Food Allergy Living Blog

Nutrition Specialist Column

7 Questions with Sarah O’Brien, Digital Marketing Manager

Posted 10.9.15 | Nutrition Specialist

Meet Sarah O’Brien, long-time blogger of Food Allergy Living! Sarah is also a digital marketing manager, specialized in pediatrics at Nutricia. She works closely with the Neocate brand. Sarah has two children, one  of who was born with a cow milk allergy. We recently had a conversation with her to find out why she got into this field, and learn more about her food allergy journey with her own children.

Why did you choose to work in this field, and what do you find most interesting about the medical foods industry?

I think health education is the most interesting part of the medical foods industry. I chose to work in this field because I felt that it was a good fit, given my interest in health and nutrition, and also in leading a healthy lifestyle, which is so important.  I also really like to talk to people going through this food allergy journey, and do what I can to help change their lives.

How often do you draw from your own experience as a mom to help Neocate customers?

I draw on my own experiences all the time. I don’t just draw on them when interacting with customers, though. I also find myself drawing on them in internal meetings, and when we are strategizing. I try to put my mom shoes on in those situations, and get the rest of the team to think as parents whether they are parents  or not, and pull that thought process through the strategy.

What was your best pregnancy memory?

When I felt my children kicking and moving, it was such a great experience. I remember I would be sitting in meetings, and I would feel a kick in the middle of a meeting, and I would have such a smile on my face. I felt like it was such a blessing to have a human growing in me, like it was a miracle.

Provide an example of what you do when one of your children does not like a certain type of food (i.e. getting them to eat broccoli).

I continue to put it on their plates, and try to get them to smell it, or lick it, or at least do something with it. I don’t pressure them and I’m okay if they don’t, but I will continue to put it on their plate and hope they will try it eventually.

What are your children’s favorite Neocate products?

My daughter really enjoyed Neocate Nutra, when she experienced a cow milk allergy.

If you had one piece of advice for parents with children who have a cow milk allergy, what would it be?

First of all, I understand that finding out your child has any type of allergy can be  a relief that you found the issue (and the solution) but can also be disappointing. As a parent, you immediately think, “my child isn’t perfect,” but with time you realize that it is okay, and you learn how to incorporate it into your life, and it becomes a normal part of your family. Parents with a child who has a food allergy will indeed have extra things to worry about like how food allergies will affect the child’s life, but it’s important to remember that they can still play and learn just like everyone else, they can still ride roller coasters, and do all the fun things other kids get to do. I would remind parents to keep a positive outlook and what a blessing it is to have such a healthy child so full of energy!As a parent, you will worry about your kids no matter what. Having a food allergy certainly adds to the list but as you gain experience and confidence with what to avoid, how to avoid, what to do in an emergency, educating everyone around your child and seeing your child take their food allergy into their own hands will hopefully lessen your worry a little.

Is there anything else you want the readers to know about you?

I was in your shoes at one point too. I went through the journey, the multiple doctor visits with no answers, many tears, sleepless nights, desperate for a solution, overwhelmed with emotion, guilt, denial, struggled to gain family support, I went through it all and came out with a happy baby and in a really good place! I am someone knowing what you are going through, and trying to work to make it better. I’m not just someone in the office doing a job; it’s more than a job or brand to me. It’s something I have lived through, and I have now made it my mission to make the journey for others better.  


Soup - It’s What’s for Dinner!

Posted 10.7.15 | Nutrition Specialist

Every day, we talk with families who struggle daily in managing food allergies. Food allergies certainly present a lot to manage! On top of the extensive guidance you receive on how to manage food allergies in the kitchen, you also hear advice that it's important to "spend dinner together as a family" for important social reasons. For many families with food allergies involving a hypoallergenic formula like Neocate, this can represent a significant dilemma.

Family meal time

The value in gathering the whole family around the table for dinner - with all devices turned off! - is that everyone can connect. Dinnertime presents an opportunity for every family member to talk about their day and spend valuable time with each other. As a society, a lot of our social activities revolve around food, so this makes sense! However, people with a diet that consists solely or primarily of formula may not feel like they belong at the dinner table if they're not consuming the same things as everyone else. We gave some thought to how families can ensure everyone feels welcome at the dinner table and came up with this idea.

Soup's on!

In trying to figure out how to involve everyone, one possibility to make everyone feel welcome at the table is to come up with a way that every family member eats their meal the same way. Well, if one person consumes liquids, why not serve liquid - soup, specifically - for the rest of family? That way, the family can eat soup with bowls and spoons, and anyone who depends on formula can also use a bowl and spoon. This is a great way to get them to feel less "different" from everyone else at the table and like they're part of the same meal. Depending on what allergens need to be avoided, you may even be able to offer a soup that works for everyone at the table. And if you want to make a special soup for those with allergies, you can find ideas in some of our recipe books on this page.

