Recent studies show food allergies are rising in both children and adults. In 2021 the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found that food allergies in children were up about 6%.
With back-to-school starting, many parents of children with food allergies might have extra anxiety about what their child eats at school. Nona Dasenbrook, a Denver Public Schools registered dietician, handles special diets for students. She says “In compliance with USDA’s policy, DPS provides modified meals for students with a documented disability and requires a completed meal modification form to be kept current and on file while the student attends DPS. Once a completed form is received for a disability, I create a menu that follows our cycle menu and eliminates the listed allergen(s). We provide training to our kitchen staff on preventing cross-contact and contamination to keep those meals safe.”
The most common food allergy triggers are milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, and tree nuts. On April 23, 2021, the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research Act (FASTER) added sesame seeds as a 9th major food allergen. Symptoms can appear within minutes or sometimes hours, causing reactions including hives, itching in the mouth, trouble breathing, swelling, and stomach pain. Food allergies can also cause Anaphylaxis which is a severe life-threatening allergic reaction.
Denver’s restaurant industry is also responding to people who have food allergies and find it difficult to eat out. Jennifer Peters is the owner of Just Be Kitchen. She comes from an athletic background and started an anti-inflammatory diet to help her stay healthy and fit. But she also wanted to enjoy food.
“I was tired of, quote unquote, healthy food being really about sacrifice. So, like, if I wanted to eat healthy, then it was like a kale, quinoa salad and, you know, a piece of protein. And I want to eat pizza, burritos, chicken, and dumplings, you know, biscuits and gravy and I believe that those things can be made in a wholesome manner,” Jennifer said.
Just BE Kitchen has two locations, one in LoHi and another in Greenwood Village. It’s a restaurant that brings comfort-style food that is both allergy friendly and diabetic-friendly. Just Be Kitchen has an allergy hub and menu that has details about the ingredients in each dish so customers can feel safe as they enjoy food. Jennifer wants people to eat well and walk away from her restaurant satisfied.
“So that people don’t feel like there’s a trade-off between either eating mindfully, and healthy and anti-inflammatory, or for the people that do have to really watch what they’re eating like celiac and other people with autoimmune diseases, that we’re not having to sacrifice,” she said. “Every single week, I get messages or people stopping me in the store. And it never gets old.”
Deby’s Gluten Free is located in Denver, and is a 100% dedicated gluten-free, peanut-free grocery store. It offers a variety of gluten-free baked goods, as well as take and bake meals and cake mix so clients can cook at home. Monica Poole, the owner of the bakery started it in 2005. Her family struggles with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. She wanted to make it easier to live gluten-free.
“Customers come in and look around and start crying. Because we have so much variety. I was just doing what I wanted. It’s like well, if I had a store and I was going to shop there, this is what I want. I’d want to be able to come in and get all the things that I want at a regular store that isn’t gluten-free. I can get them here and they’ll be gluten-free,” says Monica.
Other places that have allergy friendly menus in the Denver area include Watercourse foods, Vital Root, River and Roads Coffee, and Holidaily Brewing Company that offers gluten free beer and is located in Golden and next to Just Be Kitchen in the Greenwood Village Plaza..