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Have No Fear – Allergy Safe Food is Here

Wherever there is a diagnosis of food allergies, there is also a fear of food.
The thought of social events, eating meals that are not from your own kitchen and trusting that someone else is giving you something that will be safe can be almost just as crippling as the diagnosis itself. Walking into a room of food can set off all sorts of internal struggles and anxieties that may simply make it unbearable to even attempt for some people. But what if that room full of food wasn’t scary or dangerous? What if that room full of food was actually a safe haven where all of the foods were clearly labeled, everyone handing out food had gloves on and answered each and every allergy question that you have about that food?GlutenFree Expo

Jen Cafferty, Founder & CEO of The Gluten Free Media Group shares a personal experience: “There was a family that came to the Secaucus, NJ GFAF Expo and when they walked in, their son had tears in his eyes. He was about 10 years old and was crying. I was worried that something was wrong but then he said ‘This is better than Disney! I can eat everything!’”

With multiple locations across the United States, the Gluten Free and Allergen Friendly Expo is the largest event for foodies with food allergies.  Seeing the immediate need to offer more products for those with Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivities/ auto-immune/inflammatory disease and Autism, this expo is nothing short of a great way to regain your trust in food and to find new items that you didn’t even know were available for you.

For the price of an expo ticket you get:

  • 1 Day or Weekend entry to the vendor area with 100+ brands
  • A free reusable bag that has a bunch of wonderful items inside to add to it
  • Gluten free samples from the vendors
  • Discounts on many of the products at the event
  • Vendor coupons to help you save after the expo
  • Free classes to help you with a gluten free and allergen-friendly lifestyle
  • You also get to meet your favorite product vendors, authors and bloggers (like me!)

Why I Go

We all need a sense of community to strengthen our food allergy journey. I have personally found that attending these expos allows me to connect with other people on so many different levels. Being able to meet and talk to the product vendors about why they do what they do, what your family needs them for or even to recommend some new ideas brings about a newfound voice that many of us don’t know how to share. Bumping into other attendees and just having a conversation makes us realize that we are all in this together and regardless of how long we have known each other, what we do know is that someone else’s family is instantly our family in any allergic scenario. You may enter with caution because you are so used to fearing what these foods can do to you but when you leave, this will be the same food that GF Pastawill empower you to get through all of those difficult days. Between the delicious never-ending samples of food, the goody bags followed by even more goodies being handed out to you along the way and the personal touches of the expo, you will be reminded that food is fun. How long has it been since you felt comfortable saying that? Where else can you walk, talk, eat and have a picture taken with a giant fork? Whether you go alone or as a family, there is something for people of all age groups to pick up, pick at and pose for.

Our family has been to the Atlanta, GA Gluten Free and Allergen Friendly Expo twice: once as a family (shared here) and this time I was honored to be a part of their press team. The only difference between the two trips- it got even better.  Why am I sharing? Because it’s part of my passion to help others with food allergies and I want everyone to feel good about their food allergies.  When you feel out of control or lost, there are places to go and people to meet who will help you.  Why not enjoy the journey along the way?

For more information on the Gluten Free and Allergen Friendly Expo visit

Video: Stairs, Water & More – Preventing Child Accidents at Home

Katrina Phillips of the Child Accident Prevention Trust explains how to make your home childproof and prevent avoidable accidents.

Editor’s Note: Video Highlights

There are hazards all around the home. This video covers the following key accident risks and areas of the house:

  • Stairs – barriers are needed at the top and bottom of stairs to protect young children – and toys at the top of stairs can be a risk for all family members
  • Bathrooms
    • Don’t leave cleaners under the sink or by the side of the toilet or bath – even if they have “childproof” caps – many 3-year olds can open these containers
    • Scalding bath water is a major hazard – always make sure the water is the right temperature before filling the bath

Note: In the UK, generally hot and cold water run through separate taps – so the advice in the video is UK-specific. In North America, the usual advice for bath water is to get the water running to the right temperature before filling it for your child – and to reduce the temperature of your hot water heater to avoid accidental scalding.