How does your family make sure everyone feels included at the table?


Who Says Mealtime Can’t Be Fun?

Posted 9.29.15 | Nutrition Specialist

Getting kids involved in preparing meals and doing fun activities together before and during mealtimes can help to build healthy habits. Children with food allergies may especially benefit from positive activities centered around mealtime to remind them that food can be fun. Even though a special diet might require a little more thought and planning, it’s important to create these positive experiences.

Description: C:\Users\valleke\AppData\Local\Temp\notesE8B3C6\Capture Blog PIC.PNGInvolving children in preparing meals is a great way to build autonomy and confidence. What better way is there to teach children about food than to actually involve them in the process with their own hands?  Bring them along to the grocery store with you and have them help you choose ingredients. Involve them in the preparation and cooking process based on their abilities for their age. Try turning the TV off and store electronics away during meals, as mealtime can be a great opportunity for families to bond and catch up on each other’s days.

Here are some fun ideas for activities that families can do during mealtimes to have fun, learn about food, and enjoy mealtime together!

Play Restaurant

Children love to play “restaurant” at home. At a family meal, let your child pretend to be a waiter or waitress. First tell your child what is on the menu for dinner. Then give your child a small pad of paper and a pen to take orders from the customers. Let him or her serve the food and then he or she can leave the check. To extend the play, ask your child to create their own “real” menus for the next meal.

Thankful for ABC

What are you thankful for? Even on our worst days, we can still find things for which we are grateful. Go around the table and have each family member share something for which he or she is grateful in alphabetical order. For example, you’re thankful for apples, your son is grateful for bananas, and so on until everyone is feeling thankful from A to Z!

Family Recipe Cards

Your child can create a recipe card for any simple meal, for example “How to make a turkey sandwich.” Give your child paper or index cards and writing utensils and ask him or her to draw each step as you make the sandwich. If your child likes this activity, he or she can make a whole set of recipes.

Taboo Story

Each family member takes turns talking about his or her day, but first picks a letter. Words beginning with that letter may not be used in the description of one's day. The “taboo words” can make these stories a comical vocabulary exercise. Make sure each family member gets a chance to participate.

Theme night

To change up your routine, offer a theme meal night or host a dinner dress up night! Some ideas you can include: International Night, Halloween, Luau, Pajama Night, Breakfast for Dinner, Backwards Day.

Ingredient Race

Pick one of the ingredients from a meal and put it on the counter or in the center of the table. Give everyone 2 minutes to write down as many meals that use that ingredient as possible. Whoever comes up with the most meals wins!

What are some fun mealtime activities you and your family engage in? We’d love to hear your ideas!

-Hilary Smith, RD


Image source: Stephanie Sicore

Food Allergy-friendly Family Night Activities

Posted 9.25.15 | Nutrition Specialist

Busy, busy, busy! Our lives seem to be non-stop with everyone in the family going in different directions with work, school and activity schedules. Having some designated time for the family is important for bonding and reconnecting. For those with food allergies, making this time a non-food event is also important. Make it a priority, plan it out, turn it OFF (TV, computer and video games) and make it fun. Following are some ideas and resources to help you get started.

Game Night

If there’s one thing that everyone in the family can do at the table that doesn’t involve food, it’s games! Designate a weekly family game night and make it a priority to get everyone involved. Rotate which family member gets to choose which game to play each week. You’ll be amazed how much family bonding can be achieved over a spirited board or card game!

Indoor Gardening

This can be an exciting and rewarding activity, independent of the weather. What a great sense of fulfillment when kids can see seeds sprout or a flower bloom. This can be as simple as a few potted plants, a rock garden, a mini-themed garden or a terrarium. Below are some sites to check for further inspiration:

Family Fitness Night

What a great way to get kids moving and put a positive spin on physical activity. These can be held at home, around the neighborhood or at a local community center.

