Feeding children can be tough – when to introduce solid foods, how to get a picky toddler to eat and coercing a little person to eat two bites of a vegetable. But when parents have a child with a food allergy, it introduces a whole new level of difficulty – and worry.
In the United States, 1 in 13 children has a food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. And most of those allergies are to foods like diary, eggs, peanuts and wheat – ingredients in a vast majority of foods.
It’s a challenge for parents as they grocery shop, prepare meals or even go out to a restaurants. It becomes even more difficult as children get older, heading off to school, summer camp or a friend’s sleepover where parents aren’t able to monitor the child as closely.
Charleston Allergy & Asthma has some tips to make the process easier.
- Learn how to read food labels and understand all the different words for “milk” or “wheat.” As the child gets older, teach him or her to read and decipher labels.
- Anytime you come in contact with the food allergen, be sure to wash your hands, counter tops and utensils so you don’t transfer the allergen.
- Communicate with everyone in your child’s life about the allergies and protocols, including babysitters, grandparents and family friends.
- When your child starts school, stress the importance of not sharing food.
- Dining out can be tricky for families dealing with a food allergy, so look for restaurants that have special menus or take extra care when preparing the food as cross contamination is the biggest risk when dining out. Call ahead and ask about how food is prepared and whether certain ingredients are used.
- Many airlines still serve peanuts as a snack so contact the airline in advance to ask about whether peanuts are served and how well the airplane cabin is cleaned between flights. The airline may agree to serve pretzels during your flight but if they didn’t wipe down the seats from the previous flight, there could be peanut residue on child’s seat or tray table.
- If you’re staying at a resort or hotel or taking a cruise, call ahead to speak to the chef about your child’s specific dietary needs.
The best way parents can manage a child’s food allergy is with communication. It’s critical to talk to the school nurse, teachers and camp counselors about the allergy and what needs to happen should your child eat peanuts or milk. If the child is headed off to summer camp, find out how far the camp is from the nearest medical facility.
Dr. Meredith Moore of Charleston Allergy & Asthma said the key is making sure you’ve provided supervising adults with as much information as possible, including a written plan for how to handle the allergy and what to do in the case of accidental ingestion. She also recommends talking with teachers or camp counselors to ensure they are comfortable using an epinephrine injection or EpiPen.