How to Keep your Child with Food Allergies Safe at School

One in 13 children in the United States suffers from potentially life-threatening food allergies, and the number is rising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children with food allergies has actually increased by 50% since 1997.

If you have a child with food allergies, you may be worried about keeping your child safe at school. This can be a challenge, both in the cafeteria and in the classroom, however, the following tips can help.

1. Communicate. Be sure to talk with your child’s teachers, principal, coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, school nurse, and any other adults your child has contact with during the day. Provide them with information about your child’s allergies and dietary restrictions. Ask if the school has any food allergy management policies in place and inquire about staff training. Be sure that you will know where your child’s emergency medications be kept during the day, what experience the school has had with food allergies, and how food allergies are managed on school buses and during after-school activities.
2. Have a plan. In the event that your child inadvertently eats a food that causes an allergic reaction, make sure that your child’s epinephrine and a written plan are available and up to date. Work with the school to create a comprehensive Food Allergy Management and Prevention Plan. Also make sure that all forms are current, including: Medication Authorization forms, Special Dietary Meals Accommodation form, and Emergency Action Plan form.
3. Volunteer. Classroom parties and field trips often involve special food, so spend time in the classroom as a room parent or a chaperone for field trips. If you are unable to attend, ask a trusted neighbor, friend, or family member. Be sure that your child has safe snacks available for classroom celebrations.
4. Educate your Child. Teach your child about food allergies by reading books, reading food labels, and learning about the symptoms of a reaction. Make sure your child knows to avoid foods without labels and not to share foods. It is important for your child to know what happens during an allergic reaction and to tell an adult immediately.
5. Make Food Fun. Food can be scary when a child has a food allergy. Instead of being fearful, take the opportunity to teach your child about healthy and safe eating. Purchase allergy-friendly cookbooks or read blogs. Be sure to involve your child in food planning, shopping, and preparation.

The Language of Packaging Dates

Do you ever wonder what expiration dates on the packages mean in the grocery store? When you take something home and it is past the “use by” date, does this mean it is still OK to eat? Here are some tips on various terms related to packages, terms, and what they mean.

• “Sell by” date. You should buy the product before this date. This term tells a store how long to display the product for sale. The issue is quality of the item for freshness and taste versus if the product is about to spoil.
• “Best if used by” date. This refers strictly to quality, not safety. This date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
• “Born on” date. This is the date of manufacture. You may have noticed it on beer cans or bottles. Beer can go sub-par after three month.
• “Guaranteed fresh” date. This usually refers to bakery items. They will still be edible after the date, but will not be at peak freshness.
• “Use by” date. This is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
• “Pack” date. You will find this one on canned or packaged goods. It may be an actual date or it could also be a code. It can be month-day-year (MMDDYY) or the manufacturer could revert to the Julian calendar which would mean January would be 001-0031 and December 334-365.

Just keep in mind that all of these terms are voluntary which means that the federal law only requires actual dates for expiration on certain products such as infant formula and some baby foods. Different states also mandate if dairy has an expiration date.
So how long then are foods good to eat? Milk is generally fine until a week after the “sell by” date. Eggs are usually OK for 3-5 weeks after your bring them home. Poultry and seafood should be cooked or frozen within a day or two. Beef and pork are cooked or frozen within 3-5 days. Highly acidic canned foods such as tomato sauce can keep up to 18 months but non-acidic canned foods are typically risk-free for up to five years. All of these dates are only good if one is following the proper safety and storage guidelines. However always remember when it doubt, throw it out!


Asparagus and Mushroom Salad
Asparagus is in season right now which means it is fresh and affordable making it a great way to add some vegetables to your day. Don’t forget we all need to consume at least 2 ½ cups per day of vegetables!

Asparagus is a flowering perennial, a cousin to garlic. It is one of the oldest recorded vegetables, thought to originate along the coastal region of the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor regions. It comes in four varieties: green, white, purple, and wild. It takes three years from the time that a grower sows seed before its real harvest. A cup of asparagus only contains 27 calories, 0 grams fat, 5 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, and 3 grams protein making it a great choice. It also has a good folate, vitamin C, and potassium content.

