As a first-time mom to an 18-month-old who seems to be food allergy-free, the notion of dealing with childhood food allergies was pretty foreign to me. Our first encounter came this summer, at half-day church camp, when I received notice that her classroom was declared a nut-free zone. For the first time, I had to think twice about what I sent with my daughter for her daily snack and lunch. Unfortunately, thinking twice about foods is a daily practice for my college roommate and good friend Katherine, whose twin girls were diagnosed with egg, peanut, and tree nut allergies in varying degrees of severity.
Here’s a snapshot of her daughter Madelyn’s back during a recent visit to the allergist:
Katherine never thought she would be dealing with this sort of thing and openly admits her lack of awareness before having children with food allergies: “I honestly thought it was just finicky parents limiting what their child can eat.” She didn’t understand the depth and seriousness of it until it was discovered that ingestion of certain foods are literally life-threatening for little Maddie.
She urges non-allergy parents to try to be compassionate and remember that this may be a life or death situation for some. Your child (without food allergies) can always consume the food at home and their life won’t be over if they can’t eat their PB&J sandwich for lunch. If it was your child, wouldn’t you want the same consideration?
So, as parents of a child without known food allergies, what can we do to respect and accommodate others with this condition?
Ask if there are any food allergies in the class so you know to avoid bringing that food in for breakfast, snack or lunch. Some schools require all treats to be shared with the class be store-bought with the ingredients listed. Be sure to wash or wipe clean hands and faces after breakfast before your child enters daycare or school. Simply shaking hands or contaminating a toy can spread the allergen. Remnants of that peanut butter on toast for breakfast can trigger a classmate to break out in hives.
As party hostess:
When hosting a birthday party for your child you can put some verbiage on the invitation (like “Please let me know if your child has any food allergies”) or ask when the parent RSVPs. Some parents of kids with food allergies may leave the party before the food is served to avoid making a scene or their child becoming upset about not being able to participate. Or, some might bring their own food just to be on the safe side.
Take care with hidden culprits:
Think twice about breakfast bars and chocolate candy (i.e. Snickers). Pesto sauce and some Asian foods or chicken nuggets cooked in peanut oil are sneaky sources, too. If substituting sunflower seed butter for peanut butter, be sure to make note of it in the lunchbox as it looks just like peanut butter. The SunButter company actually provides free printable labels you can stick on plastic sandwich baggies that help avoid confusion.
Know the Top 8:
According to FARE, these foods cause the majority of allergic reactions:
- Tree nuts