“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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