Author’s Note :: The below is what has worked for me & my family. They are suggestions, but as always, please follow the instructions of your child’s pediatrician for managing food allergies.
We found out about our son’s severe food allergies to peanuts and eggs at the doctor’s office 9 years ago. We were confused and overwhelmed but after a few months, living with food allergies became our new normal. I learned how common food allergies are and that countless other families were navigating the same road.
Have snacks on hand wherever you go.
I stash a few of his favorite snacks in my purse in case we are out and people pass out goodies. Keeping the lines of communication open with doctors, teachers and other adults who spend time with him is essential. He also has snacks at school for his teachers to use at their discretion.
If we want to take him to a restaurant he hasn’t been to before, I call the restaurant around 3-4pm when it’s slower. I look up the menu online when possible, then speak to the manager about some good menu options. Managers are typically very helpful and informative. Once we get to the restaurant, I let our server know about his allergies and that we’ve talked to the manager. When we find restaurants where he can order straight off the menu, we come back frequently!
Host parties or bring favorite dishes to parties.
Thankfully, I LOVE to cook. The first few holidays that we knew about his allergies were the most complicated. Now I look forward to the holidays. Bring it on … I can make a new fabulous recipe to go with that! There are lots of ingredients that I can swap out for the ones he can’t have. We don’t compromise on flavor; I just put together different combinations. In the fall, I make apple cinnamon muffins and chocolate chip pumpkin cookies, and at Christmas, I make peppermint ice cream pie and chocolate covered pretzels. Sometimes this takes a little research on the ingredients, but it’s worth it. My goal is for the end result to be just as delicious as the original. I love to have friends over for a party where everyone enjoys the food and no one even notices that I substituted different ingredients for some of the dishes.
Eat whole foods.
When we eat fresh fruits and veggies, they are usually safe from his allergens. This challenges our family to try new fruits and veggies and stay healthy.
Make it normal.
As soon as he was old enough to understand it, I told him that it is very normal and necessary for people to pay attention to what they eat. I told him he is healthy, but that our bodies work in lots of different ways, and he needs to not eat foods with peanuts or eggs to stay safe. And today, food allergies are relatively common, especially with young children.
Speak about food allergies in a positive way.
Our children pick up on how we talk about things and often adopt similar attitudes. Sometimes when people find out about our son’s food allergies, they respond with words like, “That’s awful! Eggs and nuts are in everything!” I understand where they are coming from, and in some ways this is true. My response is “It can be hard, but he can eat almost anything as long as we buy the right brand or make it ourselves.” This is what I want my son to hear. He isn’t a victim of his food allergies, but he can be empowered to make the best food choices possible. I can teach him how to read labels as he gets older, make scrumptious foods, and be included when it comes to activities and outings with food.
Some days are just hard.
There are days he just wants to eat a regular donut with his friends, when the cookies in his bag don’t compare to fancy cupcakes, or when unexpected treats are passed out that he can’t have. On these days he gets really quiet, and I see the tears in his eyes. I give him a hug and remind him, “I know that was hard, but you handled it so well. I am so proud of you.” As soon as I can, I let him pick out a favorite food similar to the treat he missed.
I pray consistently that he will outgrow his allergies, and there is a chance that he will. But I also notice the friends and family who bring the brands of ice cream he can have, who have snacks he can eat at their house, and who invite us to go to restaurants where he can order easily. This support system is invaluable, and the good days far outweigh the difficult ones. His food allergies are just one aspect of his life, but they have taught us to be even more thankful for the little things. My son is fun-loving, active, creative, smart, and adventurous. We can and do live deliciously and fully everyday!