What to look for when choosing asparagus? The thinnest stalks are the most tender. Steer clear of any limp or wilted asparagus. If it has a fresh scent it is a great choice. If it has a musty smell, pass on it as it might be getting old. If the asparagus is bunched together find one that is uniform in width so the spears will cook uniformly. Try to eat as quickly as possible however as asparagus does tend to go bad quickly. If you cannot eat it right away you can preserve it by trimming the ends of the stalks and standing the bunch in a cup of water in the refrigerator.

Try one of these recipes from to add some fresh asparagus to your meal!

Parmesan Asparagus (makes 2 servings)
10 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed
Cooking spray
1 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp garlic salt
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Lightly coat asparagus with cooking spray; place on prepared baking sheet. Combine Parmesan cheese and garlic salt in a small bowl; set aside.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 6 minutes; turn asparagus and continue baking until tender, about 6 minutes.
4. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese mixture over asparagus.
Per serving: 32 calories, 4 g carbohydrates, 1 g fat, 2 g fiber, 3.2 g protein, 153 mg sodium

Grilled Asparagus (makes 4 servings)
1 pound fresh asparagus spears, trimmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat grill for high heat.
2. Lightly coat the asparagus spears with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Grill over high heat for 2-3 minutes or to desired tenderness.
Per serving: 53 calories, 4.4 g carbohydrates, 3.5 g fat, 2.3 g fiber, 2.5 g protein, 99 mg sodium

Sugar Substitutes

As dietitians, we get asked quite frequently about sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners. Are they safe? What is the best kind to use? How much or how little should I be consuming? The list goes on.

The general consensus is that sugar substitutes are safe however the FDA has set Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels for each artificial sweetener as there has been many questions about their safety. The ADI is the maximum amount of a food additive that can be safely consumed on a daily basis over a person’s lifetime without any adverse effects. Here are some examples of different sugar substitutes, some examples of products that contain them, and their ADI.

Saccharin: Also known as Sweet n’ Low, was discovered in the last 1800’s and is 300 times sweeter than sugar. It can be found in Crest toothpaste and Pepto-Bismol for example. For saccharin, the ADI is 5 mg/kg of body weight. There is 140 mg in a 12 ounce diet soda and 40 mg in a packet of saccharin.

Aspartame: Also known as Equal, was approved by the FDA as a dry ingredient in foods in 1981. It is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Examples of products that contain aspartame include Diet Coke and Mrs. Butterworth’s sugar-free syrup. The ADI for aspartame is 50 mg/kg of body weight and there is 200 mg in one 12 ounce diet soda and 35 mg in a packet.

Acesulfame-K: This is also 200 times sweeter than sugar. Known as Sweet One, it was approved in 1998. Studies show that 95% of the consumed sweetener ends up excreted in urine because our body can’t break it down. It can be found in Glucerna shakes or Halls sugar-free cough drops. Acesulfame-K’s ADI is 15 mg/kg of body weight. The average amount in one 12 ounce can of diet soda is 40 mg and there is 50 mg in a packet.

Sucralose: Also known as Splenda, was approved by the FDA in 1999 and is 600 times sweeter than table sugar. Yoplait Greek 100 calorie yogurt and Heinz Reduced-sugar tomato ketchup contain sucralose. For sucralose, the ADI is 5 mg/kg of body weight and there is 70 mg in a 12 ounce diet soda and 5 mg in a packet of sucralose.

Stevia: Stevia was added to the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list by the FDA in 2008 for use as a tabletop sweetener and in prepared foods. It is a “natural” sweeter coming from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni bush. It is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar and is calorie-free. Sweetleaf and Truvia are two brands that use stevia. It can be found in Wishbone fat-free dressing or So-Be life water for example. Stevia’s ADI is 0-4 mg/kg of body weight for stevia glycoside or 12 mg/kg of rebiana. A packet contains 27 mg of Stevia.

There are also sugar alcohols, known as polyols, which are sugar replacers that have about half the calories of sugar so still contribute calories but not as many as regular sugar. Examples include sorbitol or xylitol. Consuming too much, however, could cause digestive issues, so moderate amounts of 10-15 grams per day are suggested.