  • Home Fitness: When watching TV, turn commercial breaks into fitness breaks with simple moves like jumping jacks, marching, running in place or crunches. Create fun names to correspond to these and take turns with family members being the fitness break coach. Consider buying some small pieces of equipment to keep around the house (resistance bands, stability balls, yoga mats). Plan places to put these around the house and use them for a few minutes every day. Incorporating yoga or daily stretches is a good way to relieve stress and can protect from injury later in life.
  • Make chores fun: Turn on some tunes and dance and sing along. Consider making a SPECIAL playlist of chore songs with everyone contributing their favorite. Perhaps a chore + exercise combo. Clean the bathroom and do a set of squats every few minutes.
  • Sports Night: Weather is no issue for this! Inside, try aerobic DVDs or fitness video games that are age- and space-appropriate. Outside, consider the backyard or nearby park for Frisbee, basketball, jumping rope, or other outdoor games. Check out a close-by playground with the whole family. Consider recreation centers for swimming, rollerblading, or ice skating.

Need some more ideas? These sites have ideas for various activity types, durations and intensities.


Volunteering as a family enhances values such as kindness, compassion and tolerance. Family members can learn new skills and feel appreciated for their contributions. Opportunities abound and need not be limited to holiday times or associated with food. Consider your time commitment ability: one time or ongoing? Consider your interests, the ages of your children and perhaps whether you want to do this as a single family unit or joining with another family or even an organization. A helping hand might be needed in your own neighborhood, your community, or for distant places too. It’s important to explain to your children your volunteer activity purpose and what to expect.

These sites offer more guidance in volunteering and opportunities for families.

Family time is important and rewarding. What kind of food allergy-friendly family night activities does your family engage in?

-Jody L. Benitz, MS, RDN

Image from familytravelck

About Neocate

Posted 8.27.15 | Nutrition Specialist

Have you ever wondered what makes Neocate different than standard nutritional formulas? This is a very good question and definitely worth sharing.

All of our Neocate products are “elemental” formulas, or to be more specific “amino acid-based” formulas. The term ‘amino acids’ may bring back some memories from high school biology or chemistry class. Amino acids are essentially the building blocks of protein. The reason free amino acids are so important in some medical conditions is due to the fact that intact protein, in most cases, is what is responsible for triggering a food allergic response. Neocate is considered to be a hypoallergenic formula, as it does not contain any intact protein. In addition to the hypoallergenic nature of an elemental formula, the free amino acids make digestion and absorption easier as the protein is already in its most broken down form. It’s also important to mention that our bodies are able to use the amino acids in the same way that they use intact protein for healthy growth and development.

There are a number of reasons why an individual might need an elemental formula such as Neocate, such as:

  • Cow milk allergy (CMA) and/or soy milk allergy
  • Multiple food protein allergy
  • Short bowel syndrome (SBS)
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE)

This isn’t a complete list. Neocate products are sources of essential nutrients, and are often used as a sole source of nutrition (meaning they are used to meet all of an individual’s nutritional needs with no other source of nutrition). Of course, the amount of a Neocate product needed should be prescribed by a healthcare professional to ensure a patient consumes an amount needed to meet specific nutritional goals.

What makes Neocate products unique? Many reasons, but one that stands out to me the most is that Neocate powdered products are made in our own, dedicated facility that is 100% dairy-protein free. We also know that none of the ingredients in the Neocate products are derived from wheat, barley, rye, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, or eggs; removing the risk of cross contamination with those allergens.

If you would like to read a little more about what makes Neocate products different, check out a page on our Neocate web site that I think you’ll find to be pretty helpful:

The various types of formulas available can be overwhelming and definitely cause some confusion. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below!

- Kendra Valle, RDN

Neocate Mixing Videos Round-Up

Posted 8.25.15 | Nutrition Specialist

A few weeks ago, we posted a simple ‘How to Guide’ for mixing Neocate ( This blog included basic steps for preparation as well as various recipes. Being a visual learner, I thought it may be beneficial to highlight our mixing Neocate videos developed by my colleagues. All of these videos are available on our NeocateUS YouTube page; however to save you a step I have included the direct links to these videos below. Happy viewing!

Neocate Infant DHA/ARA:

Neocate Infant DHA/ARA in Spanish:

Neocate Nutra:

Neocate Junior with Prebiotics, Strawberry:

Neocate Junior with Prebiotics, Vanilla:

Do you have any helpful preparation tips that you want to share with other Neocate parents and caregivers? If so, we’d love to hear them!

-Kendra Valle, RDN

5 Questions with Rob McCandlish, Medical Affairs Associate

Posted 8.19.15 | Nutrition Specialist

Say hello to Rob McCandlish, a veteran blogger for the Food Allergy Living team! He has worked for Nutricia for more than 5 years. Rob is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and, at Nutricia, is a Medical Affairs Associate. He serves as a resource to parents/caregivers, dietitians, physicians, nurses and other individuals who have questions about Neocate products and medical conditions for which Neocate is used. 

We sat down with Rob to find out what his day to day looks like working at Nutricia, and learned about what drew him to medical nutrition. 

