By Corinna Meckelborg, Friendly Pantry Consulting Inc.
Maybe you have a friend who has a child with food allergies, or maybe you’ve just heard that 1 in 13 kids have food allergies (that’s about 2 for every classroom!). Whatever it is, you’re reading this post which means you want to support the food allergy parents in your life, and I want you to know how grateful we are that you’re here!
Food allergy moms don’t expect people to make adjustments, but when you have a child with a life-threatening allergy to something most people take for granted, we are forever grateful.
The Basics of Food Allergies
Food allergies are becoming more and more prevalent. If you don’t already know a family with food allergies, chances are that you or your child will become friends with a child with food allergies at some point.
- About 8% or 1 in 13 kids has food allergies (that’s about 2 per class of 26).
- A food intolerance is not an allergy. Many people confuse food intolerances and sensitivities with allergies. Intolerance and sensitivities can be very hard to live with, but usually people with intolerances and sensitivities are able to have trace amounts of the food they have a problem with. (Lactose intolerance is a great example of this!)
- Kids with severe food allergies can NOT have even trace amounts of the problem food in their eyes, nose or mouth or they could risk a severe, anaphylactic reaction. So a little bit is not ok when it comes to food allergies.
- There are 11 top allergens in Canada. MOST severe allergic reactions occur from the top allergens, but its important to know that people can have allergies TO ANY FOOD (not just the top allergens). The 11 top allergen foods in Canada are: eggs, milk, peanut, tree nut, soy, wheat/triticale, sesame, mustard, fish, shellfish, sulphites.
- All food allergies are equal. Sometimes there is more coverage about certain food allergies which makes some seem more dangerous than others, but ALL food allergies are equally scary and life-threatening.
How You Can Help
So, how can you be an allergy ally to the growing number of kids with allergies? Here are 6 easy ideas:
- Consider what foods you’re bringing for snacks and meals. Top allergy-friendly foods are appreciated, if possible. Try to avoid extra sticky things like peanut butter and sticky chocolates or caramel simply because it’s hard to wipe off surfaces. A few allergy-friendly snack ideas include fruits, veggies, and anything from an allergy-friendly brand like Kinnikinnick (Alberta-based!), Made Good, Free Yumm, Allergy Smart, or Enjoy Life. Some Christie products and Chapmans Ice Cream have fewer allergens, too.
I know it isn’t always possible to bring top 11 allergy-friendly foods, and as I mentioned before, kids can have food allergies to ANY food, not just the top allergens. So read on for more tips that will make a big difference.
- Keep food and drinks at tables and benches, not play equipment. Keeping food at dedicated tables and benches helps us food allergy mamas, because young kids often touch their face and put hands in their mouths. Even though we wipe our kid’s hands a lot, if food is on the play equipment and our food allergy kid touches it, it can easily get into their eyes, nose or mouth before we catch it. Getting everyone to eat at a dedicated, contained place like tables and benches rather than allowing kids to eat while playing allows us to wipe down the dedicated area and keep food allergy kids safe.
- Clean up garbage and wipe hands and surfaces after eating. Not only does this make our province a more beautiful and enjoyable place to be, but it makes it more food allergy friendly too! Of course, food allergy families will wipe down surfaces before they eat, BUT it helps so much to see that it’s a already a clean area to start with, and double wiping makes everything much safer and more allergy-friendly.
- Share toys, not food. I know you want to teach your child to share, and this often comes in the form of bringing a food treat to share with friends. BUT, unless you are 100% sure that every child doesn’t have a food allergy, please don’t share food. The reason is that it’s heartbreaking to have to TAKE food away from our kids or say no to a delicious food because it’s not safe for them to eat while their friends eat in front of them. This is heartbreaking and excluding for kids and parents.
- Ask about food allergies when making plans. Many food allergy parents don’t want to be a burden so they don’t mention the food allergies. If you ask, it helps them to open up so that everyone is on the same page right away. Be prepared for food allergy families to ask if they can provide the snack or even ask about ingredients of all foods. This isn’t them trying to be difficult, but this is required to keep their child safe.
- Realize how much of in impact you can make. You need to know how thankful food allergy parents are when you make small adjustments like the ones listed here. They rarely expect people to accommodate them, BUT it absolutely delights them and their kids when food allergies are taken into consideration. By doing these small things, you can lighten the load of a fellow parent and help them keep their child safe.
Bonus tip: Read up on the basics of managing an anaphylactic allergy. Knowledge is a great starting point for understanding.
Thank you so much for your kindness!
Corinna Meckelborg is a multiple, 16-year food allergy mama turned Food Allergy Coach from Calgary. She helps food allergy parents keep their kids safe while living a normal life with her Blog and Business, Friendly Pantry Consulting Inc. You can go to www.friendlypantry.com or follow her on Instagram @friendlypantry to learn more.