Kids and Food Allergies

*Originally written for Momversation*


Unless you are one of the fortunate few who has the rare child or children who will eat anything you put in front of them, you are familiar with how difficult it can be to feed your picky little ones sometimes.  Whether it’s a phase or something more, it is one of the most frustrating things you can have to deal with as a mom.

Sometimes, the situation is far more complicated. Food allergies can not only make an already picky eater even more so but they can also cause a lot of food aversions in kids who would otherwise be good eaters. As if our job wasn’t hard enough, in this case you not only have to find food your child will eat but also won’t kill him. No pressure.

My oldest has 7 food allergies. Seven. And just to be clear, we are not talking intolerance here, I am talking about full-on, anaphylactic shock inducing, need an Epi-pen with us at all times, allergies. We discovered this when he was about a year old.

It was truly a shock to discover just how complicated food allergies would make things. Aside from having to carry an Epi-Pen in my purse (which is always fun at airport security) I have had to become an expert food-label reader. You have to be able to decipher what you are looking at, sometimes things are hidden because manufacturers use terms that you may not be familiar with. Some companies are great and put a list of allergens in bold type at the end of the ingredient list, however, depending upon the allergy, you may not be able to go by that.  There are “common” allergens, like peanuts, eggs, milk, wheat, etc. Those are what manufacturers will often list separately. But that won’t help you with anything that is not considered one of the big ones, so in that case, as in ours, you still need to read every word on the ingredient list. Of everything that might be ingested by your child. Every time you buy anything. Or bring anything home, like from school parties or at Hallowe'en. And companies change their formulations all the time so you can’t just assume that because it was ok the last time you bought it, that it still is this time. Your time in the grocery store and at restaurants increases significantly because of this. I’m also fairly certain it is the reason I am now having to wear bi-focal contacts.

It’s not simply what’s in the food that you have to be careful about, you also have to take note of how/where everything is made. So even if the allergens aren’t in the food, they can still be a hazard. There was a period of about 3 years when I had Josh on a special diet to see if it would make a difference with his autistic behaviors, so between that and Zach’s allergies our grocery shopping trips usually involved 4 different stores. 3 of which were highly specialized and of course, no where near each other.

Class parties, Hallowe’en, birthdays, spending time with friends or family, all involve a great deal of planning and preparation. The school has to have an Epi Pen on hand for him.  I have to be consulted prior to outings or parties and usually have to make sure I supply whatever he might need for any event.  When his class went away to Mt St Helen’s in May, his teacher and the parents who were going with them were in constant contact with me for about 2 weeks prior to the trip regarding meal planning for Zach.  I still ended up sending some things with him.  I had to check ahead with the restaurant they were going to the second night to determine what was ok on their menu for him to order.  When I would take the boys up to visit my mother in Canada when they were younger, I used to bring all the food Zach would need with me for however long we were going to be there.

Given how many things I had to avoid because of the food allergies, Zach’s diet has been fairly restricted. Recently his allergist did some testing and decided that he could probably start eating some foods that had cooked egg in them. Zach has been used to avoiding it for so long, he is extremely reluctant to try them now. I can’t really blame him.

As he moves in to full-on teenhood we are facing some different issues, like, kissing someone that has potentially eaten something he is allergic to… we haven’t really had to go there yet, but, we will at some point. 

And now that he is older and more independent, he checks up on me. “Can I really eat this?”  “Yes, it’s fine.”  “Did you read the ingredients?”  “Sweetie, I’ve been taking care of you for almost 14 years. You’ve only ever had two anaphylactic reactions in your life, one was before we knew you had allergies, the other was at the hospital when they were testing you. You should trust me.” I look over, he’s reading the ingredients himself anyway. Which is actually a good thing, his taking responsibility for himself, so I let him read. My eyes are grateful for the break.