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Healthy Lunches For Kids With Food Allergies

Aired 9/5/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergy reactions, milk, eggs, peanuts and other tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soybeans, and wheat. This first week back to school, we'll learn about some lunch alternatives for kids with food allergies.

Carrot-Ginger Soup

Above: Carrot-Ginger Soup

Gluten-free pumpkin muffins

Above: Gluten-free pumpkin muffins

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergy reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts and other tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soybeans, and wheat. This first week back to school, we'll learn about some lunch alternatives for kids with food allergies.

Guest

Elizabeth Kaplan is founder of The Pure Pantry and author of the new cookbook, Fresh from Elizabeth's Kitchen, Gluten-Free & Allergy-Free Recipes for Healthy, Delicious Meals.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: It all begins again tomorrow for most San Diego students. A new school year with teacher, home work, back packs, and school lunches. But whether your child gets lunch at school or you're packing a lunch for your kid, allergies can make a simple meal a challenge for parents. How do you make sure your kids will be protected from eating the wrong things? What are the signs of food allergies in the first place? My guest is Elizabeth Kaplan, author of the new cook book, fresh from Elizabeth's kitchen, gluten free and allergy free recipes for headlight, delicious meals. Welcome to the show.

KAPLAN: It's great to be on.

CAVANAUGH: We want to invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you have a question about allergy free lunches or any kind of meals for your kids, give us a call. 1-888-895-5727.

Elizabeth, you've had some extensive experience with your allergies if are your own children. What are they allergic to?

KAPLAN: Everything. I have three children. My eldest is allergic to dairy and gluten. My middle son is allergic to dairy, gluten, peanuts, olive oil, beans and legumes. And who knows what else? It's been a real challenge with him. Then our youngest again gluten and dairy, and a couple of fruits. But he's only three, and some of those fruit allergies you grow out of.

CAVANAUGH: And you yourself have a gluten allergy; is that right?

KAPLAN: Well, I have celiac disease, which is an autoimmune issue. Allergy versus autoimmune, they're different things. So with celiac, a total gluten free diet is required.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, do you think you passed that down to your children? Have you thought about that?

KAPLAN: Well, yes. The two youngest have celiac as well.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

KAPLAN: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: So if you -- that's one of the first things. If you have some food allergy, you think you should think a little bit about whether or not also your children are going to experience that.

KAPLAN: Absolutely yes.

CAVANAUGH: And they're difficult to pinpoint sometimes in adults but most especially in children. What are some of the signs that your child might have a sensitivity or a food allergy?

KAPLAN: Sure. From the start often babies will have excessive vomiting when nursing, and they may be allergic to their mother's breast milk because of what their mother's eating. As they progress, there might be rashes, eczema, stomach distress, gas and bloating, either constipation or diarrhea, which makes it hard to detect. Stuffy nose -- that was the case with my daughter and dairy. Once we got her off of dairy, her stuffy nose cleared up. Dark circles under the eyes, and in severe cases for allergy, anaphylaxis, so swelling lips, closing up of the throat, swelling tongue. The rashes can be extremely severe when a child is in contact with something they're really allergic to. And then also children tend to have better behavior if they have allergies and they're taken off things that are bothering them. Often kids with ADHD, you know, tend to have better behavior in the classroom, more focus, when they're on a clean diet.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Because they don't have all those ailments.

KAPLAN: The discomfort, right.

CAVANAUGH: It seems like there's a lot more information out there for people with food allergies, and sensitivities. Are food allergies on the rise?

KAPLAN: They seem to be. There's a lot of theories about why. My personal theory is that our diet in this country is so full of preservatives, sugar, unhealthy genetically modified foods, and our bodies are having trouble processing those. So it creates a challenge for especially children to process their food. But also I think we're getting so much better at diagnosing allergies and really better at diagnosing celiac disease.

CAVANAUGH: Speaking of celiac disease, you have celiac as you told us. And that means that you have to abstain from eating gluten. What is gluten?

KAPLAN: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and there are many food additives and concentrates and ingredients that contain gluten, believe it or not, things like soy sauce, a lot of spice blends that are put in processed foods. In restaurants, flour is used freely for everything. So it's something that's very hard to avoid.

CAVANAUGH: You know, when you talk about celiac disease and food sensitivities, and food allergies, all you need to do is to have one to find out how hasn't foods that you enjoy actually have that ingredient you can't have anymore right?

KAPLAN: Right, right exactly.

