Being aware of food allergies: how to host a child with food allergies

by a Ottawa mom

I am a mom who has been dealing with multiple severe food allergies now for two years (the anaphylactic-Epipen-ambulance rides to CHEO kind). These two years have been the most stressful period of our lives. It has turned me into a total Mama Grizzly on the topic of food allergies and awareness. I am always protecting my little cub at home and outside – constantly on the lookout for crumbs, suspicious food labels and food wrappers left in the park (and more).

The tricky thing with food allergies is that once you’re outside of your safe zone, you rely on your friends and the people around you to be sympathetic to your needs and demonstrate compassion by taking your child’s medical needs seriously.

Here’s a recent (bad) example. One day last month there was a birthday in my son’s daycare and the children had a surprise treat of ice cream (it was a surprise to me too as we have an agreement about giving notice for birthday treats). Because of my son’s egg, milk and nut allergies, he cannot participate in these special activities. When I collected him at the end of the day shortly after the ice cream had been gobbled up by his classmates, I found my little boy in a high chair eating one of his homemade muffins. He looked miserable. His emotions were on his sleeve and he reached up for a big hug and slung his head on my shoulder. I felt horrible for him. And guilt. Then rage. A birthday party shouldn’t be the worst part of your week.

You might not think it’s a big deal, but it is when it happens repeatedly. This is just an example from last month. Month. Typing this story out is making me cry at my computer screen. Food allergies comes with a lot of emotional baggage.

You can show your respect towards a child with food allergies (and their parents) by creating safe situations for them when you invite them to playdates or birthday parties. Hosting an inclusive get together doesn’t have to be complicated.

Here are some tips :

  1. Ask your guests if there are any food or environmental allergies in advance.
  2. Understand the severity of the allergies. Is it sniffles and red eyes? Or is it “911 epipen hives and can’t breathe ambulance ride to the CHEO” allergies? Does the latter scare you? It should.
  3. Before the party:
    • Talk to the allergy parent about your menu plan. This allows the allergy parent to decide if they can allow their child to eat the same food or whether they will pack similar food to bring along. Ideally, I’d like to see the host not serve any food that contains the allergens. Really. If making an eggless cake boggles your mind, just ask for a recipe. I know that I can make a dairy and egg free cake that tastes just as good (or BETTER!) than the regular version. If you are the “allergy mom” offer to send recipes or even bake/cook something to bring for everyone.
    • Let all of your guests know about any special considerations. Some parents may ask that children not have peanut butter or nuts before arriving or ask that they brush their teeth and wash their hands beforehand. You may also want to ask guests not to bring any food.
  4. Make the party venue allergy-friendly. Give the place a good clean sweep. Wipe down surfaces such as play tables, kitchen tables and countertops with a clean cloth. Inspect any toys that will be shared for food residue and wash them if necessary.
  5. Avoid cross contamination when preparing foods. If you are cooking a separate item for an allergy child, always use clean bowls, utensils and ingredients. Cover any baking sheets with tinfoil if you’ve baked with the allergen on them before.
  6. Confirm any ingredients and food with the “allergy mom”. Allergens can be lurking even in products that don’t have the allergen on the ingredient list. Have you ever seen warnings that read, “This product has been manufactured in a facility the processes peanuts? ” To us, that warning is THE SAME as having the allergen included in the ingredient list. And here’s the tricky thing, that warning is OPTIONAL. Processed foods, even things like cereal, may not be safe.
  7. Condiments. If you think there is a chance that a knife may have dipped into peanut butter and then into the jelly jar or onto the stick of butter, open a new package or jar. Play it safe.
  8. Hosting a BBQ? Have you ever made a peanut sauce marinade for your meat and cooked it on the grill? Maybe? Then your BBQ may still have nut residue on the grill. Cook any food for the allergy sufferer on a piece of tin foil and use separate tongs.

Here are some situations that make an allergy mom extremely nervous when unsafe food is available :

  • Unsafe food within reach (it’s not fun to be the helicopter parent standing next to your child during the entire party… and it’s not much fun for the child either )
  • Children running around with unsafe foods. Dropping food. Trying to give the allergy-kid food.
  • Children with foody hands touching toys, tabletops, crayons or worse, touching the allergy kid.

Make it a safe party for everyone. And have fun!

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11 Comments

Filed under Parenting tips

11 responses to “Being aware of food allergies: how to host a child with food allergies

  1. Jay

    I have tons I could add to this! A great starter post:)

    A few things I’d like to initially point out. (Yes – I also have a child with multiple life threatening, Epiwearing allergies! And yes – we’ve had to use the Epipen!)