The bottom line on artificial sweeteners is that they are safe for use in the general population and have been shown to possibly help decrease caloric intake if replacing regular table sugar. Special populations such as pregnant women should limit use to FDA approved number and avoid saccharin. For more information visit for more information.

July is National Ice Cream Month

Fabulous foodie: Ice cream, gelato and icypoles
Given those long, hot summer days it’s no wonder that July is known as National Ice Cream Month. Ice cream is a refreshing treat on those hot summer days. Did you know that ice cream has been around in America since the 1700’s and the first ice cream parlor opened in New York in 1776? Next to cookies, ice cream is the biggest selling treat in the U.S. and the U. S. is the second largest consumer of ice cream just behind New Zealand.

The only downfall to ice cream? The calories that can quickly add up if not careful. Here are some suggestions on how to indulge in your favorite treat but save calories and fat. 1. Portion control is key. For example, 1 ½ cups of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream has 810 calories and 42 grams of fat versus just having a ½ cup serving which saves you 540 calories and 28 grams of fat! A normal size portion for ice cream is ½ cup so try to stick to that limit.
2. Choose your toppings wisely. The more additional toppings the more the calories and fat start to add up.
3. Have your ice cream in a dish instead of in a cone or waffle cone which can also save calories.
4. Read ice cream labels carefully. There are many different forms of ice cream out there including gelato, frozen custard, frozen yogurt, sorbet, or ice milk to name a few. Frozen yogurt typically has slightly less fat than regular ice cream but calorie-wise they are comparable. The one benefit of frozen yogurt is that it contains live bacterial cultures which are good for your gut. There are also plenty of low-fat or sugar-free ice cream versions but be cautious as they typically have something else added to them, like fat or sugar, to make them taste as good as the regular version.
5. Go for prepackaged ice cream choices that are portion-controlled already for you which takes out the guessing of how many calories you are eating and limits how much you consume.

With simple changes anyone can make ice cream an enjoyable summer treat without all the extra calories and fat. Try one of these healthier ice cream treats from

Banana Honey Yogurt Ice
Makes 6 servings
4 bananas, sliced
1 ¼ cups Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp honey
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Place all ingredients into a blender. Puree until smooth, then pour into a freezer-safe container. Freeze until nearly solid, then scrape back into blender, and pureed again until smooth. Return to freeze, and freeze until solid.
Nutrition Information (per serving): 147 calories, 4.4 g fat, 3.4 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 2.2 g fiber, 28 mg sodium

Instant Mango Frozen Yogurt
Makes 6 servings
4 ½ cups diced frozen mango, not thawed
1 ½ cups nonfat plain Green yogurt
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar or brown sugar

Combine mango, yogurt, and sugar in a food processor. Process until smooth and freeze.
Nutrition Information (per serving): 142 calories, 0.5 g fat, 4.1 g protein, 32.7 g carbohydrates, 2.2 g fiber, 50 mg sodium

The Star of the Month: Corn

As we hit the middle of August, the end of summer and going back to school are likely on everyone’s minds. But there is one good thing about this time of year and that is corn is in season! Although a lot of people may think that corn is off limits due to its high starch content, corn can be enjoyed in moderation by mostly everyone.

Did you know that corn not one fits into one food category but two? The kernels you eat off the cob are a vegetable but if you dry and pop those kernels into popcorn, it is considered a whole grain. Corn is high in the antioxidant carotenoids, vitamin C, and vitamin E. It is also high in lutein and zeaxanthin which are great to promote eye health. Corn can also help with constipation as 1 cup of yellow corn has 3.9 grams of fiber and the same serving of white corn has 4.2 grams of fiber. This fiber is insoluble which means it adds bulk to stool and can help prevent constipation.

A few cautions on corn. First it is considered a starchy vegetable which means those with diabetes should limit their portion size. A ½ cup serving of corn typically has around 15 grams of carbohydrates. The other caution is when you have corn, not to load it with butter and salt which can take a healthy food and make it unhealthy. If you still need to add some flavor try using a low-fat tub margarine instead of butter and other seasonings such as Mrs. Dash instead of salt to flavor it.

