Let’s face it, raising a child with food allergies can be so overwhelming! It’s easy to doubt your abilities, be confused or be really stressed out! As a fellow food allergy parent to a child with multiple life threatening food allergies – I totally understand and I’d like to share the 3 secrets I’ve learned along the way. These secrets will change you from confused to confident in your journey and help you become the amazing parent you were meant to be!
Adjusting to the diagnosis of food allergies took a lot of patience especially because she had multiple food severe allergies, including ones that cause anaphylaxis. I always felt like I was guessing if I was doing things “right.” As you know, avoiding food allergens isn’t as easy as just not eating them, you have to watch out for them in the kitchen, lunch rooms, friends/families homes, and even on playgrounds. You’ve got to inform everyone you spend time with about them. Lastly, you must carry safe foods everywhere and make sure you always have emergency meds. THERE’S SO MUCH TO THINK ABOUT!
If you’re anything like me, you’ve also had plenty of big emotions about your child having food allergies. The fear, anxiety, stress, and sadness were enough to take my breath away some days. Taking care of our emotional health is a huge factor in our ability to help our children manage what they’re facing. We need to have space to deal with our own emotions about the food allergies so we can remain vigilant to handle emergency situations when they arise. This takes a lot of work and proper planning to thrive instead of merely survive this life we’ve been given.
The truth is we all have the power to conquer life with food allergies and it’s called radical acceptance which understanding current reality by letting your expectations rest. What if for right now you can say to yourself that your child has food allergies and you have to figure out a way to give them a great childhood despite them! It’s possible to thrive on this journey – it’s just a matter of learning HOW!
Mind if I share something cool with you? I’ve broken down the essentials of life with food allergies and created a three step framework to help you guide you along the journey. If you can master how to plan well, eat safely and communicate clearly; you’ll be ahead of the curve and living your best life in no time! You’ll be less confused and more confident!
I want to help as many families like mine as possible! I believe that YOU have the power to transform your life, kitchen and home into a safe environment for your child. YOU have the ability to cook for food allergies. YOU have the potential to help your child be safely included in celebrations and outings! YOU can do this, but you’ll most likely need some guidance like I did! Therefore, here are the secrets to thriving in life with food allergies!
SECRET #1 – PLAN WELL
You’ve first got to know the basics of food allergies in order to plan well. This begins with identifying your child’s allergens and how to avoid them in their pure form, within ingredients list, or via cross contamination. The second step is to become familiar with allergic reactions, what they look like and how to respond if they occur. Reactions of one body system (i.e. skin – hives) is considered mild and usually is treated with an antihistamine. Reactions of more than one body system (i.e. stomach – vomit, lungs – difficulty breathing, skin – hives) or one severe symptom is considered severe and requires epinephrine as well as medical attention. FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) has an easy to read list of symptoms here.
In addition, It’s vital to create a system to carry medications and safe foods everywhere you go including family outings, social events, and school or daycare. There are plenty of helpful allergy accessories like apparel, jewelry or labels to make it known that children have allergies even if they’re not speaking yet. The important thing is to plan well so don’t feel like you’re stuck in the house and can live a good quality of life despite having food allergies.
Lastly, having all your child’s medical and education documents organized is incredibly helpful. It can be as simple as having a medical info sheet (with diagnosis, allergies, current meds, doctor and hospital info) in their med bag or as complex as a binder with all vital documents in it. This will depend on the age of your child, severity of allergies and your preferences of course.
SECRET #2 – EAT SAFELY
Eating safely with food allergies a delicate science. I often think of the kitchen as “my office” because it’s become the epicenter of our house. It’s where we keep all food and medicine. It’s where I spend a lot of time prepping and cooking foods. The kitchen is also where I feel the most stress and overwhelm while trying to meal prep, substitute ingredients, prep and cook meals. Before you even eat safely, you have to make your kitchen food allergy safe. Here are some tips to do so.
First, make a “tool box” of essentials to keep in your kitchen. Trust me you’ll need them often!
Sharpies – to quickly label items or write notes
Labels – to label food items or containers for food on the go
Cleaning supplies (disinfectant wipes, paper towels, extra sponge) – this will help you clean effectively to help rid allergens
Hand soap and lotion – you’ll need to wash your hands to prevent cross contamination
Disposable plates and utensils – for quick snacks/meals that contain allergens
Second, efficiently set up your kitchen to help yourself conserve energy while you’re in the kitchen. The least amount of movement and reaching is optimal and will help you spend energy on actually cooking the food as well as spending quality time with your family! Keep dishes, utensils and foods as close to counter level and near prep area as possible.
Third, it’s important to get rid of any small appliances, cooking pans/pots, that are “well used” and hard to clean! For example, cooking sheets, pots/pans, toasters, and blenders are just a of these appliances/tools that may be better to spend a little money in order to keep your loved ones safe. It’s better to have a clean slate while trying to limit contact with allergens.
Lastly, invest in appliances that will save you time and energy! Investing in tools that already exist will significantly help you as you cook very frequently. They’re also good tools to master in order to be able to prep meals like the back of your hand. For example, food processors, rice cookers, and slow cookers are all designed with ease in mind.
SECRET #3 – COMMUNICATE CLEARLY
As allergy parents we must learn to advocate. I learned very quickly to become comfortable with being uncomfortable but that eventually helped me grow into an assertive advocate for myself and my daughter. It’s a process but it’s possible through building relationships. The most important aspect of communication is to never assume and always be explicit when you give directions. Here are some quick tips:
Tell friends, family and caregivers what they can do to keep your child safe
Prep food for caregivers to give to your child instead of expecting them to
Explain allergies and reactions
Train them to use epinephrine
Build relationships with all caregivers but thanking them, praising them and being open to questions/clarification anytime!
The ultimate goal of this three step framework is to help you thrive in your journey and parent your child like the pro you are! What better way to learn than from someone who’s literally stood in your shoes?! Have fun and be safe always, friends!
About Asha LeRay
Asha LeRay is founder of Food Allergy Unboxed (FAU). She is a food allergy parent of a 10 year old with multiple life threatening allergies as well as pediatric occupational therapist with 15 years of experience working in urban schools.
Food Allergy Unboxed is created out of a vision to help guide families to manage and thrive with food allergies through education and empowerment. FAU currently offers a recipe club which is a weekly subscription service of top 8 allergen free recipes and customized shopping lists. Also, they offer an online course to teach new families how to manage the basics of life with food allergies.
Have fun and be safe always, friends!