Food allergies are a serious, potentially life-threatening health problem that affect 32 million Americans. Initially, a food allergy diagnosis can feel overwhelming. Follow these four tips to manage your family’s food allergies more confidently.
Always read ingredient labels. Look for allergy warnings on packaged and premade foods, medications, and supplements.
Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, and sesame make up 90% of all food allergies in the U.S. Currently, only the first eight are required to be included on labels.
The recently passed Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education & Research (FASTER) Act now includes sesame as a top allergen. It must be added to product labels starting Jan. 1, 2023.
If you have an allergy to a food not in the Top 9 list regulated by the FDA, learn where else these foods may hide, such as “natural/artificial flavoring.”
Educate your child about their allergy as early as possible. Kids’ books about food allergies are a great place to start.
Create an Allergy-Safe Environment
When a child is first diagnosed with a food allergy, it may be beneficial for the whole family to, initially, eliminate that food. This helps all members become educated about where the risks lie and how to talk about their allergy. It’s also a great way to gain insights into the social-emotional aspects that your child is trying to navigate.
There are two approaches to managing food allergies at home.
Option 1: Make your home entirely free of the allergens that affect your family. This means removing all foods containing that allergen or that may have been cross contaminated.
Option 2: Create dedicated zones in your fridge and pantry for allergy-safe v. unsafe foods. Make sure all family members understand and follow the plan.
In addition to foods and beverages, check your medication and supplement ingredients. Talk to your pharmacist or call the manufacturer if you have questions.
Personal care and beauty products are also potential allergy risks. Learn which brands are safe and stick with those.
Pet food and supplies may also include common allergens. Crawling babies and curious toddlers can easily get into pet food left on the floor or not stored out of reach.
Likewise, older children with allergies must wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after assisting with pet care. Hand sanitizer does not kill food allergens. Talk to your vet to find the healthiest products for your pet that accommodate your family’s allergy needs.
Create a plan at home for what to do and whom to contact should an allergic reaction occur. Keep other carers and schools updated on any changes to your child’s medical needs.
Be Inclusive and Prepared
Food is central to our celebrations. Some simple planning can make life with food allergies easier.
Store allergy-safe snacks and treats at school or daycare for event days. Send in pre-packaged, allergy-safe foods to share with the class.
Freeze a stock of allergy-safe cupcakes at home for birthday parties. When hosting a party, keep likely allergy risks separate from the rest of the food.
When dining out, call restaurants to find out what allergy-safe options they offer. Make sure your server understands you have a true allergy, not simply a preference.
Mindset is Everything
Model a safe, positive attitude toward living with food allergies.
Show your child how to be a good self-advocate by reading labels and always bringing their allergy medication. Help your child practice saying, “No, thank you” when allergy-safe foods aren’t available. Then, redirect toward activities everyone can participate in.
Managing food allergies can be stressful and isolating for children, especially teenagers. Be understanding of their challenges. Seek support, when needed.
The BugaBees: Friends with Food Allergies by Amy Recob
The BugyBops: Friends for All Time by Amy Recob
Cody the Allergic Cow by Nicole Smith
Eating Gluten-Free with Emily by Bonnie J. Kruszka
The Princess and the Peanut Allergy by Wendy McClure
Why Can’t I Have a Cupcake? By Betsy Childs\
Laurel Otey is the owner of Layered Living, a holistic wellness practice. She serves as a family wellness educator specializing in autoimmune disease, food allergies, and stress reduction. Health coaching, prenatal classes and corporate talks are available worldwide.