illustration by Maggie Russell • wellworn.com
Living with a food allergy is an everyday challenge for many families. In fact, one in 13 children have some kind of food allergy, and common allergens, such as peanuts and dairy, are present in countless foods. “It’s peanut butter, chocolate, cupcakes, candy, the list goes on,” says Jill Connell, mom to Andrew and Aubrey, both of whom have food allergies. “We have to be careful where we go and what we touch.” Add the festivities that swirl during the holiday season and keeping kids from eating what they shouldn’t is tough. We spoke with Dr. Betty Mirro of East Memphis Allergy and Asthma in Germantown and several local moms to get their best advice on this ticklish time of year.
With the holidays stretching to the New Year, busy schedules create not only stress but prime opportunities for mistakes. “When you’re rushing around, you might not check that ingredient list as closely as you might another time, or you rush out of the house and forget that Epi-pen,” says Cher Bork, whose 5-year-old daughter, Ella, has allergies to nuts and legumes.
To keep commitments at a comfortable level, discuss which events are ‘must- attends’ and send apologies for the rest. Not only will you enjoy the less frantic pace, you’ll reduce the likelihood of oversights.
Plan ahead & pack extra
Starting with Halloween, schools come alive with classroom parties and goodie bag exchanges. Even though parents are often alerted ahead of time, food allergy moms must get creative and plan ahead for those unexpected events.
“I have a freezer full of cupcakes, because I want to have something for a last minute school party,” says Jennifer Lofton, whose 4-year-old daughter, Charlotte, helps decorate treats to make them special. “I try to take something that’s similar to what the others are going to have.” Many moms take enough cupcakes to share with the entire classroom whenever possible.
In addition to frozen cupcakes, our moms recommend leaving a box of safe snacks with teachers to be pulled from any time treats are offered. “That way,” says Connell, “the teacher doesn’t even have to decide if it’s safe for him or not.” Marla Reiser has learned that this often continues into middle school. “It’s surprising how many teachers still use candy as rewards in middle school, so I still leave Tess a bag of safe snacks with each of her teachers.”
Even when your child is not at school, planning is necessary. Jill makes it a habit to always have a safe meal option and snacks on hand regardless of the situation. “And all of my friends’ kids know it. They’ll ask, ‘Do you have snacks for me, too?’” Her advice: Pack extra.
Prepare your older child
Regardless of vigilant planning, food-centered activities can still occur in your absence. To keep your child safe, talk with her ahead of time so she knows how to handle the situation. “If it’s not a possibility to be there, Ella’s option is to not have anything off of the table,” explains Bork. “It’s not fun to face, but her safety? It comes first.”
Mirro reminds parents to continue these discussions even into the teen years. “We worry about our preschool and elementary school children and tend to decrease our worry as kids get older.” However, she says, “The majority of the fatalities from food allergies are teenagers.” Factors such as increased risk-taking, peer pressure, and a desire to fit in may be to blame. In addition to reminding your teen to avoid unsafe foods, Mirro says to be frank about the possibility of death if wrong choices are made. Create a plan with your teen to ensure the Epi-pen injector always goes with him or her, whether carrying it in a backpack or a purse.