A food allergy at any age takes plenty of planning and precautions, and when it comes to children, there are even more considerations to keep them safe. It seems their lives often revolve around food. From snacks after each and every soccer game to celebrations and pizza parties, there’s a constant flow of food that must be navigated.
It can be challenging enough when their parents are right there to help make sure everything they eat is safe, but even more difficult when they’re on their own at school, at playdates and parties. Still, no one wants their child to be left out because of an allergy, so finding safe ways to help them in these situations is important.
Here are five tips to help navigate food allergies:
1. Plan ahead
Think of any situation in which food may be offered, and have an alternative for your child. For birthday celebrations at school, for example, leave a supply of a treat your child likes and can have at the school, so they don’t feel left out if everyone else is having something they can’t. The same goes for birthday parties — offer to bring an alternative if the food being served is something your child can’t have. If you can, keep a stash in your car for unexpected occasions.
2. Educate your child
Make sure your child understands why he or she can’t eat certain foods and how important it is to avoid them. Kids with allergies need to know they can’t trade food or take a bite of someone else’s food because it can be dangerous. Tell them to always error on the side of skipping a food rather than taking any chances.
Give them a choice in the alternative foods they want to have so they’re excited about them. Also, train them to always ask an adult before eating anything that doesn’t have a label they can clearly read.
3. Educate parents
It can be a bit intimidating to supervise a child with a food allergy for someone who’s not used to it. Make sure you provide anyone hosting your child with as much information as possible about what is and isn’t okay, and even offer to stay if necessary. Just saying “no peanuts” often may not be enough, as someone may not think about their jelly being dangerous if they regularly stick the knife from the peanut butter in there. In other cases, you may need to stress how important it is that they disinfect any surface upon which your child’s food may come into contact. It can feel like a lot to explain and ask, but typically, the more people understand, the more comfortable they will be.
4. Educate their friends
With 1 in 13 kids suffering from a food allergy, it’s important for all kids to understand what allergies are all about and how serious they can be. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has a “Be a PAL: Protect a Life From Food Allergies” program that helps children learn to be a good friend to kids with food allergies. They also have a “Food Allergy Bullying: It’s Not a Joke” program, which addresses the unfortunate problem of kids with food allergies being bullied in schools.
5. Plan for an emergency
If you’re leaving your child with someone else, always provide them with a plan in case something does go wrong. Let them know the signs and symptoms that can occur and leave an automatic epinephrine injector if they have been prescribed one.
Learn more about food allergies in our care guide