The Beginners Guide to Having a Food Allergy
Inside: How to navigate a food allergy with children. What to know when your child is diagnosed with a food allergy and how to manage your new daily habits. Also included is an anaphylaxis action plan link to FARE.
I am not a physician. I am a mom with a son that has a peanut allergy sharing what I’ve learned along our journey to help you navigate your own.
Find the easy to read and print nut-free snack list PDF at the end of this post.
Allergy and Tiny Human shirts were given to us by the Wicklow Project.
Your child has a food allergy.
Your world just turned upside-down, and you may be feeling like you have no idea where to start.
I’ve been there too.
I remember the day the allergist confirmed my son had a food allergy.
I was so confused as to what a food allergy would even mean to my child. To me. To our family. What in the world is a food allergy and why am I now carrying this thing called an EPI pen?
I was so confused that I didn’t even notice the car backing out of a parking spot behind me.
That’s right. Just diagnosed food allergy, EpiPens, and now a fender bender. I was literally walking in circles trying to understand my next step.
And the good news?
I found the next step. And the next one after that, and I want to share these steps with you to help you feel less confused and less overwhelmed.
It may never become easy, but having a child with a food allergy will definitely become more manageable over time. You will learn how to throw fun parties for your child such as the Halloween and Valentine Parties we have listed.
This guide will help you find your next step, and the one after that, upon learning your child has a food allergy.
RELATED: Looking for activities to use with toddlers and preschoolers? I have many ideas here!
True, having a child with a food allergy will change your life.
Also true, having a child with a food allergy will be okay.
Over time you will go through many stages. Stages of overwhelm, stages of panic, and stages of calm.
All these stages are normal, and there are many people that will help you along the way.
What keeps me grounded is knowing we are all born with something that will require extra attention. For my oldest, a peanut allergy has become his thing, and now it has become our family’s as well.
We are in this together.
It is my job to provide strategies for my son to use once I am no longer with him for the better part of the day to help him along the way. Gasp! That’s a tall order, I know.
But the most powerful thing about this is the connection and trust you will build with your child.
Your food allergy child will learn how to read labels, how to think ahead when ordering out, and how to manage peer pressure when being offered food from a friend. - We continue to learn and practice all of these skills on a daily basis and a lot of lessons have been learned along the way.
This sounds like a lot for a young child to take in. But I promise you, together you will make a great team.
It was Spring 2014 and my five-month-old was covered in hives. It was just enough to know something wasn’t right.
Something was off.
At five-months Greyson had not eaten much aside from his bottle, so this rash posed many questions.
Was it the southern pollen? - Anyone visiting Georgia in the springtime can relate to the irritation this can cause.
Could it be heat rash? With temperatures pushing 90s, this was a definite possibility.
Perhaps it was simply just one of those things new babies get?
I was just coming out of that sleep deprived stage, and Greyson was my first baby. No one really goes over rashes in your labor and delivery classes.
And then it hit us.
Greyson loved to chew grandpa’s knuckles, and every day grandpa would bring over a peanut butter sandwich. (He watched Greyson after I went back to work) Perhaps this was the reason to the rash?
I am so thankful grandpa brought over those sandwiches.
Without this small trigger, we could have had a terrible reaction. Instead, we trusted our gut and immediately made an appointment with an allergist.
I Googled “pediatric allergist” together with my zip code to find out the doctors in my area.
Then I had to call the offices to find out who took our insurance.
I also asked around in mom groups if they had an allergist they would recommend.
Finally, we picked a doctor, called to make an appointment, and explained to the office what happened. They may or may not need a referral. If you need one, call your pediatrician right away and get one.
For our family, we also learned fairly quickly that my sweet new baby had a peanut allergy and we had to make a plan immediately before Greyson headed to daycare the following school year.
DO THIS NOW.
Below is an image from one of our allergy skin tests. Since then, the reaction has grown significantly in size.
So here we are. A newly diagnosed peanut allergy.
Always read food labels.
