New to food allergies? Just found out your child has a food allergy and feeling overwhelmed? I’ve been there. You are not alone. Since every child with food allergies is unique in their combination of allergies, reactions and tolerances, you will need to refine what works for your family. These are my seven best tips for starting out.
Before we start – I just want you to know that when my daughter was diagnosed with all these allergies I flashed to her birthdays without chocolate cake and I cried–that’s right, over chocolate cake. I cried about my kid not being perfect. I cried about my kid being left out and many other things I would never have control over. Then I dried my eyes and let the gratitude for this beautiful being wash over me. I was mourning the dreams I had for her and not giving her credit for what a brave, strong spirit she is. And looking back all these years, it’s true she isn’t perfect, and she’s been left out of a lot of things, but she has been the one to fight through it. And…I figured out how to make a damn good chocolate cake!
1 – Eliminate the life-threatening allergen from your house. Make your home a safe place that you can relax in, knowing you don’t have to be on guard all the time about allergies. In the beginning we thought we could get away with still having nuts in the house until after eating something with nuts, my husband gave my daughter a kiss on the cheek and it swelled up. There have been no nuts in the house since then. Comb through the cupboards, read through the ingredients and toss anything and everything that could cause an allergic reaction. After you finish in the kitchen and pantry, look in the bathroom, the medicine cabinet, the shampoo, conditioner, soaps, lotions, toothpaste and makeup. Look at not just the products your kids use but what you use. Some weird places we’ve found allergens have been toothpaste, finger paints, clay, play-dough, bird food, mulch in the garden, and we’ve even found nuts in orange juice! Last, look at the cleaners you use for clothing, furniture and even leather seat cleaner in the car. I know – this hurts, all this stuff is expensive, but get rid of it- ALL OF IT. Give it to a friend or bring it to work. Peace of mind that your child is safe at home is priceless.
2 – Now what will you eat? Start a food journal. Start with a list of healthy, allergy-friendly foods that your child will eat – all the fruits, vegetables, meats (real food) and you can think of. The next lists in your journal will be ideas for breakfast, lunch, lunch boxes, dinner, snack and treats. Give yourself several pages for each meal category. List recipes that will work with the first list of foods. Get your kids involved if they are old enough. The next pages, include all the foods your child is not allergic to that you would like to try in the future and make a plan to expand their palates. Collect recipes everywhere you go now. Add ideas you see or think of while you are out on your phone and collect them back home in your journal. When dealing with limited diets, you need to get creative in the kitchen.
I think of my daughter as having a pretty sensitive stomach. She’ll love me telling you that some foods give her a lot of gas. To me, those are foods we avoid 99% of the time. I take note of any food that causes stomach aches, gas or other problems like a rash. I watch and take notes. I limit sugar and have eliminated food dye, msg, gmos and other weird chemicals from their diets and I try to add vegetables as much as possible. I shop organic, local and pasture-raised when I can. I do the best I can do to give them and me the highest quality ingredients. They also take a probiotic and digestive enzymes to help improve digestion.
3 – Connect with people and resources. Don’t do this alone. You may be feeling like you are the only one dealing with this in your child’s class or school, but I would bet -you are not. On the first day of school when you drop off the Epi-pen in the office, look around –there will be other parents carrying an Epi-pen. You have nothing to lose by introducing yourself. Make friends, get to know those people, you can help each other with the unique circumstances that come up at your school. Can’t find anyone? Look for meet-ups and ask your allergy doctor about groups near you.
4 – Put your docs in row. Doctors that is. Make sure you like your allergist, if not, get a new one. Find a dentist in town that will comply with all your questions about ingredients in everything that goes into your child’s mouth. Make sure your pediatrician is on the same page. Research your insurance to be sure you will be covered for tests and medications. Epi-pens each year can be expensive, we’ve paid up to $600 out of pocket a year for them. Look for coupons for medications and work with your pediatrician or allergist to time your prescriptions to get those discounts. You might benefit from a naturpathic doctor as well who can help you with other problems such as celiac disease, gluten intolerance and recognize other intolerances to foods that your regular allergist might have missed.
5 – Get educated and inform others. Research all the symptoms of anaphylaxis and all the symptoms that your child may experience if they had a reaction to their allergen foods. Come up with a clear emergency plan – like a fire drill and practice it with your child. Go over every scenario you can think of – if the child has a reaction on the playground at school, at a friend’s house, at home with a babysitter, in the classroom, at piano lessons… Once you work out a plan, train everyone else around you. My young son even knows how to administer the Epi-pen shot to his sister if he needs to and we train anyone who will be around her. We send training materials to the school and new teachers each year. BUT do all this with the understanding that you and your child cannot trust anyone outside of your small family unit to remember or know the best thing to do. When our daughter was very young we literally had to put a sign on her back at parties that said, “Don’t feed me anything”. As your child grows up they will need to learn to watch out for themselves and be very comfortable telling people, “no thank you”. You would be surprised how many adults do not know what the word “dairy” means or what a “tree nut” is. One sad but true example is that we cannot even trust her grandparents (or any of our friends and family) to prepare a meal for our kids.
6 – Get a good lunchbox. You’ll need it. My daughter has to bring food with her nearly every time we leave the house. She cannot eat food from most restaurants, friends’ houses, parties, amusement parks or even family’s house. She carries her lunchbox with food from home everywhere we go. Other optional but helpful items are a good soft cooler, ice packs, single cupcake holder, water bottle and a couple other reusable containers.
7 – Take good care of you. This is what I am learning is the most important thing but it’s not easy. All the stress of sending a child to school or a even just a party will take a lot out of you. Preparing all the food and meds is time consuming and it’s scary sending your kids out into a nut-filled, uncaring world. Take the time for you, do that thing that makes you most feel like yourself and show your child that you are taking time for you. Your children are watching you– modeling not only good behavior but good self care is immensely important. Get help. Invite family and friends to help you prep food and freeze it, prepare lunches and snacks ahead of time or babysit so that you can take that walk.