It’s becoming increasingly more common.
Even if you don’t have a child with a food allergy, chances are you’ll meet many — from your child’s class, maybe at a play date, or on the playground. And with potential offenders as common as peanuts, dairy, gluten, and tree nuts, you’re gonna want to know this stuff!
The truth is that food allergies can be very serious — even life-threatening. So, what do you do to ensure the safety of children you encounter?
I asked several Moms of kids with food allergies to give their best tips — and they did NOT disappoint. They’re working on educating their kids on what is safe, so let’s help them out! Here’s what you need to know, straight from the source:
The most simple way to keep from causing an unintended allergic reaction is simply to ask. Find out from the child’s parent if he is allowed to have a certain food before offering. One Mom I talked to told the story of her son bringing her a bite-sized Snickers bar he had received from the neighbors. Being only 3, he didn’t fully understand the extent of his peanut allergy — or what questions to ask before eating his candy. Thankfully, he brought it to Mom first and the potential crisis was averted.
We know you’re trying to do your best, and that granola bar doesn’t look like it has any bad ingredients in it. But look at that label again. Food manufacturers are required to list all ingredients contained in the product, and they often voluntarily add “Made on Equipment with…” or “Processed in a Facility that also Processes…” These are key statements because, as one Mom told me, even though the product doesn’t contain the offending ingredient, it can be manufactured on the same line — posing a risk for cross-contamination.
Keep the Food Offenders to a Minimum
It’s your week to bring a treat to the kids’ soccer game. Be aware of any team mates’ allergies so you don’t accidentally sideline someone! (This goes for school snacks and birthday parties, too.) The best case scenario, according to Moms, is to remove the potential offender entirely. Yes, that means that if one child is allergic to peanuts then it’s no peanut butter and celery for anyone. Bummer? Maybe. But it’s nothing compared to the alternative.
Plus, nobody wants to be left out. It’s no fun to offer nut-filled trail mix to everyone else while the child with an allergy is stuck with just a banana! One Mom recommended trying Sunbutter as an alternative for everyone if you simply can’t go nut-free. This treat is made from sunflower seeds and, while pricier, can buy invaluable peace of mind.
Wash up Before Going Back to Play
This is the one that surprised me the most. A Mom friend of mine told me she took her children to the playground last summer, where a couple of other neighborhood kids were playing. Her son suddenly ran up to her crying and clawing at his ear, which had turned bright red and swollen to twice its normal size. Little did she know the neighborhood kids had just finished a PB&J picnic lunch before her son joined in the playground play. Though you wouldn’t think it, apparently their contact was enough to trigger an allergic reaction! Now she asks friends to wash their hands and face after having peanut butter, because the incident was one she never wants to repeat.
Be Prepared in an Emergency
If your child has invited a friend with an allergy over to spend the night, for example, be sure to ask the friend’s parents for any special instructions. Keep no-no’s out of reach — you know how quickly kids can swipe a taste when nobody’s looking! Know how to prepare their food, how severe the allergy is, and how to administer the epi-pen or other medicine if needed. Reactions can vary from rash to upset stomach to the more urgent swelling-that-obstructs-breathing. Knowing what to expect and how to react can save a life! Written instructions are even better so you don’t go blank in the heat of a crisis.
It’s also important to know that minimal contact is truly important to an allergic person’s well being. A child with Celiac (an autoimmune disease in which the body rejects gluten found in wheat and other substances) can be sick for days from just one instance of contact with flour — even if it’s not ingested (think: playing with homemade dough)! One family’s allergist informed them that the more often an individual is exposed to an allergen, the more severe the reaction will become — the immune system becomes increasingly intolerant of it.
It may seem overwhelming, but think of it this way: following these Moms’ advice is a simple way to include everyone without posing the risk of harm. As one Mom said, “Having a child with a nut allergy can be a scary thing for sure, but friends and family can do these simple things to help [us] get to the heart of the matter of any gathering — which is to simply enjoy the love and friendship that [we] share.” So true.
So, what did I miss? Add your tips and advice (or questions!) in the comments below.