“What Can You Eat?!” & Other Food Allergy Faux Pas

by Sally on March 15, 2011

My son’s school takes food allergies seriously. Class party menus are planned and screened by the teacher and principal, and parents are told not to bring goodies without clearance.

So when the Valentine’s Day party rolled around this year and parents sent in a bunch of random treats anyway, I thought about the moms and dads whose kids had food allergies. In some cases, very serious food allergies. I figured they would probably have some choice words for those parents. And I wondered what else they would have to say–to those of us who don’t deal about food allergies every day–if they were given the chance.

So I asked my friend Wendy Kops Mondello, whose 7-year-old son Joseph has food allergies and who blogs over at Taste of Allergy-Free Living. Here are seven things she’d like all parents to know:

  • Respect our judgment about how to keep our child safe. The risk of death from the slightest exposure is nothing to take lightly. For example, one girl tragically died after eating French fries that were cross-contaminated with a trace of dairy from a serving spoon. So if the teacher asks you to avoid bringing in treats to class because of food allergies, please honor this. Kids could have life-threatening reactions by accidentally eating or even touching it (think how often children put their hands to their mouths). It also further excludes and adds undue anxiety on the food-allergic child, who is now worrying about avoiding the food instead of just enjoying the activities.
  • Please don’t say, “You can’t have anything! What can you eat?!” My son is happy to talk about the food he likes to eat, but it’s insensitive to make him feel badly about something he can’t change. Children don’t choose to have food allergies and they don’t need to be singled out with a negative tone.
  • My child is much more than his food allergies. Joseph just wants to enjoy being a kid and would love for people to know him for his personality and interests, not just his medical condition. The fact that he must avoid food that many other kids eat or risk his life, is one part of him. But he cares about many of the same things as other 7-year-olds, including playing video games, finding adventure in a good book, playing tennis and building Lego creations.
  • Don’t be offended when we bring our own food. Especially when dealing with multiple allergies, offers to prepare food for Joseph pose risks that outweigh the kind gesture. Our son only eats food that I provide because we only buy brands that I have researched to ensure they are free of his allergens and produced in a safe facility, and I prep and cook his food in a dedicated environment. For example, oranges could turn deadly if they are prepared on a cutting board also used to slice cheese or placed in a bowl with hands that just gave another child cheese-covered crackers.
  • Allergens show up in many other products besides food. For example, soaps and lotions often contain milk, soy or nut oils; and craft supplies like Play-Doh often contain wheat. Parents of food-allergic children are happy to supply substitutes for these products as long as they know about their planned use ahead of time.
  • We prefer you give hugs instead of kisses as a sign of affection. Even kisses on the cheek cause itchy rashes, which are no fun.
  • My kid’s feelings get hurt, too. Please let me be the judge of whether an activity you have planned would be safe for him rather than making an assumption and automatically refraining from inviting him. He is more hurt when he thinks friends don’t want to be with him, than he is disappointed by not being able to go because of his allergies.

If you have food allergies in your household, check out Wendy’s blog. And if you’re looking for some new recipes, Wendy highly recommends these Chicken Nuggets and this Red Velvet Cake.

Photo by vilseskogen

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren March 15, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Love this post! Thanks for sharing! I have had food allergies my whole life and can’t count how many times I’ve heard how much I’m missing out in life because of the foods I can’t eat. Also, love the point about bringing your own food– people often seem offended, but it’s just what we have to do.

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Sally March 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Thanks for reading, Lauren! Glad you enjoyed Wendy’s information. :)

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Vicki March 16, 2011 at 8:42 am

This was very enlightening. My kids don’t have allergies, and it hadn’t occurred to me about the simplest of cross-contaminations that you write about. I just sent in sugar cookies for my daughter’s birthday, and am worried, suddenly, that someone might have touched a peanut before putting the cookies in the box, because there’s a peanut allergy in her class.

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Sally March 16, 2011 at 9:27 am

I would think that if there were severe allergies in your daughter’s class, outside food would not be permitted at all (or those parents would supply safe snacks for their child). Seems like a lot of schools are moving toward little to no outside food permitted (and including a fee for allergy-safe snacks supplied by the school). I think the liability and risk are just too great. Wendy, what are your thoughts on this?

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LeAnne Ruzzamenti March 16, 2011 at 10:45 am

Thanks for this – as a mother to a toddler with a peanut allergy, I am so nervous about sending him off to preschool, for fear that the other parents won’t see it as a priority. It’s an adjustment for the families of kids with food allergies, so anything everyone else can do to be supportive is so appreciated!

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Sally March 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Thanks LeAnne. I can imagine there is a lot of extra anxiety about the start of preschool for parents with food-allergic kids. Wendy, any advice for LeAnne on handling that transition and making sure that keeping the food environment safe is a priority for teachers and other parents?

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Wendy March 16, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Glad you liked it, Lauren. Someone with food allergies just told me a response I like for when she is asked what she can eat, she answers, “Everything, just not what I’m allergic to.”

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Wendy March 16, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Vicki, the class likely has a rule for outside food (whether it is allowed, what to avoid as far as brands/ingredients) that they would have communicated to you. In addition, the child in the class with a food allergy should have a plan set up with the teachers as far as what she is allowed to eat etc – especially in light of cross-contamination issues. A lot of times, if outside food is permitted, they might ask that it not contain peanut/nuts so that contact is avoided and the allergic child might have his or her own safe snack.

