According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, childhood food allergies are becoming an ever growing concern. The most recent data shows that 1 in 13 children are living with food allergies – that’s roughly 2 students in every classroom once a child reaches school age.
While you are able to control variables in your child’s nutrition when they are under your supervision, as time passes you may be faced with increased invitations to birthday parties, summer camps, after-school sports, and extracurricular activities. It can seem like a nerve-wracking task to equip your child with the language and understanding needed to refuse certain foods or temptations that may make them ill.
Here are our favorite tips from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) to help you talk to your kids about their food allergies or sensitivities, and how they can explain them to others.
Categorize Foods as “Safe” and “Unsafe”
While children of a certain age may not understand general nutrition or medical terms such as dairy, soy, celiac, or tree nuts, it is often much easier for them to associate common foods they see every day on TV, at school or a friend’s house with being “safe” or “unsafe.” Talk to your child’s teachers or coaches and learn what kind of foods are common in the classroom or on the sports field. If any of those foods are red flags for your child, make sure to talk with them about how they may see certain foods when they’re with their friends that they can’t have at home. Quiz your child on how to kindly refuse “unsafe” foods and how to tell others it will make them sick.
While it’s important not to invoke feelings of fear around mealtime, children should approach “safe” or “unsafe” labels on foods as matter-of-fact. They should understand that nothing bad will happen if they simply say “no thank you” to “unsafe” foods around them. If you sense your child may be upset by not being able to partake in “unsafe” food consumption – substitute! Include dairy-free string cheese, sunflower butter, or gluten-free snacks in their lunchbox or practice bag so they can participate with their friends and not be tempted away from home.
Make Their “Safe Foods” Special
The Pickled Beet hears from clients all the time that the hardest part about living with a food allergy or sensitivity, is the feeling of “FOMO” or missing out on mealtimes and social situations because of their food restrictions. Children may feel this tenfold at classroom parties, team snack time, or playdate meals. As children get older, they may not want to call attention to the fact that they cannot eat everything that their peers do. The solution: get them excited to celebrate and share the delicious foods they can eat!
Show them where their “safe” foods are in the grocery store and invite them to help you put items in your shopping cart so they learn to recognize the words and pictures on the labels.
When cooking, explain each of the ingredients in a dish and why they’re safe for them to eat compared to other common alternatives their friends might be able to eat.
When your weekly chef service arrives from The Pickled Beet, have your child help you unpack your bag and get excited about all the delicious food inside! They can help you heat up and serve meals to the entire family and learn how everyone can enjoy “safe” foods made especially for them.
Encourage them to share. When your child attends a summer camp or birthday party, offer to send them with an allergen-free option they will love to eat and share with their friends. Provide snacks at play dates so all the kids in attendance can eat the same snack together. At family functions, cook up your child’s favorite dish and have them explain to family members why that version is a “safe” food for them and watch their excitement as others dive in to share a meal.
Practice Precautions and Emergency Practices
Ensuring your child knows how to explain and refuse foods that contain allergens and reactive ingredients is important, however it is always better to be safe than sorry if a slip-up occurs.
Talk with your child about how food makes them feel after they eat it. Make sure they recognize the good feelings they get of being full, happy, and having energy. Help them understand that if they don’t feel this way, or if they feel bad or have trouble breathing, they should tell an adult right away.
Teach them to ask questions about new foods they’ve never tried before. Help them understand that if they’ve never tried a snack or meal at home, they should ask an adult if it was made with “unsafe” foods before they try it.
Help your child establish an introduction for new group settings. Practice an elevator-pitch style introduction with your child such as, “My name is ____ and I want to tell you I have a ___ allergy in case we are having a snack together today.” Teach them how to approach an adult in charge at a game, practice, or peer group so they can keep themselves safe.
Ensure your child has their emergency contact name and phone number memorized in case an incident arises where they need to be issued medication or taken to a doctor. The instance would be rare where there would not be an adult in charge who could contact a guardian in an emergency, but it is always a good idea to be cautious.
Stress Less for Your Family
At The Pickled Beet, we know that food is medicine and what your family consumes every day at meal or snack time can heal or harm them. When you receive chef services from us, you’ll always know exactly what’s in your child’s meals and snacks, so you can send them out into the world worry-free. Just fill out a food questionnaire and let us know how we can help!