As someone with a food allergy, I know all about the given challenges associated with selecting safe food. It can be even tougher to teach children about eating safe.
There is the worry of giving a child a lot of responsibility in managing their condition. When children are young, we have control over them, but as they get older, we have to start relinquishing this hold and hope that they make safe choices in regards to their food allergies.
When they go out in public, any number of things can happen. There are restaurants, friends sharing food with the allergen in it, and even birthday parties where a variety of food is at your child’s fingertips. My child once went to a barnyard bash at an actual farm, which gave her good practise in washing her hands and face (and a warm bath when we got home). Though we were there with her, hopefully when she’s older and we’re not around, she’ll know to wash her hands and face to minimize contact with pollen and dander.
The question on how parents know if their child is now ready to be independent and manage their own allergies is hard to answer. However, the following points can definitely help:
Questions to Ask to See if your Child is Ready to be Independent
- Does my child comprehend the severity of her food allergy?
- Does my child know what ingredients and/or foods trigger allergic reactions?
- Is my child able to ask how food items are prepared without being embarrassed?
- Is my child able to accurately read over food labels and recognize ingredients?
- Is my child able to say “no” even if his peers encourage him to try something?
- Does my child know what to do in case of a reaction?
- Can my child administer her own medications in a food allergy-related emergency?
The more times you are able to answer “yes” to these questions, the more prepared your child is to go off independently and make her own choices regarding food.
Food Allergies in Public – Challenges Parents Face
Consider this situation: a parent takes his kids out to a fast food restaurant. One of the children has a shellfish allergy. They order a burger, fries, and a drink. Once they get home, the parent wonders if the French fries were cooked in the same fryer as the fried shrimp.
Don’t think you’re a bother if you feel you need to call the restaurant and ask this question. In fact, doing so in front of your child is another real-life lesson (when she’s older, she will feel confident calling and asking herself).
In another example, the same parent goes to goes to the fish counter to get some salmon. The parent sees the person behind the counter scoop a pound of shrimp for another customer, and then uses the same gloved hands to pick up the salmon.
Rather than skipping the salmon altogether, the parent could ask the server to either use tongs to pick up the salmon or put on a new pair of gloves. If you’re still uncertain (cross contamination is always an issue), don’t feel shy about getting something different or going to a different area for your food.
Let your child know she shouldn’t be shy about this, either. Most restaurants take food allergies seriously, and if they don’t, steer clear and talk to the manager about it. (Or write to their head office if you don’t feel comfortable with this.)
Whenever you go to a restaurant, let your server know about your child’s allergies. That way, if he is allergic to peanuts, and even if nuts are not normal in a certain dish, a chef may try to get creative and add them if the staff does not know about your child’s allergy. There’s even regulations underway in some states for restaurant staff to undergo food allergy training.
Food Allergies and Birthday Parties
As for birthday parties, this can be both easy and complicated. Most public schools enforce some sort of allergy-free policies, such as banning peanut butter from school lunches. Because of this, parents of children will be well aware of food allergies, and will likely know a friend, neighbor or family member who suffers from it. However, it will also be complicated, because the party host is trying to concentrate on their own child having a fun time, and it’s not fair for them to have to also watch out for yours (no matter how accepting they will be with it).
At this age, your child will unfortunately be singled out, because they may have to bring their own food … just to be safe. If they are allergic to chocolate, you can bake a special cupcake just for them to eat. If it’s really pretty, the other kids will ooh and ah over it, but at the end of the party, they will still feel a little sad with the inability to fully partake in the goodies the other kids get.
The hardest time is when your child is too old for you to be around during the party. However, it does get easier. Parties will become smaller as older kids tend to invite only their closest circle of friends. By then, they (and their parents) will know everything about your child’s allergies, and will have an established routine on food safety. What else are best friends for but to look out for one another?
Over time, not only will you become comfortable with food and how to manage the allergies, so will your child…and she’ll be the safer (and smarter) for it.
Chris Molnar is a work at home Dad of two children, one of whom has allergies. He himself has hay fever and is allergic to all nuts. That doesn’t keep him from eating out at restaurants and throwing a good outdoor party. He owns a party website, and you can click for party themes for some ideas for your child’s upcoming birthday. How do you manage your child’s food allergies?