May is Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month, but parents of kiddos with allergies or asthma are acutely aware of these conditions every single day. And food allergy parents specifically have been forced to navigate a world of avoiding certain foods like the plague and finding foolproof ways to keep their kids safe.
This is especially true when it comes to foods eaten outside of the home. For some families, birthday parties and other celebrations—hallmarks of childhood—can be incredibly stressful. Over time, these parents become experts in managing their child’s allergy and can ease this anxiety. But for parents who are not used to navigating the food allergy world, having some basic allergy-friendly tricks up your sleeve can be a literal lifesaver if you find yourself hosting a playdate or party with a child who has a food allergy.
As a pediatric registered dietitian-nutritionist, I have come across some game-changing ways to navigate the food allergy world easily and safely. Here are four ways that every person should do when they are caring for a child with a food allergy:
1. Have Some Foods On-Hand That Are Free from Top Allergens
While a child can be allergic to literally any food protein, there are some foods that more commonly trigger an allergic reaction than others—known as the ‘top 9 food allergens.’ Common allergens include peanuts, eggs, and milk—AKA ingredients found in a slew of kid favorites like cookies and cakes.
Having foods on hand that don’t require second-guessing ingredients is key. Since kids like to snack (and snack and snack), leaning on easy and appealing foods can make the experience so much better for everyone.
Yes, having foods like fresh fruits and veggies on hand is a safe bet. But kids will be kids, and having some safe sweets and treats is always a welcomed addition too, especially if you are hosting a party where treats are served. And although kids with food allergies know that they oftentimes need to eat different foods than their peers, it is nice to choose options that everybody can enjoy.
Instead of excluding a child from enjoying fun food with their friends, have snacks and treats that are free from eggs, milk, peanuts, and tree nuts. And while baking allergen-free baked goods from scratch may sound like a good idea, cross-contamination is always a risk if you do not normally keep an allergy-friendly kitchen in your home.
One sweet treat that is peanut, tree nut, egg, sesame, and milk-free, yet tastes absolutely delish is Sweet Loren’s. Pre-made cookie dough allows you to simply place the cookies on a clean and sanitized baking sheet and bake them for the kids to enjoy in minutes. Plus, since they are egg and flour-free, you can sneak a nibble of the raw dough without worry.
2. Identify Reliable Food Allergy Resources
If shopping for foods that are allergy-friendly is unchartered territory for you, know that all hope is not lost. The top 9 most common allergens have been identified and include items like peanuts, milk, and eggs. Currently, it is required for manufacturers to list whether a food item contains any of the following potential allergens:
- tree nuts
If you are trying to avoid any of these potential allergens, using the guidance provided right on the package can help you navigate the process. If you are trying to avoid sesame or an allergen that is not considered a “top” allergen, you will have to do a little more homework.
To save time and guesswork, there are apps and websites available at no cost to help people navigate the grocery aisles with ease. One registered dietitian-built website called Sifter is an innovative resource that allows you to indicate which allergens you are trying to avoid (along with any dietary restrictions). From there, you will be presented with a categorized list of all foods that are safe to enjoy that are within the dietary restrictions.
3. Have a Back-Up Plan in Place
Unfortunately, as every parent knows, the best-laid plans can sometimes go sideways. Even if you are taking every step that you think is necessary to avoid exposing your guest child to a triggering allergen, unexpected things can happen.
Be sure to know exactly what to do if you are faced with a child who is having an allergic reaction. Proactively speak with the child’s parents before they leave the kiddo in your care and review the plan to make sure you are confident in the appropriate steps.
While some of the information may be basic to the parents of a child who has a food allergy, they are not intuitive to all. Don’t be shy to ask questions and let them know if you don’t understand something. It is better to have too much information ahead of time than to not have enough information and be faced with a scary situation for both yourself and for the child.
4. Navigate Food Allergies by Pre-Planning
Allergies are on the rise, and the chances of you hosting a child who is diagnosed with a food allergy are pretty high considering the statistics. Unfortunately, planning to host a child who has a food allergy is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants situation. But, with a little pre-planning, it can be a fun experience for everyone, and the child will feel welcomed, comfortable and safe.