Mindfulness and chocolate energy snack eases food allergy meltdown

First it was a bag of caramel popcorn brought into our home and we noticed the label, “manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts and tree nuts” label. We’re used to these labels. But on this day, it bothered my daughter. And then came the tears.  I did what any parent would do. I comforted her, acknowledged her frustration, and then ordered nut free caramel popcorn and cookies from Divvies. While food should not be a source of comfort, this was a legitimate exception.

Divvies Popcorn

A few days later, while busy in activities on the road, we decided to go to a local Burger restaurant. Not a new place. Spoke with the manager about the practices and ingredients. Unsure of the production process of the burger buns, he recommended having the burger on lettuce. I looked at my daughter and she said, “Never mind, I don’t want anything.” Then she just sat down and cried. And now I had to hold back my own tears. So we went to Red Robin, recently ranked by Allergy Eats as one of top 10 allergy friendly restaurant chains , and  picked up a to-go order for her. By now I lost my appetite.

The following weekend we attended our book club meeting that had safe and nutritional snacks. The host also offered  cake pops to the girls from an event she previously hosted. I really did not feel like going through this again. I asked the usual questions about the cake mix, icing and requested labels. The uncertainty in the responses was enough for an answer. I could sense sadness about to reappear again from my daughter. Then another parent said to her “Oh,  I  made you a special snack from a recipe for you, it’s free from your allergies.”  The chocolate thin mint energy bites were delicious and the gesture made it that much more tasteful.  A light reappeared on my daughter’s face.

The parent is also my hairstylist. I was not completely surprised by the gesture from someone who owns a salon, and is in the business of taking care of others to make them look and feel beautiful. Being the exception for once made my daughter feel exceptional. Moments like this also gives a light of hope that non food allergy parents can have empathy. It simply takes understanding the bigger issue is the feeling of exclusion and its impact on food allergic children.

Nine years on this journey, we still have our meltdowns. But mindfulness keeps us uplifted.

By the way, I had to request the recipe which we’ll try at home and share on a next post.

 

Nalley Fresh Opens in Columbia, Build Salads and Better Health

Nalley Fresh_Food Lineup Veggies2
March is National Nutrition Month. The lineup of veggies at Nalley Fresh is a good way to celebrate the month and your health.

The power to choose veggies and proteins at Nalley Fresh, Columbia’s newest restaurant, successfully lured my 12-year-old to eat all of her salad, including the peas – Wasabi peas. Chef Greg Nalley’s approach to Nalley Fresh, the eighth restaurant opening in Maryland, sheds more light on the not-so-secret approach to healthier eating. Make it yourself. Well, sort of.

restaurant decor

A team of folks do the hard work of preparing the assortment of vegetables, meats, or rather proteins, including tofu and falafel. Make it in a bowl, salad or a wrap is part of the process. And mix it with dressings like Basil Dijon, or pour a broth in your bowl to make it real interesting.

The menu of choices

The range of choices are a bit intimidating at first. But the menu for seasonal signature salads is a good starting point. During the community event that offered free meals, I selected the Nalley Fiesta salad. Anything Mexican-inspired works for my palate and the order flow is much like Chipotle, so this came second nature. With envy I also delighted in the looks of the Shades of Green with Thai Pork my mom ordered and my 12-year-old’s Asian Salad (edamame and Wasabi – peas!) with chicken, which she mixed with Old Bay dressing. Gotta keep a bit of hometown flavor in all things.

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Shades of Green with Thai Pulled Pork

 

Managing food allergies 

Restaurants that have ‘point and pick’ are prime for cross contact risk of allergens. And places we tend to avoid dining as a family because of my youngest daughter’s multiple food allergies.

Nalley Fresh_Food Lineup proteinsv2

However, Chef Nalley and nutritionist, Monica Rainagel, were on-hand during Community Day to answer questions, accommodate and guide us through the ingredients, including those in the sauces.

My youngest daughter chose grilled chicken, bacon, bleu cheese, cucumbers and romaine lettuce mixed with ranch dressing filled in a wrap, which she enjoyed safely.

Chicken Wrap

It is estimated that 15 million Americans have a food allergy. The common eight allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, dairy, and eggs. Shrimp and salmon are among the standard proteins you can select, for an extra cost, but these were not on the bar during Community Day. Toasted almonds, a tree nut, are also on the bar.

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Nalley Fresh’s website features a nutrition guide, nutrition calculator and the listing of allergens are available onsite at the restaurant. The ingredients of the dressings are displayed. And the Asian Vinaigrette contains fish sauce and Caesar Dressing contains anchovies.

It would be further helpful to have all allergens listed as part of Nalley Fresh’s online interactive nutrition guide. Like most consumers, food allergy diners check websites for menus, but also call restaurants ahead to check for cooking practices and options.

Healthy lunch budget

I went for a second helping during a HoCoBlogs  event after the grand opening and tried the Bleu Collar, a salad with shredded beef and pretzel bites.

bleu collar
Bleu Collar Signature Salad

Nalley Fresh is a likely go-to-spot for an occasional work lunch break. Not so much for our entire family in light of  food allergies. However, it may be a consideration for those who have a gluten-free diet (without the bread and some toppings), vegan or prefer a Paleo way of eating. It’s about $9 for a meal without a drink. And I already signed up for the rewards program to get my 7th meal free.

The greatest reward you can give yourself is to make food choices that are tasty and healthy. And for that reason,  Nalley Fresh hits the spot.