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By MFA Mom on Thu, 09-20-07, 01:39

Finding Snacks for Kids With Allergies
We Hunt Online for the Peanut-Free and the Eggless

More than 12 million Americans are allergic to certain kinds of foods, like peanuts and wheat, according to the nonprofit Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. Out of that population, 2.2 million are school-age children -- and one in 17 children kids under age 3 has food allergies. Not surprisingly, a growing number of companies have sprouted up to help, offering everything from egg-free waffles to wheat-free pasta. While parents can increasingly find such offerings at gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods, they can find an even wider-range of products online.

We ordered from Cherrybrook Kitchen, Divvies, Ener-G, Gak's Snacks and Allergy Grocer. For all but one company, we ordered several different items to see if they were tasty enough to tempt our somewhat finicky toddler, who is allergic to eggs and peanuts. Overall, the extra effort and, in some cases, the higher price tag paid off as most were devoured by our toddler. In addition, we received peace of mind, since many products say they both don't include the offending substances, and also aren't processed on machines that could come into contact with the allergens.

Snacks Exposed
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Second Look at Kids Snacks Based in Massachusetts, Cherrybrook Kitchen was launched in 2005 by Patsy Rosenberg, after discovering she could no longer eat dairy, eggs, and tree nuts. Unwilling to give up baking, Patsy developed recipes so she could have her cake and not be allergic to it too. As a result, the company sells mixes for baked goods like brownies and cakes that are dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free, wheat-free and gluten-free.

Since we were first-time buyers, we opted for the $29.74 original variety pack, but we weren't sure what we were getting. An ingredients list said the pack included six mix boxes for chocolate cake, yellow cake, chocolate frosting, vanilla frosting, chocolate-chip cookies and sugar cookies. Meanwhile, the product description listed mixes for fudge brownies, pancakes, chocolate-chip cookies, sugar cookies and yellow cake. Despite the confusion, the mixes that arrived simply needed water/soy milk and margarine/butter to make yummy cakes and cookies.

A favorite of celebrities like Rachael Ray, Divvies specializes in premade sweets like cookies, cupcakes and candy. We immediately decided on cookies and cupcakes since we've had to leave many bakeries empty-handed since our daughter's diagnosis. We easily ordered a dozen oatmeal raisin cookies for $10, a dozen chocolate-chip cookies for $10, and a dozen vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting for $24. But after filling out the requisite billing and shipping information, we were worried that our order wouldn't arrive on time since we were ordering on a holiday weekend.

A quick call to customer service -- surprisingly open during the holiday -- assured us that the order would be sent out by UPS within a day and arrive the next day. The cookies, which actually arrived a day earlier than promised, were, while more crumbly than regular ones, delicious. The cupcakes, however, were disappointingly dry and tasteless.

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More WSJ.comGak's Snacks, started in 2005 by psychologist Jill Robbins after her youngest son was diagnosed with food allergies, also specializes in baked sweets. Customers can choose from premade cookies and coffee cakes or baking ingredients like organic tapioca starch and organic barley flour. While cookies like brownie chip and chocolate chip were tempting, we decided to try the $27.95 organic apple coffee cake after reading the breathless description -- "this award-winning organic apple coffee cake is so good, no one will believe what's not in it." To ensure freshness, the coffee cake is shipped frozen in a cooler (for an additional $6.50) and delivered within two days by FedEx ($10.90).

While it was the most expensive coffee cake we've ever had, it did live up to its advertisement and was moist and scrumptious. We just wished we hadn't received a cake labeled best eaten by a date that was one day BEFORE we ordered it. Owner Jill Robbins said our cake must have been misdated and that all cakes are good for up to three months.

Since 1962, Ener-G has been making food for people faced with diet restrictions. The Seattle-based company promises not only mixes and ready-made foods that are free of well-known allergens like gluten and wheat but also of less well-known ones like corn. The food also happens to be kosher.

Ordering was a breeze as the Web site was easy to use and prominently displayed what each product was made of and what allergens it was free of. But be prepared to set some time aside for ordering as the selection is quite large. Not only were there cookies and cakes and snacks to choose from but also pasta, flour mixes, and loafs. Our toddler couldn't get enough of the soft ginger snaps ($5.49) and the plain Cheecha Krackles ($4.19), pretzel-like snacks made from potato granules and starch. But the cinnamon rolls ($9.39) were pretty unsavory. There was also a hitch: our package was delivered by Fed-Ex a day later than requested. After sending an e-mail to customer service about the late arrival, we received a generous $20.60 reimbursement.

Allergy or Cold?
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Check Your Symptoms Unlike the other four Web sites, Allergy Grocer sells more than just its own brand of Miss Roben's mixes. It carries everything from Just Veggies' snacks to body lotion by Gluten-free Savonniere. Given the huge selection, shopping by categories like breakfast and snacks can be overwhelming. Thankfully, the site has the best search function we've seen; it allows customers to search by a certain category, the allergen you're trying to avoid, and if the product is kid-friendly, a top seller or new item.

The hunt for a snack bar that was peanut-and-egg-free took only seconds. Completing the purchase of Enjoy Life Foods' very berry snack bar for $3.36, Natural Dessert's strawberry-flavored Jel Mix for $2.29, and Enjoy Life Food's soft-baked lemon cookies for $4.32 was just as quick: on one Web page, we filled out information on shipping, billing, and when we would like the package to arrive. The food arrived on time and all but the lemon cookies was worth reordering.

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