CAVANAUGH: We have a phone call, 1-888-895-5727. Sunny is calling us from Hillcrest. Hi.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. Thank you for taking my call. My question is as I said to your screener, I'm a 65-year-old grandmother, grew up here in San Diego, went to school here. Neither of my children are allergic to anything, neither of my grand children are allergic to anything. But I didn't -- I never, ever heard elementary school in the first, I never heard about allergic reaction to peanut butter. Is constitutionally, have our bodies charged? How did this come about? Or maybe the news is just better and we hear more about it.

CAVANAUGH: That's a fascinating question, thank you sunny.

KAPLAN: Yes, I agree with you. Growing up, I didn't hear about anyone with peanut allergies, we all had peanut butter sandwiches at school. And now they're really not allowed in many schools. There's peanut free tables, classrooms. My son is part of that movement. And I think one, the diagnosis again is getting better. And two, as I mentioned earlier, I think children's bodies are more and more challenged with toxins in the environment, food additives, a lot of kids are growing up on fast food, and their bodies are just over taxed. And so these allergies come out as a result of just the body saying no more. And really going ladies and gentlemen, going with an ladies and gentlemen free diet is the protocol and really helps.

CAVANAUGH: As you mention, Elizabeth, the idea of just whipping up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is history for a lot of parents that have kids who just can't tolerate either the bread or the peanut butter or the jelly or everything. So what are some alternatives, let's say, to sandwiches in kids' lunches? That's such a good question. Many, many moms and dads struggle with that in the morning before school. So I think thinking out of the regular sandwich box and into maybe a personal hot lunch, since your child may not be able to participate in hot lunch, and sometimes that can be a challenge for them. So making a hot lunch in a thermos is a great idea. Buying a nice therm on the, put their name on it, and think about doing things like chilis and soups. There's some great pasta salad recipes, spaghetti and meat wall, make it for dinner the night before and put it in their lurch. Gluten free macaroni and cheese. One of my son's favorite system left over barbecued chicken. So just get them used to the idea that, you know, a sandwich isn't the end all be all. A lot of times my son loves to take sushi to school. And he always tells me when he gets home, everyone was jealous. 'Cause I had the sushi, you know? So I think people -- kids are opening up to different lunch ideas in general. And you can create so many things the night before that you pop in the lunch in the morning.

CAVANAUGH: Now, the one thing that I'm curious about is it's one thing to make these lunches. It's another to get your kids to actually eat them sometimes. So tell us about the challenges that you faced trying to get your children to eat different foods after they were diagnosed with their allergies.

KAPLAN: Well, you know, what's so great is there are so many alternatives now that you really can't tell something is necessarily gluten free. For example, the gluten free pasta made with brown rice, no one can tell. Restaurants use it now. We make everything with it, and even when we have guests over that aren't gluten free. So it wasn't really a challenge in my family to transfer over to a gluten free diet. They do miss certain things, and it's certainly hard to eat out and to go to someone else's house. So it's really important to always be prepared and have your stash in the freezer of a gluten free version of, you know, cup cakes or cookies. And so being prepared is really key for parents.

CAVANAUGH: I just want to let everyone know that we have a photo of the carrot ginger soup that's from your cookbook, Elizabeth, along with a link to the recipe if you'd like to give it a try. How about kids that get their lunches at school, from school? What should parents do to make sure the school knows about their child's food ladies and gentlemen?

KAPLAN: Well, if your child has a severe food ladies and gentlemen, especially a peanut ladies and gentlemen or celiac disease, it's important to meet with the school nurse and your teacher and possibly develop a 504 plan. And that enables them to have special services. A lot of school district it is do not supply gluten free lunches, unfortunately. So you may be bridging in the lunch everyday.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

KAPLAN: There may be days of the week that they are gluten free, and getting the lunch calendar from your school is really important, calling the person who's the head of the lunch program, discussing these options. I was very happy to hear that at canyon crest academy where my daughter is a sophomore, they do have gluten free options, and their dietician called me and reviewed them. So she can have a gluten free lunch there. But a lot of the other schools that I have spoken with have not gotten on the bandwagon with that.

CAVANAUGH: I see. So you have to be proactive and see what the menu is going to be. It sounds as if you might have to be providing some lurches even whence lunch is provided by the school.

KAPLAN: It's unfortunate. A lot of times you look at the lunch options and say that could easily be gluten free. Take the croutons off, take the breading off, add this, add that, take away this, take away that. But it's really hard to get a lot of schools to jump on board with that. So hopefully we'll see that change.

CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Caroline is calling from San Diego. Hi Caroline, welcome to the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thanks taking my call. I just wanted to go back for a second to the peanut products in school. I have a small cousin, she doesn't have any allergies but she is a very picky eater, she's going through that phase. And I was a little bit flabbergasted when I heard she's not allowed to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches anymore because of the amount of kids that have peanut allergies, and I was just wondering as a guest how you feel about, you know, some kids not being able to have these products that they're already hard enough to get food into.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah.

