May 10-16 is Food Allergy Awareness Week. As a food allergy parent, I’d like to share some requests with the non-allergy families out there.
Please know, I’m not going to ask anyone to rearrange their lives to accommodate my nut-allergic son. It’s just that 200,000 people a year require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food. Those reactions often include anaphylaxis. Sometimes, those cases end in death. I hate to sound dark, but I don’t want my son to be one of those people, so hear me out.
Below are things I’d like you, the parent who’s lucky enough to not deal with food allergies, to do, organized by good, better, and best. With a small amount of effort, you could possibly save a kid’s life.
Good: Believe Us
Let’s start there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered someone who questions whether our son is really allergic to nuts or doubts the seriousness of his allergy.
We’re not making this up. Our son’s peanut and walnut allergy has been diagnosed through repeated tests from allergists at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. We’ve seen him break out in hives from head to toe after eating a minuscule amount of peanut butter—that’s how we first knew. His next reaction could be much worse (let’s not find out how much worse).
So, when you offer our son candy or a cookie, and he says no, don’t offer it to him again. If he moves away from your kid because your kid is eating a peanut butter granola bar, don’t roll your eyes. Yes, we carry an EpiPen everywhere we go. The EpiPen’s job is to keep our son alive until we can get him to a hospital. We can’t just feed him nuts, stick him with his EpiPen, and go on with our day. That’s not how it works.
This isn’t a preference. It’s a life-threatening food allergy. Believe us.
Better: Ask Questions
Any food allergy parent is happy to answer your questions. If you’re scheduling a play date or planning a birthday party, ask us what foods our kids need to avoid. If a classmate has a severe allergy, ask their parents about it before sending birthday treats.
Then, act accordingly. If you’re serving ice cream and someone has a dairy allergy, find out what a good alternative would be, and use a separate scooper. Check labels. They usually list the allergens, including possible cross-contaminations. In general, keep foods that would kill someone separate from other foods. For example, it’s incredibly easy to not put a bowl of Peanut M&Ms in the middle of a buffet table.
When in doubt, ask. Let us know what you’re planning to serve. And please don’t be offended or uncomfortable if we send food that our kid can eat. We’re happy to help in any way we can.
Best: Pack Allergen-Free Lunches
No, you don’t have to pack lunches that are free from every known allergen. Just become aware of the food allergies among your kids’ friends and classmates, and pack lunches that don’t contain those foods. Remember, kids are messy, and sometimes food can end up all over the place.
If your child loves Go-Gurt but their friend has a dairy allergy, here’s how the conversation can go: “Look, kid. You can eat all the Go-Gurt you want at home, but it could make your friend really sick, so I’ll be packing apple slices in your lunch from now on.” Easy enough, right?
One alternative to peanut butter is SunButter (made from sunflower seeds), which is widely available and is free from the top eight allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, soy, milk, eggs, wheat, fish, and shellfish). My son isn’t a fan of SunButter, so I pack him a turkey sandwich every day. If I were to find out one of his lunch buddies is allergic to wheat, those turkey sandwiches would become turkey roll-ups.
Think fruits and veggies: applesauce pouches, grapes, carrot sticks, sliced peppers. Some allergen-free options can increase costs, so I understand this isn’t feasible for everyone. If you can swing, though, give it a try.