To add some more corn to your diet try this easy recipe below from or for a different way to eat some corn, try the bean and corn salsa recipe from

Delicious and Easy Corn on the Cob
1/4 tsp white sugar
4 ears of corn, husked and cleaned
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Stir sugar into water to dissolve; add corn, cover pot, and turn heat off, leaving pot on hot burner.
2. Steep corn in hot water until tender, about 25 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition Information: 78 calories, 17.4 g carbohydrates, 1.1 g fat, 2.4 g fiber, 2.9 g protein, 14 mg sodium
Bean and Corn Salsa

3 cups chopped seeded tomato (about 3 medium)
¾ cup chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
½ cup chopped tomatillos (about 2 medium)
¼ cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
¼ cup fresh corn kernels
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl; cover and chill at least 2 hours. Makes 16-¼ cup servings.
Nutritional Information: 15 calories, 0.2 g fat, 0.6 g protein, 3.3 g carbohydrates, 0.8 g fiber, 83 mg sodium

September is National Cholesterol Education Month

Were you aware that September is National Cholesterol Education Month? What exactly does this mean? This means it is time to become familiar with your bad or LDL cholesterol (also referred to as the lousy cholesterol). Too much in the blood is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke which are two leading causes of death in the U.S. One way to help prevent these diseases is to figure out your LDL cholesterol level and treat it if it is too high.

What exactly is cholesterol? It is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body actually does. Cholesterol is created in the liver but also consumed in foods we eat and helps in digesting foods, making hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D however when our bodies get too much, it can build up on the walls of arteries and form blockages which can lead to heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

Cholesterol levels can be affected by several factors, some of which are controllable, some of which are not. Things such as age, gender, and family history unfortunately cannot be controlled however physical activity level, diet, and body weight can all be controlled. Smoking is also a controllable risk factor for high cholesterol and the Centers for Disease Control recommends that if you smoke, to quit as soon as possible.
Screening is key to detecting high cholesterol especially because it does not have any noticeable symptoms. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults’ age 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. However, if your cholesterol is high or you have other risk factors for heart disease, it may need to be checked more frequently. The goal for total cholesterol is <200, for LDL it is <100.

What can you do to prevent or treat high cholesterol? Aim for a heart healthy diet including plenty of fruits/vegetables, fiber, and the healthy fats, mono- and polyunsaturated fat. Cholesterol is found naturally in organ meats, egg yolks, shrimp, whole milk dairy products, baked goods, and deep fried foods. It is also important to limit saturated and trans fats as these can also increase cholesterol. Exercising regularly including approximately two hours and thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week is very important. And again, if you smoke, quit as soon as possible.

For more information check out the CDC’s website for information on the National Cholesterol Education Program and if it has been more than 5 years since having your cholesterol checked, contact your provider to schedule a screening.

Back to School Snacks

With the new school year starting, it is a good time to make sure you have healthy snacks on hand for your kids to grab after school. Having a snack after school can help your child focus and re-energize to play outside or work on homework. Kids typically turn to unhealthy snacks such as chips, candy, cookies, or soda that only provide empty calories and deprive them of the vitamins and minerals their growing bodies need. As a parent, try to keep snacks healthy and think of a snack as a mini-meal.

Incorporating all of the food groups assures that the snack your child is having is providing them with the nutrients they need. Snacking is also a good opportunity to sneak in extra vegetables or to have new foods that your kids wouldn’t normally eat. Remember to try and prepare snacks ahead of time so they are ready when your kids are hungry. Keep fresh fruits and vegetables ready to go by cleaning and storing them ready to eat. You could also have a fresh fruit bowl on the counter or portioned out bags of nuts that are ready to grab and go quickly.

Try one of the quick and easy snack recipes below to keep on hand for your kids’ after school snack!

Nuts & Bolts Trail Mix
½ c mixed nuts
2 c pretzel sticks
2 ½ c multigrain cheerios
½ c craisins
½ c raisins
Directions: Mix all ingredients into a bowl.

Mini Fruit & Cheese Kabobs
String cheese or block cheese
Directions: Cut string cheese into small cubes or cut block cheese into cubes. Slice strawberries in quarters. Slice cantaloupe into small cubes. Thread cheese, grapes, strawberries, and cantaloupe onto toothpicks.

Pizza Pizza!

