Roxanne Palin: A Family A-FARE
You won't catch Roxanne Palin taking a day off. With two food allergic children and a food allergic husband, she constantly finds ways to turn circumstances into opportunities for change in the world of food allergies. Over the years, Roxanne has been a strong advocate and fundraiser for food allergy safety, education and research. She and her daughter, Amanda, are being honored at the FARE NYC luncheon in April 2017.
Roxanne is the Director of Marketing at Juice Press, a NYC-based organic, vegan grab-and-go wellness brand with more than 60 locations in New York, Boston, New Jersey and Connecticut.
You and your daughter will be accepting the Legacy Award at the FARE NYC luncheon this year — what does this mean to you?
This holds deep meaning. I felt very alone when I first discovered Amanda had peanut allergies. I was often met with oppositional behavior from her classmates' parents when I asked to ban peanut butter from the classroom and school. By growing the FARE NYC luncheon and because of the good work FARE does, day in day out, we have been able to reach school and camp leaders, airlines, hotels and restaurant chains. I love that when a mother of a newly diagnosed food allergic child attends our luncheon she feels like she has a family. The event helps us all network, exchange ideas and learn about new research. It is very rewarding to know that I helped grow the luncheon from 70 attendees to 700.
Amanda and I have been on this journey together for many years. Knowing that she will be off to college this fall and feels ready to be independent makes this extra special. She cares so much about staying safe and helping others to do so as well.
Does having a husband with food allergies shape your approach to parenting with food allergies?
Absolutely. My husband is allergic to peanuts and all tree nuts. He discovered he had food allergies at 3 years old and lives a wonderful life. He traveled through Europe with his college buddies, went to sleepaway camp, and now we eat out with friends around the city a few times a week.
My children lead a similar life. My daughter Amanda (age 18) and son Ben (age 16) have peanut allergies. They are diligent when we eat out and travel, but there are certain types of restaurants we avoid. We stick to places that offer basic clean foods. We stay away from the bread baskets, desserts and triple-check the oils being used. When traveling, we use allergy cards that explain the allergy in the native language. Knowing where the nearest emergency center is important, in addition to always carrying two auto-injectors, Benadryl, Zyrtec and Pepcid. We always tell our kids — when in doubt use the auto-injector. When our auto-injectors expire, the kids practice using them on oranges.
Do you keep the allergens out of your home?
I never liked peanuts so I was a great choice for a spouse! When my kids were young, we never kept any nuts in our home. However, my youngest daughter, Dani, is a vegetarian, so I keep our cold-pressed juices and smoothies in the house. Some contain almond milk, which is a great source of protein. Since there is no preparation involved, and we currently do not use peanuts, all three of my kids can enjoy Juice Press.
tips for raising teens with food allergies?
What teens need to keep in mind is that self-advocacy is their lifeline, as much as their auto injectors. They do not need to be apologetic or embarrassed by their allergies. Everyone has something they are struggling with.
advice for raising a child without food allergies in a food allergic home?
My daughter without allergies is the youngest. She has never tried peanuts or peanut butter, and hates the idea of what they could do to her siblings and father, so she says she would never eat them. I understand this is a much easier thing to do than giving up milk or eggs, but the solidarity makes things simpler for us.
Hometown favorites for allergy-friendly restaurants?
My husband Dean’s restaurants, Big Daddy’s and Dukes, are our clear favorites. Dean is primarily a real estate developer, but he became interested in the restaurant business through his desire to eat out safely. As a kid, he was always talking to school and camp chefs, but unfortunately, he learned the hard way that nuts are ingredients in mole and pesto, that some chefs marinade steak in peanut oil and pastry chefs may use nuts on the bottom of an ice cream presentation to hold the scoop in place. I think he ended up becoming a restauranteur to create safe dining options for himself.
My children and I also love Juice Press, of course. Shun Lee on East 55th is another big family favorite. Eating Chinese food with nut allergies can feel almost impossible, but they do a great job. It's the only Chinese food we eat in the city. When we want something sweet, there is an ice cream place near our apartment called A La Mode that is nut-free and so delicious.
Spokin Tip: A La Mode's homemade ice cream flavors are also egg-free, sesame-free and gluten-free. There are also a few dairy-free options.
Can You Share a Proud Food Allergy Mom Moment?
We recently pulled off a completely nut-free Bat Mitzvah for my youngest daughter. Dani found a cake she loved on Pinterest that was covered in M&Ms. A bakery called Grandma’s in New Jersey used the picture as inspiration, but instead of using M&Ms, they decorated the cake with Sixlets, a nut-free, sugar-coated chocolate candy made by SweetWorks. We also served stunning cookies from Sweet & Flour and the most delicious donuts from The Donut Pub. There were so many kids with food allergies, other than my own, who were able to eat everything. It was such an added joy to an already joyous occasion.
Best places to travel domestically?
I must give a shoutout to Disney World. It was the only place we would travel without a kitchen when Amanda and Ben were younger, so it was a big part of our lives. My number one priority is for Amanda and Ben to feel safe, and no one does it better than Disney. They have the cleanest food and plenty of options. Even at 18 years old, Amanda still loves Disney to this day.
Your approach to international travel?
Italy is a favorite international destination because it affords us the safest options. Amanda spent three weeks with a teen program in Florence and felt that she could navigate and eat there easily. We also had a wonderful time in Israel with the help of Touring Israel. Our great guide, Joe Yudin, even managed to set us up with an amazing nut-free cooking class.
We always stick to the basics, ask a lot of questions and avoid desserts. When Amanda went to Eastern Europe with her school for a 10-day trip, she ate simple foods and felt safe. It's a good idea to bring a lot of your own food and allergy cards written in the country's native language. When in doubt, we trust our gut and politely exit the restaurant.
Food allergies haven't stopped us from exploring the world. We have traveled to places like Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Greece, Cartagena, Switzerland and Colombia, and while some cities were easier to navigate than others, we always find a way to make it work.
What was the catalyst for you to get involved in food allergy advocacy?
Awareness is key and will save lives. By increasing awareness, it helps kids who get bullied and teased as people typically fear what they do not understand. Every child deserves to feel safe at school.
Biggest need for change to improve the Lives of those living with food allergies?
LET'S FIND A CURE. We need more funding to keep research going.
What is the best advice to give to someone who is newly diagnosed?
See Roxanne speak at the upcoming FARE luncheon in New York on Wednesday, April 26 where she and Amanda will be honored for their incredible work.