  • Bedrooms
    • Little girl playing with household cleanersIf  your window can fully open, invest in window locks to prevent falls
    • Beware of window blind cords – young children can get wrapped in these and strangled
  • Kitchen
    • It’s important to keep pot handles and electric leads or cords away from edges of counters and small hands
    • Also ensure your cabinets have childproof locks – especially if they contain cleaners
  • Family Room or Lounge
    • Beware of hot cups of coffee or tea – Did you know a baby’s skin is 15 times thinner than an adult’s? – so hot liquid can do them much greater harm
  • Transportation Safety
    • Car seats are critical for kids – but ensure you have the correct seat for your child’s age and weight
    • Ensure your child always uses a helmet with a bike – even if just around your yard / driveway
    • Check out the video for more safe biking tips for your child – a healthy way to get around

School Snack Questions & Food Allergies

Primary School Pupils Enjoying Packed Lunch In ClassroomA new school year could bring another nail-biting semester for families with food allergies. Ensuring that your child will be safe in their new classroom is always a priority but are you asking the right questions each year? I’d like to share what has been very helpful with my son’s allergies and what you should consider discussing with not only the homeroom teacher but all of your child’s teachers. After all, any teacher or school staff member that will be with your child needs to know what is safe and what is not. To avoid confusion, it’s always better to discuss your thoughts about when and where so there will be less of a chance for why or why not.

“Are snacks brought in by each individual child or do the teacher’s ask for food donations from the parents?

This can vary from school to school or sometimes even grade to grade. Many schools are required to give the students a snack time so it should be no surprise when your child announces what everyone else brought in that day and ate near them. What you should find out is where the snacks are expected to come from. If the teacher is asking that parents send in snacks for the entire class, you need to discuss safe options that will work for everyone. Don’t be frustrated if you are met with a bit of discouragement- use that opportunity to meet new parents and help educate them on allergy-friendly snacks that all of the children can enjoy together.

“Can I provide a “Safe Snacks” box for my child?”

The topic of a safe snacks box has been a bit of a hot topic between parents within the food allergy community. Some feel that providing a safe snacks box may be seen as a negative experience- one that may make their child with food allergies stand out. There is also the flip side (which my family has been comfortable with) –not providing safe snacks could not only invite unnecessary allergic triggers but also leave your child feeling left out and isolated. Teachers who don’t plan ahead for children with food allergies don’t tend to think about the impact until after the fact. The important thing to find out is if there is an option to send safe foods for your child.

“Can I provide a letter to be sent out to all of the class parents giving them a heads-up about my child’s food allergies?

An effective way to let all of the other children’s parents know about your child’s food allergy safety is to draft a simple letter that gives brief but important details. Most teachers can include it with the initial paperwork so your letter will seem like part of the forms that need to be returned back to the teacher. Also consider that the parents who do not have an allergic child have hectic days and family plans that need to be addressed as well. Sometimes those reminder notes are more helpful than you trying to schedule a meeting time in between busy time.  A simple example can be found here.

“How is snack time handled? Do the children eat at their assigned desk? Do they sit on an area rug? Do they move around?”

Kind of a multi-part, long-winded question but still important. Area of snack time and ages are two key factors when it comes to cross-contamination. If the classroom has younger children that don’t hand wash as often or try to share just for the sake of being nice, these are situations that need to be remedied before it’s too late. If there is a favorite rug or sitting area that also traps food particles dropped during snack time, perhaps it’s time to ask the teacher if foods can be kept in place that’s easier to keep clean up.

“Can I be a class helper at parties and celebrations?”

Only on a very rare occasion will you be faced by a teacher that refuses your help. With the growing number of children in the classrooms, teaches are very often grateful to get help with their class parties. I always say that I will be the silent helper with the Lysol wipes. In exchange for an hour or so of your time, you receive the benefit of spending time with your child, meeting their friends, seeming like the “cool” parent (as many others usually have to work) and you can quietly keep your eyes open for allergic reactions waiting to happen. Unfortunately, this will be harder to do as they get older and feel having a parent with them is uncalled for.