Did you know that October is National Pizza Month? Everyone loves pizza but it is often thought of as an unhealthy food as it is typically high in calories, sodium, and fat. Of course there is room to enjoy pizza in moderation within every diet but if you are a pizza lover, it might not hurt to learn a few ways to make your pizza a little healthier! Below are a few tips to help you create a healthy pizza for you to enjoy.

1. Crust: Swap out a thin crust for a thick crust. If making a homemade pizza, try using flatbread or a tortilla shell instead of a regular store bought crust. If you are feeling adventurous, you could also try making a homemade pizza crust from other grains such as quinoa!
2. Sauce: Try making your own pizza sauce, this helps control the amount of salt added to the sauce. Use fresh tomatoes with fresh herbs and spices as a seasoning instead of salt, this helps add the flavor without adding all of the extra sodium.
3. Cheese: Go light on the cheese, sprinkle a light layer of cheese over the sauce instead of a typical thick layer of cheese to avoid extra calories, fat, and sodium.
4. Toppings: Load up on veggies! Whether you keep it simple with onions, peppers, mushrooms, and olives or try adding different veggies such as zucchini or artichoke hearts, adding veggies to your pizza is an easy way to sneak in more veggies to your diet.

Pizza Margherita
1 c warm water, divided
2 c 2 oz bread flour
1 package dry yeast
4 teaspoons olive oil
¾ tsp salt, divided
Cooking spray
1 Tbsp yellow cornmeal
¾ c pizza sauce
1 ¼ c thinly sliced fresh mozzarella cheese
1/3 c small fresh basil leaves

1. Pour 3/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attached. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups and spoons; level with a knife. Add flour to 3/4 cup water; mix until combined. Cover and let stand 20 minutes. Combine remaining 1/4 cup water and yeast in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes or until bubbly. Add yeast mixture, oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to flour mixture; mix 5 minutes or until a soft dough forms. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray; cover surface of dough with plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray. Refrigerate 24 hours.
2. Remove dough from refrigerator. Let stand, covered, 1 hour or until dough comes to room temperature. Punch dough down. Press dough out to a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured baking sheet, without raised sides, sprinkled with cornmeal. Crimp edges to form a 1/2-inch border. Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap.
3. 3. Position an oven rack in the lowest setting. Place a pizza stone on lowest rack. Preheat oven to 550°. Preheat the pizza stone for 30 minutes before baking dough.
4. Remove plastic wrap from dough. Sprinkle dough with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread Basic Pizza Sauce evenly over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Arrange cheese slices evenly over pizza. Slide pizza onto preheated pizza stone, using a spatula as a guide. Bake at 550° for 11 minutes or until the crust is golden. Cut pizza into 10 wedges, and sprinkle evenly with basil.
Nutrition Info: 421 calories, 11 g fat, 17 g protein, 63 g carbohydrate, 6.5 g fiber, 754 mg sodium

Lemon Arugula Pizza
Ingredients Pizza Dough:
2 ¼ tsp rapid rise yeast
1 c warm water
Pinch of sugar
3 ½ c bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
Ingredients Pizza Toppings:
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 oz fresh mozzarella
½ c Parmesan cheese
2 c arugula
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

1. Make the pizza dough. In a glass measuring cup or small bowl combine yeast and 1 cup warm water. Add a pinch of sugar and let sit for 5 minutes.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour and salt. Mix the ingredients until combined.
3. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture. Next, add 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Mix until combined. Switch to the dough hook and knead for about 5 minutes on medium speed.
4. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Form dough into a ball and place in the bowl. Cover pizza dough with a damp towel and set in a warm area to rise. Let the dough rise for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size.
5. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Cut the dough in half. Take on piece of dough and punch it down on a lightly floured surface. You can refrigerate or freeze the other half of the dough or make 2 pizzas, if you wish. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a circle. Place the pizza dough on a pizza pan or pizza stone.
6. Evenly brush the olive oil on the pizza. Top with fresh mozzarella slices. Add the parmesan cheese. Place the pizza in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes or until pizza crust is golden and cheese is melted.
7. Remove the pizza from the oven and place arugula on top. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the arugula and season with salt and black pepper, to taste. Garnish with additional parmesan cheese, if desired. Cut into slices and serve.