Why did you choose to work in this field? What do you find most interesting about medical nutrition?

I think what drew me to this field, and what I find most interesting about it, is the fact that our products are specific to uncommon disorders and that they touch a different aspect of health, because they fall somewhere in between food and pharmaceuticals. I enjoy having a positive influence on families who manage unusual disorders and who need specialized nutrition.

How have severe food allergies impacted your family?  

My nephew (who is going to turn two next month) developed symptoms of a cow milk allergy at around 3 months of age. After he was diagnosed he was on Neocate Infant for close to a year, and luckily he grew out of his milk allergy. It really brought home for me the difficulties parents face when their infant has a cow milk allergy, and the difference Neocate can make.

What is your favorite part of working at Nutricia?

I'd have to say I really love going to conferences and connecting with patients who use Neocate products in person. Getting to meet them and hear about how much of a difference our products have made in their lives helps add meaning to my work. It is very rewarding to personally hear about their transformation and success stories on Neocate.

What was your favorite nutrition course in college and why?

My favorite course in college was ”Experimental Foods.” I got to spend a whole semester manipulating a recipe – I think it was green curry chicken - to develop a healthier version. The challenge at the end of the semester was a blind tasting panel, and results were measured on whether or not tasters could tell the difference between the original recipe and the healthier recipe. I’d say that course is where I found my love for food science, and the experience in manipulating recipes has helped me in developing recipes that use Neocate products.

For some of Rob’s favorite Neocate recipes, download our Neocate Recipe booklet.

If you had one piece of advice for parents with children who have a cow milk allergy, what would it be?

Time and time again I hear frustration from parents who have gone through multiple doctor visits with few answers. Some doctors rarely see patients with conditions like EoE, FPIES or even a cow milk allergy, which can make it difficult to recognize what’s contributing to the child’s symptoms. Therefore, I suggest that parents go to their medical appointments armed with a logbook or diary of what they’ve been experiencing. That can help the medical team to link the symptoms to the condition. And never be afraid to ask questions! Asking your doctor the right questions can make a big difference in finding answers.

The ABCs of Back to School with Food Allergies

Posted 8.13.15 | Nutrition Specialist

‘Tis the season for back to school. While this can be exciting for many students and parents, there can be added anxiety for those dealing with food allergies. Besides the typical hustle and bustle associated with getting school supplies ready, food allergies require some extra preparation to assure a smooth and safe school transition. Assembling a variety of care plan documents, Bringing allergy-related supplies and Communicating with school administration, teachers and other students is essential for making this process as easy as A-B-C .

A is for Assembling of care plan documents.

It is a good idea to notify the school prior to school starting and ask to meet with school administrative staff and the school nurse to discuss and develop care plans to ensure food allergies and health are well managed while at school. These should identify the types of responsibilities, training and services required for keeping school safe and addressing emergencies should one occur. The three most common plans used for food allergic children are known as Emergency Care Plans (ECP), Individualized Healthcare Plans (IHCP) and 504 Plans. The following are good sources for becoming educated on these and offering sample templates as well.

Kids With Food Allergies (KFA) offers both video and print resources related to care plan topics.

  • This resource addresses four sample plans: protocol and procedure for allergy management in the classroom; ensuring trained individuals for epinephrine administration; defining the allergy disabilities; and food policies for classroom and cafeterias.
  • This two part video series includes both a Parents Need to Know video
  • …and a Question and Answer video
  • … along with additional tips, resources and links for parents on the website

The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) worked with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in creating comprehensive guides and resources for both the school communities and parents.

B is for bringing allergy awareness supplies to school.

Besides hand sanitizers and sanitizing wipes to reduce the risk of surface allergen contamination, other items might be worth consideration too. Here are some suggestions for allergy-related gear and allergy-safe foods.

Safety tattoos may be a good idea, especially at the beginning of the school year and for younger students until the school staff becomes familiar with your child’s food allergies.

Medical alert bracelets are a good idea for those with severe food allergies as they are helpful for EMT personnel if there is an emergency.

Re-usable wraps that hold a sandwich and then unfold to become a place mat while eating are offer by Wrap N Mat

Lunch boxes with food allergy information printed on them as well as tags and stickers can be found at Allergy Apparel

Snack ideas that are food allergy-friendly.

C is for communicating food allergy information to everyone.

Parents need to know as much as they can about their child’s food allergies in order to share this with school staff. It’s also good to work with your child so she knows her food allergies and can self-manage them when you feel she’s ready. Having information to share with your child’s classmates can help friends understand and be supportive. Here are some resources to help in these areas.