When in doubt, it’s always best to discuss everything far enough ahead to make sure snack time is not a scary time. Stay positive, stay involved, stay stocked with your child’s allergy medications and above all, educate others.

Food allergies do not just affect the children with them, they affect everyone that knows someone with food allergies or has witnessed a reaction.

Why not be cautiously prepared? There is nothing else better than to hear one of your child’s friends exclaim “She told me that if I eat something that makes me have an allergic reaction, she would take care of me too.” Snacks can always be replaced- a child’s life cannot.

Is The Food in Your House Safe to Feed Your Family?

Little girl and mother cooking together in the kitchen.Food poisoning is a real issue in American households and restaurants.  It is estimated that 48 million food-borne illnesses are reported each year.  That is pretty staggering when you think that the entire population of the United States is 318 million – 15% of the population is affected each and every year!  Infants, children, the elderly and those that are already sick are the most vulnerable.  We would be remiss if we did not discuss the basics in food safety.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics along with ConAgra Foods has put together an excellent website on food safety.  They have put food safety basics in 4 categories: WASH, SEPARATE, COOK & REFRIGERATE.

This includes cleaning your hands, your food items and all food preparation surfaces.

Be sure to keep all raw meat, poultry and fish separate from other food until it is ready to cook.

Make sure all foods are cooked to a proper temperatures .  Also make sure any leftovers are reheated to at least 165 degrees.

Refrigerate leftovers immediately in shallow containers to below 45 degrees.  Do not keep leftovers beyond the suggestion times.

When cooking with your kids and teenagers, be sure to teach them food safety.  Learn more details of each of these areas of WASH, SEPARATE, COOK & REFERIGERATE on the Home Food Safety website.

Children and Choking: Prevention and What to Do

Child CPR

the Heimlich maneuver

Recently, in the classes I have been teaching there has been an overwhelming amount of questions regarding choking in children and how to prevent it and what to do when it happens?  With choking being one of the top 5 killers of children in the United States, there is never a bad time to cover choking in children and what we as parents and caregivers can do to prevent and deal with the situation.

Let’s face it, children choke on almost anything.  If you have children or are a caregiver to children then you know that children love to put new things into their mouths and taste test everything and the younger the child, the more stuff they will put in there without any regard for what it might be.   The questions of how to prevent choking in children has a lot to do with age.  What I tell new parents or soon to be parents and grandparents are to go home.  This may sound silly but home is where the battlefield is.  I tell them to go home and see their home from a new perspective.  We as adults see the world from very high up, our perspective tends to make us look down on most things in our homes.  A small child or infant will see the home from an entirely different perspective looking up at most things in the home.  So what I recommend to the adults is to go home and lie down on the floor in every room and see what an infant might see.   It’s a whole new world down there with things like splinters under wood furniture, nail heads or staples sticking out, strings from fabrics, and the most important thing of all being that the infant or small child will find everything you have lost under all your furniture, including pills, paperclips, popcorn, you name it.   So as I said before, go home and gain a child’s perspective on your home.

Preventing choking in older children has mainly to do with food and how it is prepared and eaten.   We have all said “don’t stuff your face” or “chew your food “a thousand times, but the preparation is where we can make a significant difference.   What I tell parents is to cut, cut and cut again.  With foods like hot dogs, grapes, fruit and many other solid foods, cutting beforehand is the key.   Other, lesser known culprits like popcorn, peanuts and even cereals can be broken down by simply putting them in a bag beforehand and crushing them a little bit to break them down.

What to do when the choking begins are the most important and the most frightening, but thinking is the key.