No label? We don’t eat it.
No verification of what is in the factory? Email or call the manufacturer, and do not eat the desired food until you have verification from the company.
What I also learned is that cut fruit in a grocery store may be cross contaminated with nuts due to the shared kitchen. We now cut all fruit in our own home.
There was so much to learn, and I am here to help guide you to some helpful resources.
Have you done this yet? Download this Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan now.
STEP 1: Understand the Diagnosed Food Allergy.
Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room in the U.S.
For my son’s peanut allergy, I had to learn the difference between a peanut and a tree nut.
Turns out, peanuts are actually legumes and grow underground. That makes peanuts related to other legumes that may or may not lead to an allergic reaction. See what peanuts are related to HERE.
I had to also understand that although my son is allergic to a legume, MOST tree nuts are made in shared factory.
I will continue to add that from 2016-2019 my son only showed an allergic reaction to peanuts. Our last allergist appointment in fall of 2019 showed that he is now currently allergic to peanuts along with several tree nuts. Additional allergies is something we were told could happen, yet really hoped never would.
Here is what happens when the body eats a food someone is allergic to:
STEP 2: Understand anaphylaxis
This is not to alarm you or cause panic. It is to understand the facts and what to do.
Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Symptoms can affect several areas of the body, including breathing and blood circulation.- Taken from FARE
The only way to prevent anaphylaxis is to COMPLETELY avoid the food.
A blood test can also help determine IgE antibodies in your child. Learn more about blood tests HERE on FARE.
STEP 3: Understand the epinephrine auto injector.
Ask your allergist:
Does my child need an EpiPen?
How do I know that my child needs an EpiPen?
How many EpiPens do I need?
Who teaches me how to use the EpiPen?
Who teaches caregivers, friends, schools and families how to use an EpiPen?
The sad truth is that there is an epinephrine shortage. What this means for us, is to keep track of expiration dates.
Call ahead and order with plenty of time to wait until EpiPens are back in stock.
STORE EPIPENS AT ROOM TEMPERATURE and avoid the hot sun, or cold air.
Popular Epinephrine Options:
What I like is that I understand how to use an EpiPen. What I do not like is that they are extremely expensive.
I like that these are a fraction of the cost. The needle doesn’t retract.
I like that these injectors talk you through how to inject the epinephrine.
I advise you to allow your child to listen to the commands and become comfortable with the voice. My son was petrified of the injector speaking to him. My goal was to get him used to it, and also allow him to see the similarities of how some toys talk.
Tip: I would take a talking toy and the practice AUVI-Q to show him. “Look, this one talks just like your auto injector.”
For our family, we never leave home without our auto-injector, ID, and medical insurance card.
Please watch this now to help understand how to use an EpiPen:
STEP 4: Understand what antihistamines do.
Before you run to grab Benadryl, review with your allergist if this is the right plan for your child.
Ask your allergist:
What does an antihistamine such as Benadryl do during an allergic reaction?
What are the risks of using Benadryl vs. an EpiPen?
Should Benadryl be part of my action plan?
For us, our plan is to avoid antihistamines and go directly to the EpiPen.
Discuss with your allergist which is best for your child and understand the dangers of using antihistamines in the case of a reaction.
Still with me?
Take a deep breath.
This is a lot of information that will very quickly become part of your every day. Over time, you and your family will become more familiar with your emergency care plan and even be able to wrap your head around a road trip.
Remember to download this Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan from FARE.
STEP 5: Understand how to navigate food in and outside of your home.
Ask your allergist:
What do I need to know about food labels?
What do I need to know about food products made on shared equipment?
What do I need to know about food products made in a shared kitchen?
Do I need my insurance card and ID on me if my child is sent for medical care?
What do I need to remember to bring with me in case of an emergency?
You will learn how to navigate different brands of food and find go to foods for your child, just as you would do a child who does not have food allergies.
Rest assured knowing most families have their go-to when it comes to snacks. Your go-to will just take a little more effort to find.
