable. I feel a sense of failure when I open a full lunchbox at the end of the day!

Over the years I have figured out how to make my kids’ lunchboxes to come back empty rather than full. When you are dealing with food allergies, you have to think outside of the (lunch)box! No PB&J sandwiches, Goldfish or cheese sticks to fall back on. My kids and I have figured out lunch options that make me and them happy. That’s not to say I don’t strike out sometimes, but I thought I’d share some of our successes and hope these might work for you, or at least spark some ideas.

I can’t say enough how important it is to have a good lunchbox — one with compartments that show the food. What food is appetizing served in plastic baggies and aluminum foil? Plus, the whole no-waste thing is a bonus! I love Laptop Lunches and my kids have been using them for years. When a child opens the lunch, the entire lunch is displayed at once. It is really convenient and appetizing and there is even a fork and spoon — imagine eating with utensils!

Whichever lunch box you choose, the next step is to fill it up! Aim for variety and try to cover all of the food groups. I always put protein along with the filler food (carbs), some fruit and a veggie. And yes, I put a little treat of some kind! I didn’t used to, but I realized that it just makes my kids so much happier when there is a little sweet surprise — and I do mean little — a small cookie, a little pack of gummy candies, a homemade mini muffin.

If your kid likes a sandwich, go for it! There are now many kinds of gluten-free breads to choose from, vegan mayonnaise and allergy-free lunch meats. My kids are currently not crazy about sandwiches so I have had to come up with other options. Here are some of the things I have packed over the years:

  • Gluten-free pretzels with Sunbutter – pack Sunbutter in a dipping container
  • Apples with Sunbutter
  • Rice crackers or tortilla rounds or strips with hummus
  • Tortilla chips with refried beans as bean dip – try Amy’s Organic Traditional Refried Beans – it is not spicy at all and has a good mild flavor that kids like
  • Raw veggies – sometimes on Sunday, I wash and cut into matchsticks or rounds cucumbers and carrots. I store them with snap peas or any other veggie that the kids like in a sealed container in the frig and then when making lunches in the morning, I ask my kids to choose from the veggies for their “veggie compartment.” I have read about some supermoms that put a green salad in their kids lunches. There is no way my kids would eat a salad at lunch! But this veggie method has worked so far for us. Also, if the veggies seem a little dry because you have cut them days before, just sprinkle a little water on them.
  • Cooked veggies – I have gotten away with putting leftover green beans and broccoli (as long as they are not overcooked) in my older daughter’s lunchbox. Sometimes you have to take a risk! :)
  • “Breadsticks” – my kids got tired of sandwiches, so I made breadsticks by toasting the same gluten-free sandwich bread and cutting it into strips – this is great for dipping in hummus or sunbutter, or even just plain. Change the shape and it’s a whole new food!
  • Fruit – okay, this seems obvious, but let’s face it — sometimes there’s no fresh fruit left in the house! Berries, grapes, watermelon and apples are the fresh fruits my kids like, but I always have a back-up of canned pineapple chunks (the natural kind – no sugary syrup) and serve with a fork. The kids love it. If you can fit the pineapple rings in the lunchbox, that’s a big hit also! Other fresh-fruit replacements include applesauce (don’t forget the spoon!), frozen mango, and I bet those cute little mandarin orange slices would make them happy too – I haven’t tried those yet.
  • Protein sources – the beans, hummus and Sunbutter mentioned above are some. My kids like lunch meat, so I will include all-natural salami, or turkey or chicken breast. Try rolling it up and securing with a toothpick (“turkey rolls”), or with rice crackers. Since nuts are a common allergen, you might try seeds like shelled pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds — Enjoy Life makes a trail mix of seeds, dried fruit and chocolate chips, or you could make your own.

Hopefully, this list has helped you get some new ideas. I would love for you all to share what you pack in your kids’ lunches! I could use some new ideas too!


Gluten Intolerance Group of Marin Sept 2013 Meeting

Posted on August 1st, 2013 by Alison | ADD A COMMENT »

gigofmarin1

Is Today’s Food Damaging Our Kids’ Mental and Physical Health?

Marin pediatrician Michelle Perro, MD is sounding the alarm: serious conditions are on the rise among the Marin County children she sees in her practice–from neurological and autoimmune disease to asthma and digestive issues, including celiac disease and gluten sensitivity–and she believes the food we feed our children is causing many of these disorders.

“For the first time in modern history our children will not be as healthy as their parents,” says Dr. Perro. “As pediatricians, we are seeing an epidemic of digestive, immunologic, and neurologic abnormalities that is changing the face of families, schools and society.”