Baby CPRIf you have an infant that starts choking at home, the first step should be to bring the infant to you by taking them out of whatever apparatus they are in at the moment, highchair or bouncer for example.  Secondly, you should scream for anyone you are with to call 911 and inform them of a choking infant, or you may have to bring baby to the phone and call 911 while relieving the choking yourself.   Even if the choking was sudden and the event ends right away, at least help is on the way.   The third thing should be to be seated and position the infant face down with the legs straddling your arm and your hand on the infants jaw, all while keeping the baby’s head pointed down in order to use gravity should anything come out or loose.  You will use the palm of your free hand to strike down, but towards the head of the infant, between the shoulder blades 5 times. Then you will put your free hand on the back of the baby’s head and sandwich the baby and flip them over to your other leg and then place your two fingers between the baby’s nipples and do 5 chest compressions or chest thrusts. You will repeat this until the object is removed, the baby starts breathing, or the baby becomes unconscious.

Should the baby go unresponsive, lie the baby down on a hard, flat surface and begin cpr on the baby.

Choking for the older child is much the same as choking for an adult, just on a smaller scale.  If you notice an older child that appears to be choking, you can ask them “are you choking? “ and if given confirmation that they are choking then you will kneel down behind the child, so you can be roughly the same height, and use the Heimlich maneuver, (see the picture at the top of the page) the same one you use on adults, to relieve the choking.  If it is unsuccessful and the older child becomes unresponsive then lay the child down on a hard, flat surface and begin cpr.

The most important times in this event are the identification of choking, the sooner the better, and the call to 911, again the sooner the better.  There are a million things anyone can choke on and our homes are where most of the action takes place so please take a little time and do some prevention work around our homes and as always, I recommend taking an official American Heart Association CPR class in your area that will cover the CPR and choking (click here to find a course) and give you ample practice time so you can be better prepared.

Thank you and be safe.

The Kurbo Program: Healthy Weight Mgmt for Kids and Teens

Kurbo logoThe growth of childhood obesity in the United States is staggering.  We have now reached a point where 1 out of 3 kids are overweight or obese.

My name is Joanna Strober and my son was one of those kids struggling with weight. As a mother, concerned about my child’s health and well being, I set out on a mission to find help. I was searching for a tool, something that could easily fit into my son’s life and effectively help him manage his weight. However, after multiple doctor visits and endless hours on the Internet, I found nothing beyond “eat less and exercise more.”

I knew of some weight loss apps for adults, but, like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, they were all either unsafe or ineffective for children. Then I discovered the nationally recognized Stanford Pediatric Weight Control Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, where I finally found the effective tools and practical guidance I was looking for. University based weight loss programs for kids are highly effective for local families – but what about children and families that do not live near a University based program? How can they receive help, guidance and support to control and manage their weight?

I wanted to find a way for the program’s proven weight management tools to reach more kids.  Recognizing this gap in the marketplace, I came up with a plan: to adapt Stanford’s program to a scalable, mobile platform for kids and teens. Thus, the idea for Kurbo was born.

To carry out my plan, I needed an expert in the field of pediatric weight control, so I teamed up with Thea Runyan. Thea is the Lead Behavior Coach for the Stanford program and for over 12 years, has successfully helped over 600 families manage weight and lead healthier lifestyles. With her experience and dedication to taming the childhood obesity epidemic, Thea connected to my vision and recognized its potential to positively change the lives of kids, teens and their families.

teens and their smart phoneWith the help of $5.8 million in venture capital funding, we launched Kurbo Health. Kurbo Health licensed the program from Stanford University’s acclaimed pediatric weight control program and incorporated the programs’ tools and principles into a fun, engaging mobile app and weekly live-coaching sessions. It’s the first safe, effective and accessible mobile weight management program for kids, teens and their families.

The Kurbo Program teaches kids how to change their eating and exercise habits in order to reach and maintain a healthy weight. It is not about dieting, calorie counting or deprivation. These imply short-term results, create a negative stigma and hyper-focus around food and only magnify the issue at hand. Instead, Kurbo is about gradually gaining control of your health by making healthy lifestyle choices. Kids start seeing real signs of success after 3 to 4 weeks of the Kurbo Program.