Food at home:
Again, you are responsible for making your emergency care plan with your allergist. After reviewing our plan with our allergist, here is how it looks in our home:
In our home, we do not have peanut products.
In our home, we do not have products made on shared equipment with peanuts.
In our home, we avoid confusion for caregivers. If it is in our home, food is safe for all children.
We purchased this no nuts sign on ETSY to remind anyone entering our home that we are peanut free. The sign is placed at the front entrance of our home.
Food at grocery stores:
When food shopping, we read ALL labels.
When food shopping, I only purchase foods that I am certain are safe.
When food shopping, I avoid any questionable ingredients. This can make trying new recipes a little more difficult.
When food shopping, I keep in mind that companies can change their factory at any time. I try to remember to periodically check labels on familiar brands.
I find Sprouts, Kroger, and Whole Foods have the largest variety of foods with labeled products.
Food at birthday parties:
I ask ahead of time what food will be served.
I pack similar foods that you have already checked to be safe for my child to eat.
I purchase or make a large batch of allergy safe cupcakes ahead of time. I store them in the freezer and take out as needed.
Birthday parties can be a challenge, and aren’t always the easiest to watch the rest of the children eating a decorated cake. I try and talk with my son prior to arriving about our food plan and what he has.
Food at restaurants:
We call ahead and speak to the manager on duty to see if peanuts are in the kitchen.
If the manager does not know right away, we will typically find another restaurant. I want to be sure the entire staff has a clear understanding of food allergies, and what food they have in the kitchen.
STEP 6: Educate family and friends:
Remember, family and friends are just as new to a food allergy as you are.
Take the time to share this article with family and friends so they can better understand your action plan.
Allow family to practice with the demo EpiPen and other auto-injectors.
Share your restaurant plan so they can help understand the plan when you are visiting.
Share stories you have read about what has happened to other children that have been exposed to food allergies.
Remind parents and family members where EpiPens are located by hanging signs:
on the door in the house
on your car steering wheel
above your alarm
on the cabinet where EpiPens are kept
Step 5: Going to school with a peanut allergy
It is difficult for caregivers to remember no nuts when it is not their daily practice.
Because of this, I wanted to pick a nut-free environment for my child to attend preschool. I wanted to rest assured knowing that he was in an environment where everyone in the building was on board to keep the school nut-free.
Because we read every label for shared equipment and factory, I also offered to:
Always provide my child with his own snack.
Provide all food for cooking classes. The honest truth, is that this was a LOT of work for me, especially from a financial standpoint. However, I reminded myself the importance of what I was doing to keep my child safe. Some parents are room moms, some write checks for supplies, others donate their time in the classroom. For me, I provided the food for cooking lessons.
Food allergy and public school:
Our public school is not nut-free.
My child will be entering into an environment that can potentially be life-threatening. Am I terrified? YES. Here’s how we prepared for the transition.
We’ve practiced best food practices.
We made an allergist appointment to discuss our current allergy plan.
I called the school to discuss best teacher placement for my rising Kindergartener.
I met with the teacher and district nurse prior to the first day of school.
I completed a 504 plan.
I asked if I can keep EpiPen in the backpack.
I completed an allergy action plan and discussed withe the teacher and district nurse.
I talked with my Kindergartener about his allergy plan. We discussed how class snack will go, and how he can navigate the lunchroom. He is only allowed to eat food from his lunchbox.
I created a poster with my child’s picture and food allergy to hand out to teachers, bus driver, and staff. Below is a modified version for you to print and write on at home.
Food Allergies Awareness
Food allergy awareness is catching on and some companies are trying to become more knowledgeable on how to label boxes.
However, we never let our guard down and are constantly reading labels.
If we are unsure, we do not eat it.
I am constantly reminded by other food allergy moms that misreading labels have lead to a reaction.
Above all, when feeling overwhelmed, remember this:
Food allergies limit what you can eat. Not what you can do.
Remind your child this, just as you may do a self-affirmation.