Parents fear what they can’t control. For parents of kids with severe food allergies, this is particularly true. When your child is away at camp, spending the night with a friend, or attending a birthday party for a classmate, he may be in an unfamiliar environment with adults who do not know he has food allergies. It’s scary because it can be life-threatening. That’s why teaching your child to be an advocate for himself is important. Start at an early age, and teach him to tell adults about his allergies and to ask questions before he eats something. As he gets older, teach him other steps to protect himself against allergens.
When He Is Old Enough to Talk
Don’t assume your child is too young to communicate with the adults who feed him. Even pre-school children can look out for themselves. Start at an early age, explaining your child’s allergy to him. Don’t give him the gray area you might give an older child: If a food may contain something he is allergic to, he doesn’t eat it. (For example, if he’s allergic to corn, teach him to say no to boxed juice drinks. Many juices contain high-fructose corn syrup that will likely cause an allergic reaction.) While he is too young to understand what could happen if he ate something to which he is allergic, be sure he avoids eating those foods altogether. (3)
When He Goes to a New Place
Teach your child to find an adult who is in charge and show them his medical alert bracelet or necklace. That helps the adult in charge be aware for your child.
When He Is Offered Food
Before your child accepts food from anyone, teach him to ask if it contains a food he’s allergic to. If the person giving him the food does not know, have your child politely decline it or ask another adult who might be able to give him a definitive answer. If your child may be in a situation where he will not be able to eat the food provided to him for fear of allergen exposure, make sure he has food he can eat with him. Better yet, supply the food yourself so your child has food he can eat safely and he’s not left eating something different from others with him. (3)
When He Can Read Ingredients Lists
An egg is not always an egg—it could be lysozyme, mayonnaise, albumin, ovalbumin, meringue or meringue powder, or surimi. When your child is old enough to read and recognize certain words, teach him to check ingredients lists for possible allergens.
Thanks to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, companies have to declare if their food or beverage contains one of the eight major food allergen groups—milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. These eight groups account for more than 90 percent of all food allergies. However, more than 160 foods can cause allergic reactions, and alternative names for ingredients make labels difficult to understand. (1)
Find a list of ingredients that may indicate the presence of major food allergens, including soy and milk, from Kids with Food Allergies, a division of the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America. (2)
At All Times
Remind your child his food allergy is nothing to be ashamed of—it just means he has to be more careful about what he eats. He should not feel ashamed to tell an adult or even another child about his allergy. If it helps keep him and safe and well, it’s important—and it’s important he knows that.