A critical component of the Kurbo Program is the free, easy-to-use mobile app. Kids use the app to track their food and exercise using a version of the research-based Traffic Light system. Here’s how the system works: green light foods include fruits and veggies, yellow light foods include grains, lean protein and low fat dairy and red light foods are high in unhealthy fats, sugars and high calorie density foods. Once kids start tracking their red, yellow and green light foods, they become aware of their eating habits and start making healthier choices.  The goal is to eat a well-balanced diet by increasing green light foods, moderating yellow light foods and minimizing red light foods over time. This is a safe way for kids to eat healthier and manage their weight. The app also includes videos and games that introduce concepts like food classification and portion size and provides instant feedback, reminders and rewards to keep users on track.  Kurbo also encourages challenges, like having a red-free day or trying a totally new green light food, that keep kids engaged and motivated to achieve their goals.

The Kurbo Program provides weekly supportive coaching sessions with a trained Kurbo coach. Planning for the weekThese sessions can either be via text or email. Each week, your child’s Kurbo coach evaluates their progress by reviewing food and exercise choices, making actionable suggestions and working with your child to set reasonable goals for the next week. Coaches also teach your child how to plan ahead and budget their number of red light foods for the week. Say, for example, your family is going to a birthday party on a Friday. Your child’s Kurbo coach will help him or her use the app to rebudget reds, adding more reds on Friday (and fewer on other days of the week) to make sure he can eat pizza and cake and still meet his red-light goal for the week!

Not only is the Kurbo Program fun and affordable, it works. Kurbo’s beta test results showed that 88% of kids (ages 8 to 18) who met with Kurbo coaches for 10 weeks reduced their BMI (body mass index), lost an average of 5-10 pounds, exercised more frequently and felt healthier, happier and more confident.

While Kurbo kids gain tools to lead healthier lives, Kurbo parents get to take a break from being the “food police.” Kurbo reduces the tension and conflict around food and exercise that many parents face with their children. Coaches become a source of support, motivation and accountability. However, parents are still encouraged to be actively involved in their child’s Kurbo journey. Parents can participate in coaching sessions, receive a weekly email newsletter and have access to parent-focused experts who can answer their specific questions and concerns. Kurbo invites the whole family to use the Kurbo app, because kids are more successful when their families are tracking along with them. In fact, many parents lose weight too.

I created Kurbo Health as a solution for families, kids and teens who are struggling to lose weight. What started as a mission to help my son, has become a mission to help millions of kids and teens live healthier, lose weight, adopt better eating habits and feel really good about themselves.



Here is a Healthy Family Checklist  to help manage your family’s healthy habits:

  • Do 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Incorporate exercise in a family routine like walking after dinner.
  • Limit TV, computer and video game time to 2 hours/per day
  • Eat dinner with your family at a regular time
  • Eat a fruit and/or vegetable at every meal (at least!)
  • Drink lots of water!
  • Limit Red light Foods like candy, chips, and crackers by buying less!
  • Switch to non-fat or 1% milk
  • Don’t drink your calories! Avoid sugary drinks like soda, sports drink and juice.
  • Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. Don’t skip meals!
  • Encourage your kids and teens to get least 8-9 hours of sleep a night

One feature about Kurbo that generates some concern is the weight tracker: kids are encouraged to weigh themselves once a week and record it in the Kurbo app. Thea Runyan, Kurbo co-founder, provides her advice for creating a healthy mindset around “stepping on the scale:”

  • Don’t make the scale scary, it’s just a tool: It is important that parents don’t transfer their fears about the scale to their kids. At Kurbo weight measurement is simply another tool to assess progress, just like food and exercise tracking.
  • Encourage kids and teens to weigh themselves NO MORE than once a week: Research shows that weighting yourself regularly (not obsessively) is very important for managing a healthy lifestyle.
  • Success is not measured in pounds: At Kurbo, a child’s success is not defined by weight loss but instead, by learning and maintaining healthy behaviors and making smart choices about food and exercise.

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