Of all the things I expected with new parenthood (sleepless nights, endless diaper changes, etc.), it never occurred to me that food allergies would be part of my life. Now that it is, I’m learning to navigate this new world and thought there might be a few tips to share with other newly-diagnosed allergy moms.
My son has allergies to tree nuts, eggs, wheat, and chicken, and while we’re still learning as we go, I hope these tips will help you get started on your journey, and feel a little less alone!
Starting Your Journey with Food Allergies
1. Find your new normal
So your kid can’t eat the food at the birthday party, church potluck, school cafeteria, etc. Decide how to proceed for your family in a way that’s comfortable for you. Will you go to parties and skip the food? Skip the playgrounds at fast food restaurants? Schedules meetings before school starts to discuss safety at your child’s lunch table? There’s a lot to consider.
For me, we take our own food to birthday parties or any gatherings with food (whether it’s a meal or a dessert) and we typically skip the potluck scene for now. My little one is still in the everything-goes-in-his-mouth phase and with that many people and food options around, I still get too nervous. We’ll make another plan once he’s a little older. Same goes for when he’ll start school. I hope and pray he’s outgrown some of these allergies by then, but who knows?
You also need to decide your comfort level of keeping allergens in your home and whether the rest of the family will be eating them. This may depend on your child’s age and mobility and their understanding of what they can and can’t have.
When it comes to buying food, some people are comfortable with shared lines (food packaged in facilities along with allergens) and some are only OK with shared facilities (food packaged in same facilities but in separate lines to avoid contamination). Some are only OK with allergy-free facilities. You (and your doctor) will have to make those decisions.
2. Seek out community
The first thing I did when I learned my son had food allergies was to schedule lunch with a friend who’s been there. I asked questions about food prep, allergy-friendly brands, and even the fears I now had. It was great to hear from someone who had been there and had great tips.
I also found a few great groups on Facebook. I’m in the “No Nuts Moms Support Group” and “Food Allergy Moms” groups, among some others. People ask questions about food items or epi pen cases, share their experiences with different brands and new foods, exchange tried-and-true recipes, and provide general all-around support.
Obviously, you don’t want to take anyone’s experiences as your guide without also consulting your doctor (and common sense), but it’s a great place to start!
3. Find some trusted brands
This will of course vary based on your specific allergies and the production processes you’re comfortable with, but you’re bound to find a few brands to rely on!
I’m a fan of the Enjoy Life brand (which I learned about through one of those Facebook groups) and also buy some items from the LiveGFree brand sold at Aldi. These have become my go-tos and I know I can find snacks and packaged items that are convenient and easy to take with me, whatever plans we have for the day.
4. Information is your friend
You know those messages on food packages telling you you can call the company with questions and comments? Get ready to take them up on it!
You can call companies to find out about allergens in different products and how things are manufactured. Your allergist’s office should be able to provide you information on how to read ingredient lists and know what items might commonly contain your allergens, but calling every now and then to make sure nothing has changed in a product you’ve grown to trust is necessary.
5. You make the calls
Don’t feel bad about skipping an environment that won’t be safe for your kids or for sticking to your own rules. Others may not understand (or think you’re overreacting), but you do what you need to do. Before our diagnosis I didn’t understand much about food allergies and have to remind myself others outside this world don’t understand either.
You might have to explain and remind people over (and over) about your child’s allergies, especially when you’re in a new setting or around new friends. You can help educate, but at the end of the day, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Do what you’ve got to do to keep your child safe and healthy.
Of course there’s a lot more to food allergies than what I’ve written here. But I hope this gives you a few things to think about, and maybe a little comfort. Sending you lots of love and peace of mind.