I’ve lived with wheat, egg, and nut allergies for three decades.  It is how I eat, how I live.  I mentally cross off items when I look at a grocery store shelf or restaurant menu.  My food allergies are how I relate to food; I can never forget.  But, suddenly having a two year old with these allergies shocked my family.  And while my life has always been this way, their lives changed.  When I talk to moms beginning to manage life with food allergies, I constantly remind myself that it is a tremendous change for them.

Below are the six harsh realities I want to share with families starting the new lifestyle of dealing with food allergies.

  1. No choice.  This is not being a picky eater or choosing to be vegan.  Choice is not involved.  You cannot be lackadaisical about avoiding allergens, choosing to be vigilant sometimes and lax others.  And, you must ensure anyone who cooks for your child understands its not a choice.  You aren’t being a snob or helicopter parent.  You’re protecting your child.
  2. Read labels.  From now on, you must read the label on absolutely everything.  Period.
  3. Any doubt? Then the answer is no.  You’re at your best friend’s son’s birthday party and the hostess thinks the cupcakes are probably okay.  That means no.  Your mom cooked dinner trying to be really careful, but didn’t save any packaging for you to read.  Again, no.  Its not your job to prevent ruffled feelings caused by rejected food.  Your job is to keep allergens away from your child.
  4. It will be unfair.  You can’t protect your child from reality.  Food is a huge part of culture, so unless that changes, unfairness will result.  Its better to teach your child this lesson from the start rather than fight tooth and nail making the rest of the world bend to her needs.  Teach your child to accept her difference and how to move past the times its unfair.  Furthermore, keep in mind that fair and equal aren’t always the same.  You don’t need to keep everything in your child’s life equal to classmates or siblings.
  5. Cook simply.  I often see posts in food allergy groups like this: “HELP! We just discovered my son can’t eat [insert allergen].  That’s in everything! What are we going to eat?”  Answer: Everything else!  If you cook simply, eliminating allergens isn’t hard.  Stop buying packaged, processed foods.  Cook simply from scratch like your great-grandma did.  Top 8 allergies leave a world of fresh fruit and vegetables and plain cooked meats in your menu at the bare minimum.   Cooking for an allergy or two won’t be your hardest parenting task..
  6. Your child must self advocate.  By the time your child is five, she must communicate her allergies and questions adults about food.  When faced with uncertain food, your child must be able to decline.  Sounds like tremendous will power for a child, but she must know the seriousness of breaking these rules resulting in no desire to eat unsafe food.  Parents can request safe environments at school and play dates, but you cannot eliminate all of the danger.   When a oversight occurs, your child is the last line of defense —  asking questions and rejecting suspicious food.  That’s impossible if you don’t teach your child how.

(Image from miheco.)