Parenting a Child with Food Allergies

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Food allergies are becoming more and more prevalent. Here’s a little of what I’ve learned parenting a child with food allergies.

Parenting a Child with Food Allergies | Life as MOM

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My mother-in-law was allergic to fish and nuts. In all the years I knew her she never had a reaction. She was very cautious about what she ate, but I don’t recall her going to the allergist in the 15 years or so that I knew her. She’d been diagnosed as a young child and had steered clear from those forbidden foods.

About four years ago, our youngest started showing signs of possible food allergies. I kept her away from the suspect, peanuts. About a year later she had blood allergy testing after an episode of hives. It came up positive for a number of things, including eggs, peanuts, and a handful of other nuts. At the time, the pediatrics group we were with felt they could handle it themselves. They just said not to let her have those things.

We kept FishChick (now 5) away from all nuts, peanuts, and eggs for 2 1/2 years until a visit to the doctor prompted a conversation about the food allergies. One of the pediatricians claimed that he didn’t believe she was truly allergic to any of those things unless she had had a reaction. The only known reaction we were sure about was peanuts.

He gave the okay for her to eat all the other things on the list. [cue: warning bells]

Because we didn’t know any better, we did. Thankfully, she consumed many things, including eggs and Nutella without any adverse reactions. We still kept peanuts at bay, but I loosened my no-nuts in the house restriction. Family even gave us a huge bag full of walnuts that the boys relished in cracking open with a hammer.

In the first few months our girl was pretty hesitant to try any of these items. For so long, we’d drilled it into her that she shouldn’t have those foods, she was super cautious. Even once she knew things like nutella were safe, she still opted out of things, including those walnuts. She just didn’t want them.

Streusel Topped Muffins

Back in August, I was doing a slough of recipe testing, including Banana Walnut Muffins. Since we’d had nuts in the house, I didn’t really give it a thought. She ended up having a severe allergic reaction within minutes of eating two bites of muffin.

Several hours and many drugs later, we were back home from the doctor’s office and the pharmacy. Not only was I equipped with an epinephrine injector, but I also had a referral to an allergist. At my request.

In retrospect, I should have insisted on this back in December. My girl could have had a negative reaction at any time of day, anywhere, and we might not have been able to get to Benadryl and a doctor so quickly. I am beyond thankful that God spared her from a worse fate than a night drugged out on antihistamines.

We proceeded to spend a month going back and forth to the allergist and to labs. In the final analysis, we discovered that she is severely allergic to dust mites and most definitely allergic to peanuts and walnuts.

Here are some of the things that I learned about having a child with food allergies over the last few months:

1. You must be your child’s advocate.

I wish that I had asked for a referral in December, or even 3 years ago. Clearly, our pediatricians weren’t willing to refer us — until I requested it. I assumed that if it were serious, they would automatically do that. Perhaps some doctors do, but ours didn’t. This is the same medical practice that refused to xray my hip, so I’ve chalked it up to inadequate medical providers and moved our care elsewhere.

I’m thankful that we have the opportunity to move our care. I know that isn’t always the case for everyone. Regardless, you need to stick to your guns and make sure your child gets the testing and care he or she needs.

Our allergist (not part of that medical group) is a Christian mom of four who drives a Honda. She gets me! I’m so thankful that we are in her hands.

peanut warning

2. You must read every label.

No longer can I just blindly pick things off the shelf. Even if a food item has no nuts, that does not mean it can’t be cross-contaminated at the manufacturing facility. Even a take-and-bake pizza had a warning label on it that it was made on equipment that also processed peanuts and tree nuts.

It’s been a real challenge to forge ahead. Good thing I like making homemade food!

The irony of all this is that I read the label now for nuts and peanuts, where as before I was concerned about the quality of ingredients. My brother bought the kids donuts. While they were nutritionally corrupt, at least they wouldn’t prompt an allergic reaction. I find myself very frustrated with our food system these days.

It’s not that she was never allergic to peanuts and now she is. She was always allergic to peanuts, and we always knew that. But, we didn’t realize how severe the allergy was until they tested her in the office with real peanut butter. Her lips swelled and her breathing was compromised within 5 minutes of swiping her lips with peanut butter.

As far as I’m concerned, that is poison, and this mama is on red alert.

3. You must be patient but firm with others.

That said, though I am indeed, on red alert, I realize that I need to be patient with others who might not have a memory of racing around the house in search of Bendryl when my daughters lips were swelling so that she looked like one of the Wonder Pets. Many people just don’t understand the severity of this allergy.

They also might not have it on their radar like I do. A family member offered peanut-coated ice cream cones to the kids one day, not remembering that there were PEANUTS in them. It’s an easy mistake to make, but back to rules number 1 and 2: advocate and read labels!

