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Monday, July 20, 2009

Food Allergies: A Parent's Perspective

By Guest Blogger RLR

At my daughter’s recent well-child check-up, the pediatrician and I were discussing my daughter’s diet. More specifically, we were discussing that my daughter doesn’t care for meat. As we talked about alternatives to ensure that she is getting enough protein, we immediately removed the top two suggestions, peanut butter and eggs, from consideration. Why? Because my daughter is allergic to both of them.

Two summers ago, my husband and I learned of our daughter’s food allergies. We immediately cleared our refrigerator and pantry of any food that could cause another reaction, began reading food labels even more closely, and by tried to learn as much as we could from doctors, parents of food allergic children, and online resources. In our home and other familiar environments - such as the homes of family and friends, our church, or our preschool - we are very comfortable with the level of care and attention to preventing exposure. It’s when we leave these familiar surroundings that our level of concern shifts into overdrive...

Family gatherings, vacations, parties, cookouts, and trips to the pool are just some of the ways we all have fun in the summer. However, as the parent of a food-allergic child, I find that there is always a bit of worry that sneaks in when we should just be having fun. Finding ‘safe’ foods at potluck meals such as family gatherings and cookouts can be a challenge. Vacationing means not only being away from home, but perhaps being away from familiar restaurants and food brands. While we have experienced some accidental exposures, the lessons we have learned from each one have helped us anticipate situations where an allergen may be present and develop our family’s plan for avoiding future exposure.

The most important lesson we have learned is to ask questions. In a restaurant, we may ask to speak to the manager. We constantly read labels – even if someone who is aware of our daughter’s allergies is the one providing the food.

Our daughter was young when we learned of her allergies. She was still at the age where we often brought along her snacks and meals when we were out and about. As a result of her allergies, though, we have never stopped bringing them along. When we go on trips, we typically bring along our ‘safe’ granola bars, a jar of soy butter, and a few other treats in case there’s something served that our daughter cannot eat.

We do a quick visual survey when we arrive some place that is outside of our comfort zone. Because our daughter is still too young to completely understand her allergies, it is our job to be vigilant for her while we teach her ways to take care of herself.

Finally, but most importantly, we always bring along her medications just in case she is exposed to peanuts or eggs.

If you are not the parent of a food-allergic child, these precautions may seem overwhelming - or even extreme. I often get asked, “How do you do it?” or someone will say to me, “That must be hard!” Label-reading, lunch-packing, and treat-bag sorting are normal activities for our family. I think (hope!) we have made it to the point that it’s pretty inconspicuous most of the time.

There are a few things that make can special events more relaxing even though we are living with food allergies:
•Hosts that inquire about food allergies – we don’t expect a meal catered around our daughter’s diet, but we do appreciate knowing that bowls of nuts or candies won’t be sitting about
•Knowing in advance what foods will be served so we can plan accordingly, and a host who understands that we may decline certain foods or bring along alternatives
•When hosts ask for suggestions to provide a ‘safe’ alternative food
•Being able to read the labels on original food packaging whenever possible
•Teaching your children that sharing food with other children is not a good idea, unless they have permission from a parent

In any situation – summer, holidays, or even school events – an open dialogue is the most important factor in keeping a food-allergic child safe!
Here are a few online resources that I often use (click name to access):

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network
Raising Food Allergic Kids
Sure Foods Living
Food Allergy Buzz
The Nut-Free Mom

These are great suggestions for readers who may have children with allergies, but also for others who may not quite understand how serious this situation can actually be. Thank you, RLR, for some terrific insight on this topic! Also, RLR has an adorable and uplifting blog of her own that you can check out here! - RH


Maythi said...

Great article! My nephew has a severe tree nut and egg allergy, so we are very conscious of what we have, what I am cooking things in, etc. when he is visiting. There is a wonderful site that has great all natural baking mixes that are everything free! I have also seen them at the Lowes Foods in Lewisville. They are made by Cherrybrook Kitchen. Their site is: - these are especially handy for birthday parties. And they taste great. Both my girls love them as much as regular baked goods.

Gina D. said...

Thank you for this article and all the links. My daughter was just recently diagnosed with a peanut allergy and I have been at a loss for where to get some support.

Jane Anne said...

This is a great post. Thank you, Ryan Leigh. I love your reminder to teach children not to share food, unless they have permission from a parent.
Another great resource for a family with a peanut allergy in the home is:

Deborah M. said...

Great post. I too am the mother of a 4 1/2 year old with a peanut allergy. We too had egg initially, but thanks to the folks at Duke Univ. we no longer have that. On Sept 14, after almost three years on a wait list we will begin treatment in the Duke University peanut allergy study. After completion almost 97% of the kids are peanut allergy free. Unless you have a child with a deadly allergy it is hard to comprehend the level of viligence that you must have. I thank you for making our voices and the voices of our precious children heard.

Cherublve said...

Thank you for this article. My son was diagnosed at 10 months old and it is like walking through a minefield. Sometimes we feel like we are in the world alone and it is nice to know there's a support group out there.

Melanie said...

My son Michael was diagnosed when he was 12 months old with food allergies. He is now 4 1/2 years old. We have introduced with no complications egg, milk, and soy but we are still staying clear of peanuts and tree nuts (tested severe on a scratch test)

Looking back it was an extremely stressful time when Michael was small ...but for those of you that have small children it does get easier and it does just become a natural part of your life.

It is especially nice when they understand and they can ask people to look at labels or ask hosts if treats have nuts in them.

I am lucky that Michael never pitches a fit if there is something he can't have...he always knows that there is another treat that he can have around the corner... even if it is a Mc Donalds shake on the way home from a birthday party.

One thing that we have recently encountered is Michael and a reactions to Dog Saliva. Some dog owners give their dogs' "balls" where they put peanut butter in them and allow the dog to chew. On three occations now Michael has had a reaction (controlled by Benadryl) because of being licked by a dog that was exposed to peanut butter (even days prior).
Good idea to ask an owner before you let your child get licked.

Another personal side note. For me and our family I believe it is really a nice gesture when hosts ask questions about our son's allergies however, I don't want to make a big deal about it... I don't want Michael to feel "special" and I don't want his older brother breeding resentment over his brothers allergies. Keep the conversation quick, discreate and if the parent of the peanut/nut allergy is playing it cool it really means you don't have to go to any great lenghts to accomodate the child's food needs.

Great posts above.... and great resources provided !

Melanie said...

Oh and another point for those looking for additional support. I turned to a Medical Dietician. It was the best decision I could have made to get through an extremely stressful time.

RLR said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments! Cherublve and Gina D., it will get easier!

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