I don't have to scour ingredient lists, carry an EpiPen in my bag, and feel anxious before every classroom party. My children don't have food allergies. But many of their friends and classmates do, and some of these are life threatening. I believe it's up to all parents to help keep kids safe. So I asked a group of moms whose children have food allergies to tell me what they think parents should know. Here's what they said:
What an allergic reaction looks like: Red flags of a reaction may include hives, redness of the skin, itchy mouth, sneezing, coughing, stomach pain, or nausea and vomiting. This can progress to swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat, trouble swallowing, wheezing, feeling faint, or having chest pain. So it's important to take action at the first sign of reaction.
How to use an EpiPen: It's filled with medicine to treat an allergic reaction and can save a person's life. Knowing in advance how to use it will save time and stress in an emergency (take a couple minutes to watch this quick video and learn how). If you're alone with the child, administer the pen first and then call 911. Even if an EpiPen is given, the child must still go to the hospital for care, since the medicine wears off and the reaction may return.
That food allergies are not a lifestyle choice or diet: Many families these days are following different kinds of diets, like vegan or Paleo or avoiding processed foods. Food allergies are not in this category—they're serious medical conditions and can be fatal. While this may seem obvious, some people simply don't take food allergies seriously. "I wish that parents wouldn't downplay the fact that one tiny bite could kill my child," said one mom. Another told this story: "After writing a frantic email to a mother I had never met who wanted to bring homemade cookies to a school party, I introduced myself at the party. I wanted her to see that I wasn't a drama queen. She looked at me and said 'No. I totally get it. My son is off sugar.' I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream. She didn't get it at all. My God, I thought, I am going to have to follow my son around for the rest of my life. That might be the only way to keep him alive."
What the policies are at your child's school and camp: Before starting the school year or a week at camp, be sure you know what the policies are for sending in food, even your child's own lunch or snack. Some schools and camps are nut-free, some have nut-free areas in the lunchroom but ask for no nuts at snack time if the kids are sitting together on the rug. If you're providing food for a class party, ask about allergies in the classroom. Follow all policies and requests. These rules are put in place to keep kids safe and help all children feel included. "I don't expect other parents to know every food and brand that is safe for my child's needs, but I do ask for respect for the rules to keep him safe and respect for his feelings," said one mom.
That parents are scared: Feel inconvenienced by a school's nut policy or badgered by a mom asking for the ingredient in the cupcakes you brought to soccer? Put yourself in her shoes. "I am on edge all the time," said one mom. "If I'm not there to protect my son or read ingredients I worry that an unknown ingredient will slip by. I worry that he will be with someone who doesn't know how to use his EpiPen. I worry that he will be careless and forget to bring his EpiPen everywhere he goes as he enters adolescence and beyond."
That a little bit of understanding and effort mean the world: Following allergy policies, asking about allergies before hosting a party, or simply being understanding and accommodating mean a lot to parents. "We don't want to cause an inconvenience for others, and we are extremely grateful for all those without allergies who take extra care to ensure our safety," said one mom.
If your child has food allergies, is there anything you would add to this list?
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.
Image: No peanuts via Shutterstock