KAPLAN: I understand how you feel. I can understand, because two of my kids can have peanut butter sandwiches and others can't. So we stay away from it. But I think if people really understand that anaphylaxis is a deadly issue, that a child could die if they're exposed to peanuts, if people embrace that idea that it's that dangerous, hopefully they can adjust what they're providing their kid. What woo used is almond butter, and there are many delicious varieties of almond butter out there, really I think it's a great alternative. It's actually healthier than peanut butter, and if you give it a try, almond butter with jelly, maybe your cousin -- or it was your niece, right? Maybe your niece would like that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm thinking, Elizabeth, kids are kids and can't be watched 24 hours a day. And when they're at school, I think probably my mom gave me an apple that I never ate through eight years of school. So I'm wondering, you know, how do you make sure that your kids are eating healthily when you're not there and they're surrounded by other kids who can maybe eat what they can't?

KAPLAN: It's a big challenge, isn't it? I worry about that when I send my preschooler off to preschool. Again, having discussions with the teachers, the lunch lady, whoever that is, the school nurse. I know at my youngest son's school, there is a picture of him on the bulletin board along with other children with food allergies, so that the school nurse knows that everyone -- every teacher is yard duty person at the preschool humans that he cannot have gluten or dairy. I also see the children up there with the peanut allergies. So schools are doing a good job making their staff aware but you're right. Sending your child off to camp, or to a party if they're young and they're not able to be aware of their own situation, but I do have to say that even at two years old, my youngest son was able to say I'm gluten free. And he would ask everybody, are you gluten free? So he just knew it, we talk about it a lot. We let him pick out gluten free products thea at the school store. Show him, you cant have this, but you can have that. Would you like this? So getting him to think about it too really has enabled him to make his own choices.

CAVANAUGH: Even is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, and welcome to the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Hello. You just said the thing that I was going to say about having the picture and the identity of the children on a bulletin board or poster. So the food service people know not to serve that to the child. But I just want to give you an anecdote. There was a school that had a peanut free campus, and kids were still suffering with peanut allergies. They were trying to figure out what the source was. It turned out, they had a big sand pit, and there were squirrels who were burying peanuts and stuff in the pit where the kids would play.

KAPLAN: Wow.

NEW SPEAKER: So everybody got the memo except for the squirrels. Thanks so much. Bye.

CAVANAUGH: Even, thank you for the call.

KAPLAN: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: One thing that probably makes this a little bit better is that there are so many options out there now as you were saying, so many gluten free options, so many dairy free option, so many more products to choose from when it comes to trying to provide something that's delicious for your kids so they won't go off and have something they can't have.

KAPLAN: Absolutely. There are. There are hundreds of gluten free dairy free products now. And there weren't, really, eight years ago when I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I really struggled to find quick and easy things to prepare. And that's honestly one of the reasons I started the pure pantry, which is a line of gluten free baking mixes. And will why I wrote my cookbook. To help others. Nowadays, there are so many alternatives, I'm really happy that there's a lot of dairy free alternatives that taste good 'cause that was kind of a challenge. You would try some of these soy products and go eeewww. Can't do that. But the coconut milk products and the almond milk products that are out there are really tasty.

CAVANAUGH: And you brought in something that smells absolutely delicious. Why is that?

KAPLAN: This is my maple pecan scone recipe. And you can get the recipe on our Facebook act at the pure pantry. And it's dairy free and gluten free. It does have nuts though. But you can also make it nut free.

CAVANAUGH: Sure, exactly. What are the kinds of mistakes people make when they eliminate gluten from their diets?

KAPLAN: One of the biggest mistakes, especially with kids, is instead of having glutenful iteming they'll give their kids a lot of gluten free products that have sugar and white rice flour that are not nutritionally based. So the kids' diet -- they're not healthy because we don't want to fill our kids up with sugar and starch that's -- that doesn't have whole grains in it. So I see that a lot. I see parents also feeling sorry for -- so sorry for their kids that they'll say here you go, here's a doughnut, here's a cup cake. It's gluten free. So really looking at their diet, stepping back and saying, what is the best diet for a child? Well, it's a whole foods diet. And if you can embrace that and cook healthy meals at home, use some things from the store that are packaged and prepared, but that are healthy, you'll be on your way to successfully transferring your whole family hopefully to a gluten free diet.

CAVANAUGH: You've given us some really nice tips. I have been speaking with my guest Elizabeth Kaplan, she's author of the new cook book, fresh from Elizabeth's kitchen, gluten free and allergies recipes for healthy, delicious meals. Thanks so much.

KAPLAN: Thanks for having me.