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Allergen-safe—and tasty—snacks

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Sharing a snack, like a bowl of animal crackers or popcorn, with my kids is one of life's little joys. For most people, shopping for snacks is also a joy, an exercise in indulgence.

Then there are those like me, who stand in store aisles scrutinizing labels for any mention of wheat, dairy, eggs or nuts. Products with such allergens can make children like mine extremely sick. When I finally find a snack food that is "safe" and am ready to plunk down a small fortune for its purchase, there's this added question: How will it taste? It's hard to find joy in a snack that tastes bad.

So we conducted a taste test of a few products that my children could eat. I assembled two groups of kids, ages 3 to 16. Some have allergies and some don't. Then I added in the opinions of a few adults for good measure.

Because my kids have varying allergies to wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts and peanuts, we focused primarily on products devoid of these allergens. The list is far from comprehensive, but it's a short sampling of what's available. One note: Many of the items are made without preservatives, so make sure you wrap them appropriately to ensure freshness.

We've organized the treats by snack category and ranked them either "thumbs-up," "thumbs-down" or "so-so."

Our testers were:

The Grimes family, which includes mom Margaret Stroud, 39; Andrew, 9; William, 6; and Elliot, 3. The Grimeses follow a strict gluten-free diet for celiac disease.

The Hicks family: Sandy, 36; Anthony, 38; Cheyanne, 16; Asia, 13. They have no food allergies.

My son, Ty, 9, and my daughter Talia, 3. Ty is allergic to nuts, and Talia is allergic to wheat, dairy, casein, whey, eggs and nuts.


Enjoy Life Granola

Flavors: Cinnamon Crunch, Very Berry Crunch, Cranapple Crunch

Free of: Wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts

Verdict: Thumbs-up

Comments: Our testers agreed that these granolas rival any on the market. The 3-year-olds cleaned their plates. Perfectly balanced with crunch and sweetness, the cinnamon and berry varieties were the clear favorites, and our young testers quickly dreamed up uses for the blends. "It would taste great on yogurt," said William. "If there was milk on it, that would make it the best thing ever," exclaimed Andrew. Cranapple Crunch garnered mixed reviews. William loved it, while Andrew, Ty and Talia didn't care for the dried fruit.

Price: $3.69

Available at: Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Harmony Farms, Kroger


Enjoy Life Trail Mix

Flavor: Mountain Mambo, a flavorful nut-free mix made of sunflower kernels, pumpkin seeds, raisins, apples, chocolate chips, cranberries

Free of: Wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts

Verdict: So-so

Comments: While the grownups loved it, the kids were divided. "I love the chocolate chips," Talia said as she picked through the seeds and gobbled the sweet, dark morsels. Andrew said he liked everything "except the healthy stuff." "It's too dry," said William. "It was umm yummy," exclaimed Elliot.

Available at: Kroger and online at www.enjoylifefoods.com


Enjoy Life Trail Mix

Flavor: Beach Bash, a combination of sunflower seeds, pineapple, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, apricots

Free of: Wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts

Verdict: Thumbs-down

Comments: With a bevy of exotic dried fruits and no chocolate, this mix has a decidedly more adult flavor. "I didn't really like it," said Andrew, who promptly passed his share along to his brother William, who in turn dumped it on his mother's plate. (She liked it.) Elliot was the only child tester who liked it. He ate his share plus Ty's, too.

Available at: Kroger and online at www.enjoylifefoods.com


Divvies Popcorn

Flavors: Kettle and caramel

Free of: Dairy, eggs, nuts

Verdict: Thumbs-up

Comments: "Can I have more, Mommy?" was the constant refrain I heard every time we had a handful of the caramel glazed or sweet and salty corn. My son loved it so much that he couldn't bring himself to share. (I couldn't blame him.) Divvies popcorn makes a perfect complement to movie or game night or an afternoon snack.

Price: $6 for a 4-ounce bag; $38 for 3 gallons

Available at: www.divvies.com


Market Pantry Fruit Snacks

Flavor: Tropical (comes in multiple flavors)

Free of: Wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts, nuts, soy

Verdict: Thumbs-up

Comments: Talia was taken with the pineapple, orange and berry shapes, which taste like conventional fruit snacks and gummies. "It's really good, like it has cotton candy in them," said Talia. These would be perfect for snack time at school.

Price: Recently on sale for $1 a box

Available at: Target


Clif Kid Organic Twisted Fruit

Flavor: Mixed berry and strawberry (comes in multiple flavors)

Free of: Wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, soy

Verdict: Thumbs-up

Comments: "Ummm, I like it," exclaimed Talia. "It tastes like cherry. It's like a fruit snack." The texture of these twisted fruit ropes is reminiscent of Fruit Roll-Ups, but they are made without corn syrup and preservatives. They come individually wrapped, six to a box or sold individually.

Price: 89 cents to 99 cents each

Available at: Earth Fare and Whole Foods


Check back next month for a continuation of this list.

Joyce Clark Hicks can be reached at joyce4indy@gmail.com.

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