Many of the children Dr. Perro sees are suffering with behavioral disorders that affect their ability to function at school and at home. In addition, Dr. Perro is seeing babies who won’t stop crying and are not thriving on any kind of nutrition and children who have unusual skin disorders, early puberty and other endocrine issues ranging from obesity to failure to grow. Dr. Perro cites a growing body of research that shows that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which permeate our food supply are wreaking havoc on our children’s health, largely via intestinal damage which is linked to the high rise of other disorders.

Dr. Perro is a Yale-trained, board-certified pediatrician, who integrates Western medicine with homeopathy and functional medicine. She practices at The Institute for Health and Healing in Greenbrae and San Francisco.  Since 2002, Dr. Perro has been recognized annually as one of “America’s Top Pediatricians” by the Consumer’s Research Council of America.  She is a board member of a local non-profit organization committed to reducing childhood exposure to household and environmental toxins.

Mark your calendars, and tell your friends about Dr. Perro’s talk at GIG of Marin’s next meeting on Tuesday, September 17.

Purchasing tickets in advance will be necessary for this special event.  Reserve your space to learn more about this urgent issue by buying tickets here. The fees collected are used to cover the costs of renting the meeting room, printing the handouts, etc.

Whether you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or are learning more about gluten free living for yourself, family or friends, we welcome you to the GIG of Marin. New members, friends, and loved ones are always welcome.

The Gluten Intolerance Group of Marin will meet:

  • Tuesday, September 17
  • 7:00 to 9:00pm
  • Community Room at Corte Madera Town Center (upstairs at PF Chang’s end) 770 Tamalpais Dr. Suite 201, Corte Madera, CA, 94925

We look forward to seeing you!


SuperSeedz Pumpkin Seeds (a Giveaway!)

Posted on July 13th, 2013 by Alison | Read 20 Comments - Add Your Own »

Pumpkin seeds are delicious and packed with nutrition, having one of the highest protein contents of any seed or nut. They are also a good source of minerals, fiber and healthy omega-3 oils. Though most nut-allergic individuals can tolerate seeds, the seeds are often made in a facility with nuts, presenting the risk of cross-contamination.

I like to make my own pumpkin seeds when I carve pumpkins in October, and if I’m cooking a butternut squash, I’ll toast those seeds too, but I was looking for some safe pumpkin seeds for the rest of the year for my daughter who is allergic to nuts.

In my search, I came across SuperSeedz by Kathie’s Kitchen. I love the taste of these pumpkin seeds! I am addicted to the Sea Salt ones, but all of the flavors are fun and delicious: Coco Joe, Curry, Really Naked, Super Spicy, Somewhat Spicy, Sugar & Cinnamon, Tomato Italiano. All flavors are naturally vegan, gluten free, tree nut free, peanut free, dairy free, MSG free and soy free!

I used SuperSeedz for two recipes in an article I wrote for Gluten-Free Living magazine called Aw, Nuts: Balancing a Nut-Free, Gluten-Free Diet.

So, would you like to win some seeds? Kathie has agreed to give away four 6-ounce packages of pumpkin seeds PLUS a limited edition SuperSeedz pumpkin seed shaker to one lucky winner! If you would like to enter, simply leave a comment telling me why you’d like to win! Contest ends on Thursday, July 18 at 5:00 pm PST. Good luck!


Laughing Glass Margaritas: all-natural and delicious!

Posted on June 17th, 2013 by Alison | ADD A COMMENT »

I like a good margarita, and by that I mean a real, fresh margarita, not one made from a corn-syrup-sodium-benzoate-yellow-5 mixer. Besides the fact that the ingredients of most commercial mixers are ones I don’t want to put in my body, they simply don’t taste good to me. The downside to preferring a fresh margarita is not having a personal bartender to squeeze limes and mix my drink for me one on command — I need to add one to my staff, right after I hire a maid, butler and driver. ;)

Laughing Glass Cocktails is a new company that creates a read-to-drink margarita. It has all the ingredients of a fresh margie already mixed, so all you do is pour over ice. I recently brought it on a girls weekend (see photo), and we all loved it!

Laughing Glass Margaritas

Regarding ingredients, the company states:

  • We begin with a proprietary, super premium blanco tequila they developed (Blanco tequila is not aged in the oak casks that can cause allergic reactions in some people).
  • We source only the best organic Agave plants (or pinas) from the lowlands of Mexico.  After being picked at the peak of their maturity, they are slowly steam cooked, mashed and fermented, then distilled in stainless steel barrels for a concentrated, pure and clean spirit.
  • We add delicate all-natural citrus flavors and add their own unique twist, a hint of carbonation.
  • Nothing artificial is ever considered.

Laughing Glass is currently available in northern California, but a nationwide launch is scheduled for the fall of 2014.

For more information, you can follow them on Facebook.