I need to be as kind and as patient as each situation will allow.

cake pops

4. You must find your own level of comfort.

I laughed when the nurse started to hand me the brand new bottle of peanut butter we had brought for the in-office challenge. No thank you, ma’am, that belongs to you all now. In her mind, my other kids could have it.

I’m not comfortable with that. I’m not ready to risk that, especially with a product so smeary and greasy.

The doctor and I spoke about this at length. Her counsel as well as that of friends is to find where I feel comfortable. While the doctor herself might feel okay with shared equipment warnings, she wasn’t going to push that on me. I need to do my own research, read lots of labels, and make an informed decision about my child’s health.

I am super thankful that we know which food allergies we are dealing with. I’m thankful that we have the Auvi-Qs to treat her in the case of an emergency. I’m thankful that we have a great allergy specialist who understands my life as mom. What a blessing that we live in a world where food allergies can be diagnosed, treated, and where allergens can be avoided thanks to clear labeling of products.

I don’t have it all figured out. I’m only a couple months into this. Well, three years and a couple months. It is not easy. I hate to tell my girl no or to have to find an alternative product when I’m shopping.

What’s YOUR experience with food allergies?

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  1. Hang in there momma! Stay vigilant and don’t hesitate to go full on Momma Bear to people who just don’t get it. I’ve been told things like, “allergies are all in your head” or “you’re just control freak” or “he’ll be fine” or my favorite “you moms nowadays just overreact.” They’ve never experienced the full panic and helplessness you feel when your child is having an attack. They don’t know the constant anxiety you feel when your child is out with others.

    Having a child with severe life threatening allergies definitely redefines your social interactions. But we’ve learned the hard way to stick to our guns and go with known safe places like Red Robin that have very detailed allergy information and a dedicated grill. I am thankful for the increasing awareness of allergies. Halloween’s turquoise pumpkin houses for instance means the world to us. Because in the end, our kiddos just want to be apart of the fun too. I’d like to tell you that your anxiety will lessen over time but for us it has not.

    As my son ges older I am truly amazed by how strong he is. To sit by and watch others eat cupcakes and pizza at parties and not be tempted to sneak a bite when I know full well he must be dying to partake takes such a strong will. And that’s what we need to be, strong. Our kiddos are surrounded by people who just don’t get it so it’s up to us Momma Bears! Hang in there and stay strong!

  2. In our household my oldest is allergic to Limes, youngest is allergic to peanuts and shellfish. Then throw in my oral allergy syndrome from birch allergy that makes me react to raw tomatoes, mangoes and apricots. We are well versed in allergies in our household. We all also have multiple environmental allergies.
    I do let my son eat other nuts as long as they aren’t cross contaminated. He loves Nutella!

    To keep it light when people ask about the kids allergies I often quip” No pad Thai for this family,!”.

  3. It always surprises me at the different opinions doctors have on things. My 5 y/o has nut allergies too and was allergic to eggs until last December. Luckily, as soon as I suspected allergies, my pediatrician referred us to an allergy doctor. However, we have moved often, so each allergy doctor also has a little different take on things. I am so glad my son outgrew his egg allergy! It has made life outside our house much easier and less stressful. I still find myself leaning towards the egg free recipes at home, but it’s nice to know that I can bake with eggs now if I want!

  4. We have one kiddo with diagnosed gluten (wheat, rye, barley, conventional oats), dairy, raspberries and eggs allergies and one with a dairy sensitivity. It’s tough. I thank God daily we breastfed and figured out her problems early (she showed reflux at 24hrs old). Also thankful none are life threatening…depending on allergy we get HORRIBLE crying/not sleeping from gastrointestinal distress, reflx (even at 20mths old), super ADD like hyperactivity, awful diaper rash and occ rash on her face if cross contamination happens. If you’ve never watched your chid go through the agony an allergy can cause it’s hard to understand where mom is coming from. I’ve friends who tell me there is no way she’s allergic to this stuff and that she’ll outgrow it…and all I can think is ‘maybe, but that doesn’t change right now’. It’s hard, but we eat much better now and I usually love cooking from scratch πŸ™‚

  5. Our youngest son, who is 9 1/2 yrs old, is allergic to peanuts, shellfish, most tree nuts so we just avoid all of them & has multiple environmental allergies. We discovered his allergies when he was 22 months old and took a bite of a pecan and spit it out. Immediately his face began to swell and turn red and itchy with his eczema. His eczema cleared up when he was about 3 yrs old but then the asthma kicked in. So we carry Auvi-Q’s and inhalers. Reading labels has become second nature for all of us and I’ve learned to cook and bake items that he would not be able to have because of cross contamination.