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Wendy March 16, 2011 at 1:49 pm

LeAnne, I’ve heard of varying degrees of support regarding food allergies in preschool – it is frightening! What I’ve heard works best is a lot of communication before the school year starts with all of the staff, ensuring a plan is in place for how to keep your child safe (i.e. all children using wipes after any food is consumed, etc.), setting up an allergy action plan (FAAN has a great section on their website with forms to provide schools) and also the school communicating that plan with the other parents. If you are a member of a local food allergy support group, those members are a great resource as far as what preschools they have had the best luck working with and what methods work best for dealing with food allergies at those schools. Good luck preparing for your child’s next big step!

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Donna Taylor March 29, 2011 at 11:07 pm

This is a great brief article- Liked the allergy blog as well! Perhaps you could suggest to her to add a link to http://www.apfed.org. (I noticed she does not reference Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorders on her links). Our children are also unable to eat many foods due to a different type of allergic reaction, and many of them ALSO have the IgE allergies that most people are familiar with. Some of our kids cannot eat ANY food and must survive on a special (elemental) formula, which tastes so bad that many end up with feeding tubes just to get enough in! We too share the frusteration, isolation, and difficulty of trying to live as normally as possible without foods.

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Sally March 30, 2011 at 8:16 am

Thanks so much for reading the blog and for the link–I’ll be sure Wendy sees it. Thanks also for bringing awareness to this disorder.

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Dr. Mark Joachim April 7, 2011 at 11:54 am

Many kids having this issues. Bad thing is i ve noticed many family which are not interesting with their kids. No sense ones…

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Wendy April 26, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Thanks Donna for your comments and for reminding me about children the link between children with eosinophil disorders and food allergies and for sharing a helpful website. I have added the link to my blog site. Thanks!

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Julie July 9, 2011 at 1:07 am

My Sister has bad food allergies to many things. But she is a teenager and is hard headed and still eats some of the foods that she doesn’t have a bad reaction to. What should we do? This was very interesting and I didn’t know alot of it. Thank you for telling us.

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Sally July 11, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Wendy, what do you think?

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Wendy July 11, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Hi Julie, thanks for your interest. I can understand your concern about your sister as allergic reactions are so unpredictable and avoiding allergens, plus always being prepared with emergency medicine (i.e. EpiPen), is the only protection against life-threatening reactions. I don’t know your sister’s specific allergies or the medical advice she has received, and I haven’t experienced allergies during the teen years with my own child yet. But there are some great resources that might help provide more information and support for your family. There are a couple websites that focus on teens with food allergies that would be worth checking out: http://www.faanteen.org/ and http://www.whyriskit.ca/pages/en/home.php
I hope this helps. Please let me know if you are looking for any other information I can help you with.

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Laura November 22, 2011 at 4:17 pm

there are also kids who are born with disorders that severly limits the amount of protein they can eat. People do not know how much protein is in food, and many of these kids can only have about 4-5 grams of protein per day. These kids can only have some fruits and vegetables, but even those need to be weighed on a gram scale. I am a strong supporter of no food in the classroom. Look at the obesity problem in children. We do not need to be feeding kids more stuff. I also feed my daughter very healthy foods and I don’t like others to give her non nutritional foods. If it were a rare occurance, that is one thing, but it is constant.

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Sally November 22, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Thanks for your comment–I’ve never heard of this disorder but it sounds like it would be very difficult to manage. I agree with you about food in the classroom and other events–there’s just too much of it and it is constant. You’re right–if it were an occasional treat, no biggie. But it’s every day, everywhere. I hope you checked out my posts about sports snacks (click on “sports” on the topics menu on the left side of the home page).

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stef June 8, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Vicki, that’s very considerate of you to think of the safety of class.

I wanted to add to the comment about birthday and food treats in the classroom.

If you want to include everyone equally in your child’s birthday celebration, consider bringing a non-edible treat. A toy, a book, an eraser, a fun pencil. You don’t have to worry that someone can’t eat it or you are bringing in an allergen.

An allergic child or food restricted child (for other health reasons) will appreciate being treated the same and not having to eat something from their “safe treat bag”. Every child longs to be included and one of the gang.

Also, even having a “safe treat bag” is not always “safe”. An adult needs to remember to give it to the child.

Wendy, great list!

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stef December 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Instead of saying “What can’t you eat?” or “You can’t have anything? What can you eat? (in a negative tone as in the article above)”

Ask “What foods are safe for you?” or “Can I offer/bring something that is safe for you?”

It has a whole different tone and is framed in the postive.

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Sally December 5, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Stef–yes! Great point about turning a negative message/question into a positive one!

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Margaux Harris September 12, 2013 at 12:50 am

My child was diagnosed with eczema and we were so worried about her. Not only that, the doctor also told us that she’s allergic to Vitamin C. I am really sad about it.

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Sally September 12, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Margaux–I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s eczema. Did your doctor say she was allergic to vitamin C itself (doesn’t seem possible?) or perhaps vitamin C supplements? Could be something in the supplement/pill that she could be reacting to.

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Margaux Harris September 23, 2013 at 8:04 am

Hi there. She’s allergic to vitamin C supplements and now we’re not giving her any supplements. But we noticed too that she’s having rashes whenever she eats mango fruit.

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Sally September 23, 2013 at 8:50 am

She is likely reacting to the oil in the mango skin–some people are, especially those who are highly reactive to poison ivy.

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