Living with food allergies is not easy for adults. It’s even tougher when your child has food allergies because kids have a harder time identifying safe and unsafe foods and avoiding cross-contaminated surfaces. However, there are some simple steps you can take to help safeguard your child and avoid allergic reactions.
1. Talk about it.
Talk to your child about his or her allergy regularly, and teach him/her that it is always ok to ask questions and self advocate. For example, have your child practice saying things like, “Does this have peanuts in it? I am allergic to peanuts.” Let your child see and hear you telling other adults about his allergies so s/he can become a better advocate. Say things like, “Thank you for having us to Bobby’s birthday party! We brought those brownies I told you about, so Tyler can have something wheat-free and still celebrate with everyone.”
2. Pack your food.
Get your child in the habit of packing food and always having “safe snacks” on hand plus a stash in your car. Pack some large snack bags with non-perishable “safe snacks” and ask people to keep them handy in the locations your child goes most often (friends’, grandparents’, and babysitters’ houses, for example).
3. Call manufacturers.
When a product doesn’t include your child’s allergen, but you’re not sure if the manufacturing plant makes anything that does have that allergen in it, call or email the manufacturer to find out.
4. Ask at restaurants.
Many people often ask, “Is there pepper in that dish?” and wait staff answer to the best of their knowledge. If you are asking because of a serious allergy, be clear: “My child is seriously allergic to wheat. Could you please let the chef know so that he or she can avoid any cross-contamination in the food preparation area?”
5. Always have your child wear a medical ID.
Medical ID jewelry helps protect your child when you are not around. Kids sometimes forget what they’re allergic to, and having their allergies listed on their medical IDs helps with that. Additionally, if your child has a reaction when you are not present, a medical ID bracelet will let people know what to do (call 911, use an Epipen) and how to reach you.
6. Have a plan.
At home, have a family plan of how to respond in the event of a serious allergic reaction. Teach all household members where the Benadryl is and how much to give, or teach them all how to administer an EpiPen shot if your child carries one. Always keep the EpiPen or other medications in the same place, clearly labeled. At school, consider asking for a 504 plan if your child’s allergies require one. Otherwise, meet with the school nurse, administrator, and your child’s teacher(s) to ensure that everyone knows what to do and how to do it in the event of a serious allergic event.