How Can My Allergic Kid Join In When It’s All About the Food

Parents of food allergic children dread anything that has to do with food. This includes group activities, crafts that involve food, birthday parties, recipes for school classes, holidays at the family’s house and on and on. It’s stressful for the parents and it can be stressful for the child with food allergies. It’s a simple thing that we all enjoy, that symbolizes family tradition and warmth and comfort. Except, for those with food allergies, it does but it doesn’t. And yes, many parents have been heard asking “Why does everything have to revolve around food?!” but at the same time, realistically, so much actually does.

Let’s look at this as simply as we can. Regardless if you have a food allergy or not, typically we are a society that involves food in many aspects of our lives. Consider some of your early childhood memories- do you remember a special snack or the smell of a favorite food that sticks with that memory? It was a food that offered comfort. Not because it was meant as something to taunt those who can’t have it or to punish people with food allergies- it’s simply a food connected to something within a space in time. As anyone with food allergies can tell you, most of those special foods can easily be substituted using other ingredients. The memory can be shared, continued and enjoyed safely for everyone. Isn’t that what everyone would like to do- share that amazing moment with everyone?

Food is very often involved in crafts as well. Whether it be a cut out cookie, an adorable edible craft or some type if holiday –themed whatever, parents and their children have done this as a bonding experience for a long time. Teachers in school have asked class mothers to help them do this during class festivities as a way to teach the children different ways to use their foods but also to enjoy their foods. Parents have seen how happy their child is when they use their own hands to create these items- the look of being able to do something with little or no supervision, while enjoying their food craft full of creativity. The flip side- a food allergy parent has also seen their child’s face when this happens and they were not given information about it. These parents don’t always get to see the happy face. Most often, it’s the face that makes their heart bleed for their child. It’s the face of a child that is not included, was not able to touch the food or taste the food. For those parents, that is not the tradition or memory that they want their child to remember.

Logistically, replacing an allergic food with a safe, allergy-friendly food very often takes the same amount of time as it does when following the original recipe. All that it takes is for someone to help with replacement ideas.

Help for Parents

  • For those who may get frustrated, wondering why they cannot send a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to school – we have great news! You can just as easily send a SunButter and jelly sandwich or a turkey sandwich. Both take the same amount of preparation but one food poses risks whereas the others may be safe for most everyone. We understand the daily struggle for lunch ideas and sometimes having very little time to plan meal items. If you consider that utilizing the same time may actually help a child avoid a life-threatening allergic reaction, this may give you a bit more of an incentive to consider the options that we provide to you.
  • If you are someone who has a picky eater who “must pack that food” because your child will not eat anything else for lunch, please reach out to the parent that has an allergic child and ask them for ideas. They are masters of finding foods for children. They are a wealth of information and they can offer you ideas on many levels, not just foods. You just need to ask them. Even children with food allergies are picky eaters. Sometimes it takes another person to show you some easy ways to introduce different foods to your child, why not give it a try?
  • Get your own children involved. As parents, we already try to teach them the values of food and how long it takes to prepare meals so why not start with their own lunch? Have them make a list for the food store, ask them if their foods are safe for their friends and if not, help them research some new foods. The more your child is a part of the process, the more likely they are to eat what they asked to try.

Help for Teachers

  • What happens when you plan those fun school crafts that use a food item? Most every food item can be replaced with an allergy-friendly food. Please don’t hesitate to ask the parents of those who have food allergies- they are also there to help you teach what you need to teach.
  • Unless you have food allergies yourself, food allergy parents understand that you may not know what food replacements are safe to use. Ask a food allergy parent to be a class parent to have that extra level of safety on your side. This also gives you a second set of eyes and a built-in helper for that activity.
  • An added bonus- not only are you sharing the food lesson but your class can learn about the foods on a new level that will better educate them for future friends with food allergies.

Lastly, as I always say – food is something that should bring us together, not tear us apart. Children especially are so receptive to learn about their friends, especially if they are different from the other children. Think about how amazing it would be for your child to have a lifelong memory of how they met their best friend because of a food rather than how they were not able to make a new friend because of a food. In my experience as one of those food allergy parents, children are immediately drawn to wanting to learn more about what they can eat to be able to sit with their friends. They are amazed when food allergic children bring in delicious foods and are willing to let them taste it. Even though society tells us the opposite, parents need to listen to their children more often. They need to think about how their behavior is impacting their child’s behavior. Because in the end, if you choose to close that door, it will most likely be your non-allergic child that will be arriving home with the same disappointed look on their face but it will be because they were not able to be included with their friends who have food allergies. Inclusion and exclusion works both ways …because it IS about the food.

About the Author

Tracy Bush is the founder and President of Nutrimom, Inc., also known as Nutrimom - Food Allergy Liason, a consulting business that specializes in providing guidance and support for anyone that has been diagnosed with food allergies. Tracy helps others with simple steps, such as finding safe, wholesome foods to supplement allergenic foods, where to shop and how to maximize their budget while adjusting to their dietary change. You can view additional information about what she does as well as her new e-book "The Stepping Stones to Food Allergies" at Tracy is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


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