In life, it’s funny how you never think twice about an issue until you are directly faced with it yourself. Very rarely do we see people participating in walks, fundraisers and volunteer efforts for good causes if they haven’t been personally effected in some way. Well, I am the first to admit that I definitely fell into that category until someone close to me was diagnosed with a food allergy and I experienced up close what that meant.
I could literally write a book on all of the statistics and things to watch out for, but I thought that maybe by sharing a few tips that I have learned over the years would be the best way to help educated families that don’t have any first-hand experience with food allergies.
Especially now that school is back in session, it is important to explain to our children the reasons why a few of their peers can’t share snacks or carry a purse with a device containing epinephrine.
Surprisingly, according to FARE (the food allergy research and education support site) ‘researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18. That’s 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom.’ Sometimes these students are at risk of having such a severe reaction that they must eat alone during snack and lunch times. What is shocking is how diffused something that was so rarely heard of in the early 90’s when I started school has now ‘increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.’ It is more common than we think.
So what are some common food allergies, one may ask. The most diffused in children are peanuts and milk but others which are also very common include eggs, fish, shell fish, soy, tree nuts and wheat.
Every school seems to have a different policy regarding food allergies but one thing that must be taught is awareness. In a society where we emphasize that ‘sharing is caring’ we must somehow try to explain that sharing food isn’t always safe and the importance of first gaining adult approval.
One of the best ways to show support is to show you care. That is all it takes. It would be impossible to expect everyone to eliminate certain foods due to common allergies; however, showing understanding and making an effort to accommodate doesn’t take much at all and should be taught from a young age.
A few things to note:
- Many do not know that just because a food doesn’t contain peanuts, milk, eggs etc it could still be processed in a facility with all of the above, thus greatly endangering someone with an allergy if cross contamination has occurred. This is why it is essential for older children and adults to read labels and not only the ingredients. Always check to make sure the words ‘processed in a facility with….’ Do not contain any of the foods that may cause an allergic reaction. Surprisingly, sometimes labels are modified as well over time so just because it once was not listed does not mean that now it is safe to eat. Changes always take place in food facilities so always remember to double check before offering, even if a friend has had that snack before.
- Check with bakeries before ordering. Did you know that Walmart actually produces their cakes in a nut free facility? That means that while a child allergic to nuts cannot have sweets from the majority of local grocery stores, they get the green light on baked goods from Walmart which actually happen to be quite delicious! May be worth considering the next time you throw a party and know a few children have a nut allergy. A cupcake is a cupcake so why not make everyone happy and get ones that are safe for everyone to eat.
- In an effort to provide kid friendly options, Blondie’s Vegan, is another great bakery located in Boynton Beach that caters specifically to all allergies, preparing gluten, dairy and nut free items free of artificial dyes. You’d be surprised at how much their baked goods taste like the real things!
- Since the rise in allergies many local grocery stores have taken to offering many more options as well to cater towards allergies. One of my favorites being Trader Joe’s which carries numerous dairy free substitutes, gluten free items and clearly labels all packaging. Next time you are shopping with your little one try to point out a few of these products. No better way to teach than with a hands on experience!
- FARE is a great informational website foodallergy.org. You can find endless information on programs, research and how to help by visiting.
Don’t wait until you are faced to deal with the issue. It is our responsibilities as mothers, as parents, to start raising awareness today!