Thursday, July 17, 2014

5 Must-dos for the New Food Allergy Parent

#Kids with food allergies, food allergies

So your child was just diagnosed with food allergies? Ugh. I know the feeling! My son and daughter both exhibited signs of allergies at age one. My son's culprit was obvious: he developed hives immediately upon eating peanut butter in his high chair. My daughter's was not so easy to pinpoint. She had eczema and occasional hives at random times. When tested, she showed allergies to mustard, tree nuts and eggs.

My kids are now seven, ten and thirteen, and I've managed to ensure they are all alive, happy and fairly well adjusted despite their food allergies. Through the years I have learned a lot about keeping my kids safe while keeping myself sane

My first piece of advice is to find an established and well respected allergist

Beyond that, here are a few simple tips from a seasoned food allergy mom to the newbies. 

1. ALWAYS carry two Epipens

Or another epinephrine auto injector. Even if your child has never had a reaction. Skin and blood tests can not predict the severity of an allergic episode. Anaphylaxis can happen anytime and Epi is the only way to stop the reaction. You don't want to be caught without this life saving medicine should you suddenly find you need it! Always better safe than sorry.

2. Trust no one!

Learn to read labels and don't assume anything is OK unless you have made it yourself, at least in the beginning. Well meaning friends will tell you foods they have provided or made are OK but they probably aren't really sure. Case in point, some sweet kitchen ladies at my son's camp this week told me all the cookies were safe: just sugar cookies with M&Ms. But I know very well by now that plain M&Ms may contain peanuts.   
One exception may be other food allergy parents. I was recently at a burger and shake restaurant and started grilling (nicely) the waitress about peanuts. She replied, "We have nothing at all with peanuts here. My son has a severe peanut allergy too.". I was able to stop interrogating her at that point because I realized she GETS it!

3. Find out what your child  CAN eat

Whether your little one has one food allergy or many, try to figure out what you can safely buy or make early on. The first Christmas after I found out my daughter couldn't eat egg, I made shortbread cookies.
JUST shortbread cookies. They were the only eggless/nut-free cookie I knew how to bake!  I made chocolate chip shortbread, shortbread cutouts, cocoa kiss get the idea. They got old quick but at least all of my babies had Christmas cookies to eat that year!

4. Always have a safe snack
Once you determine what your child can eat, keep some on hand at all times. Put a special snack in your purse or backpack so you aren't caught off guard with a hungry child who you can't feed! That first Christmas when we went to visit relatives guess what came along? You got it. Those tired old shortbread cookies! And when my daughter started preschool I sent a box of fruit snacks for the teacher to keep, and some cupcakes I had baked ahead of time to store in the school freezer so that if there was a special snack/birthday, she could safely participate. 

Even now I have a box of granola bars at the elementary school for days when she can't eat the breakfast that all of the other kids are eating. And at Halloween and Easter I buy bags of nut free candy so I can "trade" with my kids for all the unsafe candy they may receive (which I either throw away or take to work).

5. Gather resources

Unfortunately, food allergies are on the rise in a big way. Fortunately, this means there are tons of great resources out there! FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) is a fabulous organization and a great place to start. 

Also, get a Pinterest account if you don't have one. You will both love me and hate me for this advice! Hate me because it is seriously addicting! Love me because there are literally thousands of recipes, links, articles and more that deal with food allergies of every kind.

Of course you can also search Facebook for Food Allergy support groups, and a general search engine inquiry on your computer will yield a ton of information.

Just know that there is a lot to learn and it can be overwhelming. Follow tips one through four, and then slowly start to work out the rest. 
Also, don't believe everything you hear. It's just like childbirth stories when you are pregnant: everyone wants to tell you about how they labored for thirty hours and pushed for four hours before finally having a C/section after which they nearly bled to death and then developed a post surgical infection. 
Yes, there are horror stories out there, but try to stick with established facts and sources and take everything else with a grain of salt. 

Put a positive spin on things as much as possible with your kids: Bake new foods together or find fun non-food activities. Remember to relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy your family!

Here is a link to FARE's "newly diagnosed" allergy page.

We'd love to have you connect with us!

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  1. Thank you for this article! As a mom of a newly diagnosed teenager (13), I have read many articles, blogs, news stories, advice and message boards and nearly all of them pertain to the little ones. Most articles are about/for how to manage food allergies in small children; infants to mid elementary school age. Most of the information that I've read would never work for an intelligent, strong willed, independent teenage girl! It's been difficult trying to relay information to her without overwhelming her or scaring the tar out of her! I haven't been able to find a book on food allergies written for newly diagnosed teens. Even some of the informational websites have a section for teens but it's mostly about and for teens who have been dealing with their food allergy since they were little. There is a growing population of newly diagnosed teenagers, I've seen several on message boards and all of us moms of these newly diagnosed teenagers are either not realizing the seriousness of it, are petrified or just feeling completely lost and alone. Your article was nicely written and is relevant for anyone with a newly diagnosed food allergy, regardless of age! Thank you!

  2. I'm so glad you found the article helpful! We've been dealing with food allergies for 12 years but now that my son is a teen it's a whole new game! Feel free to message me on FB if you have any questions. Http:// peanutallergykiddos

  3. There is a blog run by a food allergic teen FOR food allergic teens. Maybe sharing it with you daughter will be helpful. Here is the link:

    1. Thanks so much! I checked it out it looks like a great site. I'll pass it along!

  4. Thank you for this blog!! My 6 yr old daughter was just diagnosed with all tree nut allergy. I'm a bit overwhelmed and was happy to find this post on "Pinterest" :-) thanks!