    1. It is most scary when your children are young! The older they get the easier it gets because the child becomes more aware. But to have small children running around with food (allergens) in their hands, leaving crumbs and smeared on their face is enough to give an allergy Mom (or Dad) heart palipitations!

    2. The feeling of having your child in tears because they were left out of a celebration is terrible. Yes, guilt and rage. I have to remind myself often that Non-allergic parents don’t live with this on a daily basis so it is my responsibility to remind them and ask questions. Never assume! I also got into the habit of carrying safe treats with me “just incase”.

    3. While I don’t ask non-allergic parents to make food for my child (sorry – I really just don’t trust your kitchen with all those allergens and we have food rules! No matter how careful someone is, mistakes happen) But I do ask that they they have safe snacks out for the other kids if possible, providing examples, etc. I also let them know that we will bring our own snacks and my daughter will bring her own cupcake. On occassion we’ve had parents ask where they can order a safe cake – which has been amazing! My daughter has always been so excited to be part of the celebrations with a safe cake (note – I always bring a backup just incase – you just never know).

    4. My daughter is at the age where the kids are dropped off at b-day parties. Yet, I still stick around. If it’s at a house I help the parents clean up as we go, remove plates, serve children, wipe/wash hands, etc. Parents are usually thankful for the extra help. If it’s at a destination, I hang out and then make myself available when the food comes out. My daughter feels more secure and safer this way. I also think it’s a bit of a relief to the b-day parents child as well. It’s scary having your own anaphylactic kid, but to care for multiple kids + allergy kids. Yikes!

    We have only ever missed 1 birthday party and it’s because it was focussed around food. Otherwise, I’ve been able to make it work with the party parents to make sure everyone is comfortable and has a good time. Hosting a food allergic kid does take extra care and precautions but it can be done so that the children are safe and everyone is happy!

    Great post:) I’m so sorry you’ve had to multiple situations like this.

  2. It’s true, I have yet to trust anyone else to make food for my little guy. I appreciate the offer, but the difference between trust and a trip to CHEO is too slim!

  3. Shannon

    Great article, Lana! And Jay (and anyone else with food allergy kids), I’d like to invite you to join our meetup group…

    http://www.meetup.com/Ottawa-Moms-of-Food-Allergic-Kids/

    It says allergy moms but dads can join too, I’m sure! We have safe playdates, outings and get togethers. A great way to connect with people who really understand and our kids can play and have fun without us worrying so much. The group has made me feel so much less isolated and John (my 1 yr old) has made some great friends too.

  4. Kerri

    Great article Lana 🙂

  5. This is a great post!

    As a mom of kids without allergies I found this to be a really helpful.

    One thing I think will be tricky is trying to explain food allergies to my kids. Any advice on this??

    • Jay

      Depending on how young your kids are it’s as simple as saying that some foods can make your friends very sick. That’s how we started off when our daughter was 2. She couldn’t eat certain foods because she’d get sick, we’d have to go to the hospital and miss out on all the fun.

      Small amounts can make them sick so it’s very important to not eat those foods around your friends and if you eat them before then it’s a good idea to wash our hands and mouth before we visit them. Also explain that it’s great to share your toys, but not your food with your allergic friends:)

  6. Jay

    I should also post a link to the Ottawa Anaphylaxis Support Group here in Ottawa:
    http://www.ottawaasg.com/
    They meet once a month and have open discussion meetings and pretermined topic meetings which can include guest speakers. They are an invaluable source of information, new products, and just a group of people who understand what you’re going through!

  7. Thanks for this post. My son is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts but only had a very mild reaction on his first exposure and thank goodness (and knock on wood as I type this), none since. We carry an epipen whenever we go out, but I have to admit I do get complacent (especially compared to the above guidelines). Thank you for the reminders.

    The other thing to note is that in preschools and daycares, children are monitored carefully and parents have full control over what their children consume.

    Our allergist flagged that this would not be the case in the older elementary school grades and beyond and that is when he would really begin to worry (and hence I worry about this 8 years in advance). He indicated that as they become preteens and have never had exposures or reactions, they themselves become complacent and, like teenagers, feel indestructible.

    Currently, our Lil D thinks that all kids have some sort of food allergy… I have tried to explain that this is not necessarily the case, but he likes to believe this – whatever makes him happy and cautious.

  8. Pingback: September recap – what you might have missed « Kids in the Capital

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