    So far we haven’t had any problems with school or sports activity snacks. He attends a small charter school, so that helps. I think I would be much harder if he was in a bigger school. For sports activities, I always volunteer to be the team snack organizer so that I can make suggestions and answer any questions parents may have.

  6. I just wanted to add one more thing about food allergies and cooking. I follow several blogs for recipes, and your recipes are always my favorite and go-to site first because you use simple ingredients and don’t rely too heavily on dairy and eggs usually. I can usually easily adapt anything I want to make. I enjoy all the make-ahead ideas and often use your meal plans to help me with mine. With the exception of pasta dishes, we generally all eat the same thing for dinners. That’s the only meal that I truly make separate and different for her.

  7. I’m so glad your daughter got the help she needed right away! We just went to the allergy doctor a few days ago and my husband, daughter and I spent a very unpleasant morning getting tested for everything! This was prompted from years of mysterious rashes and feeling sick. Turns out my husband is allergic to milk, oats and rye which flares up stomach acid which inflames his lungs which has turned into asthma. And my daughter is allergic to celery and fish! Two things I never even notice effected her! Also, never realized how many things celery is in! Myself, I just have the dust and mold allergies. So glad we invested in this for our well being! Totally worth fighting with our doctor for the referral! He basically told me it would be silly and a waste of money! Perhaps I should find a new family doctor?

  8. Hi! I found your blog via GoodCheapEats post on The Kitchn. One of my daughters has had allergies to milk, eggs, peanuts, and coconut since she was 18 mo. old (possibly earlier too-before I knew what to look for!). I appreciated reading this post. It’s always nice to have some comradery in this journey!

    1. Welcome to LAM. Glad you found me. (In case it wasn’t clear, I write Good Cheap Eats, too.) The milk and eggs would be hard for me. Do you cook the same for everyone?

      1. For the most part, yes I cook the same for everyone. Although sometimes I’ll sneak cheese onto mine or my husband’s foods. It was initially VERY challenging, but I’m in a groove now so it’s find. There are lots of tasty foods that don’t need dairy or eggs. Actually, I have a blog where I share my dairy and egg free cooking adventures! I’m also trying to achieve a 100% organic diet for us while maintaining a frugal grocery budget. I’m in awe that you manage two blogs!!! I’m struggling to get one off the ground! I’ve subscribed to yours, so I’ll be stopping by again to read your posts! πŸ™‚

  9. My oldest son, age 5, was diagnosed at age 4 with a peanut allergy. He had mild reactions to peanut butter as a younger boy, but after eating a small bite of a tiny butterfinger candy bar (while not in my presence), he immediately told his Sunday School teacher his tongue was tingling. Benadryl fixed that day, but two days later at my baby’s 2week checkup, I mentioned it to our pediatrician. He immediately got us an appointment with an allergist. He was prick tested on his back for peanuts and all other tree nuts. Peanuts was the only one that he proved allergic to. We avoid them all. Just to be safe. And EpiPen stays in my purse and in a kit at his school. And I pray every day that he is safe from food!

  10. My daughter had seasonal allergies like myself. She started the dry cough at bedtime and in the morning and I knew she had asthma too. I took her to my allergist thinking he would recommend shots as that is my treatment for allergies and asthma. They did allergy testing…pricks on her back. I expected to hear various pollen were the culprit and was shocked to hear she had food allergies. I was making her sick with my meals! Her allergies included beef, turkey, seafood, green grapes and cucumbers. Some were mild enough that her body reset after avoiding them for a month or two. She must continue to avoid beef. Luckily she is old enough to ask if items include beef and if she eats it, she does not need an epi pen. She sounds congested and coughs. I cannot imagine having little ones and being worried about ingredients that are not easy to identify in foods.

  11. While we don’t have food allergies, we have enviromental and pet allergies in our home. It was months of pressuring and nagging the pediatrician for a referral to a specialist. You see, my son was practically born with a runny nose. He had about 6 ear infections in 8 months or so. They wanted to operate and put in tubes, but didn’t want to send me to an allergist. All the while, I kept insisting that you don’t just catch ear infections. The mucus is coming from somewhere :). So, after the ENT turned his nose up at me, we made it to the allergist and discovered a pet allergy for my then 16 month old. Since getting on his daily medicine in May, he’s had ZERO ear infections and only a few episodes of allergies. You have to be the advocate for your child. No one else will!!!!! Well done Mama!!!

  12. Great post. My dd (14 yo) was diagnosed as a baby with food allergies. Her food allergies include peanut, milk, egg, soy, wheat (also is probable celiac, so gluten-free), strawberries, citrus. She also has multiple environmental allergies.

