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6 strategies for managing your family’s food allergies

Have you noticed that food allergies are becoming increasingly common? Chances are if you don’t have a food allergy yourself, you can probably name several people you know who do.

When it comes to food allergies, my experience is both occupational and personal. I love being a clinical dietitian and certified nutrition support clinician at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center – Grapevine, but I’m also a mom of kids with extreme food allergies and a spouse to a tough guy who likes to pretend he is not allergic to anything but peanuts (alas, he is). I, too, suffer from food allergies.

I know firsthand the challenges that come with trying to feed a family while juggling multiple food allergies. My husband threatens to get the list below tattooed on his arm because he is constantly taking food items back to the store for a refund when I read the label and immediately say something like, “Um… you do know that whey protein is dairy?”

Our family’s allergies include:

  • The Top 8 Allergens: Wheat, corn, soy, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, eggs
  • The Random Ones: Kale, mustard, carrots, pineapple, peaches, tea
  • The Devastating One (according to tough guy): Potatoes, including fries

Managing food allergies can be difficult, but it’s not impossible! If you have or know someone who has a food allergy — or even if you don’t, because chances are you will someday — then keep reading. These are my tried and true tips on how to avoid the dreaded allergic reaction, and also keep your family fed and happy. 

Always pack two epinephrine pens.

They don’t come in a double pack to keep one at school and one at home. Those expensive, life-saving epinephrine pens come in packs of two because many times one dose doesn’t do the trick when anaphylaxis occurs!

Teach your kids how to use the epinephrine injector but don’t forget to teach them the difference between the trainer and the real deal.

Teach your kids how to use the epinephrine injector but don’t forget to teach them the difference between the trainer and the real deal. There’s nothing like an emergency room trip for your five-year-old who thought mom’s purse had the trainer injector in it. “Ouch,” he said, “that’s never hurt before!” That boy was buzzing round the waiting room like he had eaten a whole bag of candy.

“Explore."

Know the symptoms of anaphylaxis.

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis that require epinephrine? It could be as simple as skin rashes and hives, but swelling of the lips, tongue and throat are definitely symptoms of a serious medical emergency. Shortness of breath, wheezing, dizziness, fainting, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea are also symptoms of severe anaphylactic reactions.

Related: Hospital worker saved by colleagues after allergic reaction

Learn to read food labels.

Learn how to make sense of food labels and teach your extended family how to read them too. Any item that is “produced on the same equipment” with an item you are allergic to is definitely a risky choice. The best choice is “made in a facility that is free from (insert allergen here)”.

Also, counsel your extended family on holiday candy mixes. It is definitely NOT safe to give a kid with a nut allergy any fun size candy bars that have been in a mix containing nuts. This will probably cause a reaction. I know. I’ve been vomited on after what we thought was an innocent Easter egg hunt early in our allergy adventure.

Keep an allergy list handy.

If you are a caregiver and the child voluntarily uses the word “allergic” in a sentence before the age of six years old, you can assume they have a food allergy. 

Be sure to have a written list of your child’s allergies to give to new caregivers. My son’s eyes widened with wonder when he was two years old and the substitute nursery worker placed a paper towel full of honey nut cereal in front of him. Right before he gorged himself on this contraband item, he said, in his sweet toddler voice, “I not allergic!” Within minutes, I was called to the nursery for hives. Also, if you are a caregiver and the child voluntarily uses the word “allergic” in a sentence before the age of six years old, you can assume they have a food allergy. 

Don’t forget to start the crockpot.

Families with food allergies often eat most meals at home. Forgetting to start dinner at my house results in what I like to call “Russian Roulette with food bullets.” Once, I forgot to start the crockpot and my husband convinced me that Vietnamese food would be safe. It’s made with peanuts. He asked the restaurant for our meals to be made peanut-free. My 13-year-old took the first bite that night and immediately went into anaphylactic shock.

Cross contamination is always a risk at any restaurant. The safest place for someone with a food allergy to eat is always at home.

Talk to a registered dietitian.

Consider meeting with a registered dietitian to work on a meal plan that can make sure you eat a balanced diet despite you or your family member’s allergies. We love to help!

Find a registered dietitian near you.

About the author

Meredith Arthur, MS, RD, LD, CNSC
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Meredith Arthur, MS, RD, LD, CNSC, is a registered dietitian and certified nutrition support clinician on staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Grapevine.

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6 strategies for managing your family’s food allergies