The following books are good for teaching younger students about allergies.

The Food Allergy Resource and Education (FARE) website has age-specific materials for kids of all ages with food allergies.

University of Utah Medical School offers an online program called A Shot to Live geared to teachers; this is also good for others too and includes videos on use of epinephrine auto-injectors.

The extra time, effort and energy of preparing for child with food allergy to return and/or start of school can make a world of difference in avoiding food allergy mishaps. It’s a matter of your ABCs.


Finally, here are two more resources related to heading back to school with food allergies worth considering:

FARE is a great go-to organization for multiple helpful resources. Need an allergist? Newly diagnosed with food allergies? Need materials in Spanish? The information here is downloadable and can be distributed as well. Check here for assistance on what to do on field trips, extracurricular activities and transportation issues too

KFA offers a guide containing a list of food allergens that can be found in unexpected places such as food used in science or math lesson plans, crafts, and cooking classes. Alternatives and precautions are suggested. Take note that ingredients may change so it is best to contact and verify these with the manufacturers.

What tips do you have for other families managing food allergies as they prepare to head back to school?

-Jody L. Benitz, MS, RDN

Image from Shardayyy

8 Questions with Kendra Valle, Nutrition Specialist

Posted 7.24.15 | Nutrition Specialist

We are happy to introduce Kendra Valle, our newest addition to the Food Allergy Living team! Kendra is a Nutrition Specialist in the Medical & Scientific Affairs Department, and serves as a resource to parents/caregivers, dietitians, physicians, nurses and other individuals who have medical- and nutrition-related questions about Neocate products. 

We sat down with Kendra to find out a little more about how being a busy mom of two daughters helps her to advise parents of children with a cow milk allergy (CMA).

Why did you choose to work in this field? What do you find most interesting about the medical foods industry?

There are so many areas of nutrition that a dietitian can be a part of. I chose to become a member of the Nutricia team because Nutricia sincerely believes in providing best care. We are able to help so many through nutrition while providing specialized medical foods that people actually enjoy!

How often do you draw from your own experience as a mom to help Neocate customers?

Pretty often.  I talk to many parents and caregivers on a daily basis who often share their personal situation with me. I put myself in their shoes and think, “If this were me, this is what I do.” I ask myself what I would do if this was one of my own kids. I believe that when providing the best care possible, empathy is a huge factor.

What was your best pregnancy memory?

My best memory was when the baby was moving around and I could feel life inside me for the first time. It was a pretty awesome feeling.

Provide an example of what you do when one of your daughter’s does not like a certain type of food (i.e. getting them to eat broccoli)

If they don’t like something that I offered, I do not force them to try it—instead, I encourage them. I found that the more I force them, the more they resist. In order to encourage healthy eating, I model healthy eating.

For example, my four year old daughter is a very picky eater. She started to see me eat a spinach salad on a daily basis, and eventually asked if she could eat it too. She loved it and soon was asking me to pack spinach in her lunch. I realized that by modeling healthy eating habits, she too would engage in healthy eating habits.

What are your children’s favorite Neocate products?

Neocate Junior chocolate—they love chocolate!

If you had one piece of advice for parents with children who have a cow milk allergy, what would it be?

If your child has been diagnosed with CMA, it is essential to keep their diet interesting. Drinking the same flavors  or eating the same foods everyday can become very boring for a child, so try to play around with foods they can tolerate. For example, you can vary recipes by mixing Neocate into a smoothie, or even into pancakes. I have written a blog post with allergy-friendly recipesthat any parent can use as a guide. 

I have also found that peer relationships matter when a child has food allergies.  So whenever your child is with their friends, try to come prepared with something that is similar to what the other kids are eating. I have a friend whose son has CMA and she always asks beforehand what will be served when he goes on an outing with his friends. That way, she can prepare foods for her son so he is still eating what other kids are eating and won’t feel left out! 

Guidance when Cooking with Neocate

Posted 7.23.15 | Nutrition Specialist

We get emails and phone calls almost daily from parents, caregivers, patients and clinicians asking questions like "What happens if we cook with Neocate?" We know that there are a lot of creative ways that some families use Neocate, such as a replacement for cow milk in baked recipes. We've developed a handy one-page document to answer the most common questions that Neocate families want answers to. You can find your own copy of 'Cooking with Neocate' on the 'Recipes and Guides' page of the Neocate website, along with lots of other helpful materials.

As always, we recommend that you check with your healthcare team, because some forms of cooking can affect some nutrient levels in Neocate.

How have you gotten creative in using Neocate products in recipes?


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About Us

Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.