    At this stage her life, being out in the peanut-filled world is the biggest challenge. She has to constantly be aware of what others have and have brought to events. She has to remember her med bag and carry it with her and be her own advocate when I am not with her. Just this week, she is opting to not go to a cheer party at a house because every time she goes, she ends up miserable with asthma and with a Benadryl hangover because of the dog at this friend’s house. Since there’s a competition on Saturday, it’s important that she is healthy. I support her decision and validate her for making the hard choice.

    Like a previous poster has said, I feel that we actually are much healthier eaters now that we have to read labels. I never thought about what we were eating before I had to read an ingredient list. Seeing all the nonfood and weird ingredient labels has changed us for the better.

    1. Good for your daughter to have the wisdom to choose the better thing, even if it’s missing out. Can a friend come over instead and do a fun movie night or something?

  13. I had such a visceral reaction reading your story – I don’t know that anyone who hasn’t been through a medical emergency like that can truly understand the fear. And of course, the guilt. I’ve had years to find my level of comfort, as you call it, but the hardest part is accepting those things that are NOT in my control, like what others bring to parties. Just know that you’re not alone!

  14. We have peanut, treenut and sesame at our house. Lucky for you that you already homeschool. That solves a huge issue with schools. We love sunbutter, and Hersey chocolate chips around our house. Good luck in this journey. Check out Food Allergy Mom on FB and FARE for great resources.

    1. The Private Selection chocolate chips at my Ralphs appear to be safe as well which is great since they are a store brand and often cheaper than the bigger names.

  15. I developed severe allergies to milk, chocolate πŸ™ and citrus when I was a preteen.
    My dad, a busy widower, made sure I had always had a good amount of safe, yummy junk food in the house. That was unbelievably helpful to me in being able to adhere to my special diet and not feel deprived. I hope your little girl has a holiday season filled with delicious, safe foods!

  16. My daughter is allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, corn, and has celiac which rules out wheat, barley, rye, and conventional oats. We learned as a baby while she was exlusivly breast fed which ment I went on her new food plsn till I weaned her at just shy of 4 yrs old. Her allergies are life threatening and it has changed our life. But I want to add that our changes have been positive too. Food allergies forced us to learn what we were eating and we wete shocked at the non food we had been consuming, much wirh a lable that read, healthy or low fat…. We have moved to a mainly whole food diet and I think we are more healthy as a family since we ventured into the world of food allergies. But I totally relate to the stress. And we too had to request an allerist referral. Much needs to be done on the medical community as far as allergy education. I have haf to administrator her epi pen 3 x’s now in 8 years. Many blessings as you navigate these food allergy waters.

    we have

    1. Excuse the typos in the first post, I was typing on my phone which never turns out well. I do know how to spell πŸ™‚

  17. I feel your pain! All three of our children have food allergies. Being a stay at home mom is stressful enough at times with homeschooling, outside activities, cooking, cleaning….but when you throw in multiple food allergies….Don’t you feel like some days you have to laugh to keep from crying?

    Our kids are a 8 y/o girl-Peanuts (anaphylactic), coconut, sesame, tree nuts, dust mites, cats and dogs. She is also allergic to all trees, molds, grasses and weeds. She has asthma.

    4 y/o girl- Peanuts, eggs, raw apples, cats, dogs and birch trees. We just got test results back that claim she has outgrown her peanut and egg allergies. She will have her oral challenge in January.

    2 y/o boy- Peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, wheat, eggs, sesame, shellfish, cats and dogs. He was ANA to almonds but current test results say he has outgrown most tree nuts, peanuts, and shellfish. Again those items are pending his oral challenge in January. We found out that he is ANA and airborne to wheat and dogs. They said that by this time next year he should be at challenge levels on dairy and all tree nuts.

    Food allergies are hard but you are certainly not alone! We joined an awesome facebook group here in STL and they are holding a “trick or trinket” event at a local hospital this Sunday. Our kids are so excited to get to do fun Halloween stuff where there is no food involved. And I’m excited because I can ease on the worrying for an hour because the only kids (about 30) there will all have food allergies!

  18. As a 4-H leader for a club that’s always had snacks or occasional potluck dinners at meetings, one of the first things I’ve asked our middle and high school members was about allergies: what they had, how severe they were and what they could do in case of a reaction. While not always possible to screen every venue for allergens, I have advocated for our club members, going up the chain of responsible adults and making sure that they knew, in case of food allergies, that the venue provided food was *not* going to work for some members. This particular location prohibited brought in food but we were able to secure an OK after getting buy-in from several other organizers.

    I know that it’s really important to teach kids with allergies to advocate for themselves but it’s also important to make sure that coaches, etc. know so they can speak up for them.

    It’s also a great moment when club or team members work to protect one another. We had a member who is allergic to latex and during a celebratory event, other teens were bouncing latex balloons around. Our club members used their posters to shield this member, yelling “Save (insert name)!” Luckily, other nearby adults realized the problem and directed the balloons away.