Can you believe it’s May 16 and I haven’t mentioned a word about food allergies action month (Hint: It’s May!)??? In fact, this week has been food allergy awareness week and I totally neglected it. ((feeling embarrassed.))
If you’re a frequent flyer here at C it Nutritionally, you know that all of my recipe are free of at least two major allergens (hint: tree nuts and peanuts), but typically 3 or more, as many of my recipes are vegan, so they’re also dairy free and egg free.
((BTW — did you check out these Vegan Zucchini and Carrot Muffins with no added sugar…they’re a breakfast winner!))
As someone who has been allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, and sesame seeds nearly all of her life, I like to think that I’ve become pretty darn good at navigating the sometimes scary, confusing, and at times, overwhelming world of food allergies.
I owe my astute knowledge, confidence, and security concerning my food allergies to my parents who raised me to be prepared and educated, but never instilled fear in me. Yes, from a young age I knew that eating nuts could kill me, but my parents never used scare tactics to teach me this very important reality.
While I am now 26 and can handle my allergies on my own, some habits die hard. Every time I’m out to eat with my parents (and even older brother) they immediately ask, on my behalf, about my food allergies. There’s nothing more frustrating. I am a smart, responsible woman who goes out to eat with friends all of the time…yet, we regress back to me being five years old. I, of course, know this comes from a place of love, but it can still be frustrating.
Given my (unasked for) experience, I have compiled 40 tips that I think can help parents navigating the world of food allergies, you, if you’re newly diagnosed, and even friends of those of us with food allergies.
Just remember…when in doubt, throw it out!
- Always ask. At the supermarket deli counter (yes, gluten hides in there!), at a restaurant,
- Always be comfortable with the food that you eat.
- Know your allergy…well.
- Did you know that eggs can be labeled with like 10+ names on a package??
- Always carry your EpiPen…even if you don’t think it’s cool.
- Wear a medical ID bracelet.
- I’ll never forget the day I fainted in college and heard blurry in the background “I have peanut butter in my bag she can have!” I immediately woke up, but it could have been a much worse situation. (P.S. Turns out I had the flu and was OK after an awful week!).
- When it doubt, skip it! There will always be another cupcake…it’s not worth your life!
- Read labels, always.
- Stick to your guns.
- Only eat what you’re comfortable with. No matter how many times a waitress tells me what I can eat from the dessert menu, I just can’t trust it. I know this about myself and I’m confident with my decision, but others don’t seem to get it. It doesn’t matter. Do what makes YOU feel safe.
- Look at your food.
- It’s the only way that makes me feel comfortable. Luckily, I have an allergy that I can *typically* see (although with the advent of cashew cheese, notsomuch.), so I’m always examining my food.
- Know alllll the names of your allergy.
- Stay up to date with federal regulations concerning allergies. There are always new labeling regulations released.
- Did you know the “May contain X, Y, and Z…” has only been around since 1994?!
- And the “Made in a factory handling….” has only been around since X?!
- Know the hidden sources of your food allergy.
- DYK chewing gum can contain dairy and bread can contain eggs?
- Marzipan is made from nuts.
- Envelopes contain a small fraction of gluten?
- Order plain foods at restaurants if it makes you feel safer.
- Get creative.
- Sunflower seed butter has saved my life, but even better…making it myself!
- Be careful who you kiss.
- I’ll never forget the embarrassment I felt before I left for college when my grandmother and mom, separately, told me to be careful of who I kiss because I’ll never know if they had PBJ for dinner. #enoughsaid.
- When traveling, know how to say your food allergy in another language.
- I recently ran into this problem when I was in Argentina and Brazil. Then I heard about these cards…lifesaver!
As a parent…
- As soon as your child can understand, start explaining their allergy to him or her, CALMLY!
- Create a written action plan so your child’s teacher, dance instructor, boy scout leader, friend’s parent, etc. knows what to do in case an allergic reaction occurs.
- Get your child a card, like this, that says
- Provide your child’s teacher with allergy-friendly snacks to store in the classroom in case an inpromptu celebration occurs so your child won’t feel left out.
- As your child gets older, allow your child the independence they need to successfully navigate their world with food allergies.
- Try not to scare your child…but keep conversation serious.
- Practice with your child. It is your responsibility to make sure your child is prepared!
- Role play a situation (like at a birthday party) of what your child should ask when served food.
- Teach your child to ask about allergies, always.
- Speak up for your child until they can do so on their own. If they don’t, remind them the importance.
- Try not to speak for your child once old enough, no matter how hard it may be. But speak up and use teachable lessons if they’re not doing it on their own!
- Do your homework. It’s your responsibility to raise an food allergy-responsible child.
- Know what labels mean.
- Make sure your child’s friends parents are aware of the allergy…especially from a young age.
- It’s true…my mom would never let me have playdates out of the house when I was very young. And even as I grew up, I would only go to my friends’ houses if they were a close friend.
- Keep “it” out of the house.
- Even if only one child is allergic, your allergy-stricken child will definitely feel more comfortable without their trigger food present.
- If multiple allergies exist that are extremely hard to avoid, do your best to completely separate any cross-contamination (ie: separate toasters for gluten-free and gluten-containing breads that are clearly labeled.)
- Prepare allergy-free food first.
- Ensure a balanced diet by including as many whole foods as possible within the already limited diet.
For a friend (or significant other!)…
- Be understanding and thoughtful.
- If your nut-allergic friend is coming over for dinner, don’t put out a bowl of nuts as an hors d’oeuvres.
- Sharing is not always caring!
- Don’t reach your fork onto a friend’s plate without asking! Cross-contamination is real!
- Take care when cooking. If in doubt, ask your friend.
- Feel free to talk about it. We’d rather you be safe than sorry.
- Joke with caution. It can be sensitive.
- Always ask. We appreciate it!
- Know what to do if a friend has an adverse reaction.
- Wash your hands after eating.
Here are some of my favorite food allergy-friendly recipes:
Have a great weekend!