You might have been wondering what happened with that Top 25 Food Allergy Bloggers (at Circle of Moms on Facebook) contest I was asking you to vote for and I'm happy to say I'm in the top 25! Thanks to all of you who voted each day -- even more than inclusion in this group, your support and positive comments have meant the world to me.
As one of the Top 25 bloggers, I was asked to post my views on some aspects of parenting kids with food allergies and one of the questions was regarding my advice for parents new to food allergy diagnosis. Lately, I've been hearing from so many parents new to peanut and tree nut allergies and also from adults who have nut allergies themselves through this blog and my other social networks like Twitter and Facebook, that I decided to share a post about handling this new diagnosis.
Based on my experiences as a parent, here are some of the things that have been most important on my food allergy journey:
Be ready for your world to be rocked. Severe food allergies make you look at nearly everything you do with fresh eyes. Food is so ingrained in our traditions, social events and emotions that you may be surprised at how much food plays a role in your life. Things are going to change for your family, that's for sure. However, all of the changes won't necessarily be negative. As I said in my previous post, my whole family eats healthier now. However, knowing that common foods have the potential to harm your child can make the entire world seem unfriendly at times. Don't be surprised if you feel a lot of strong emotions that you need to discuss with family, spouse or friends. If you really feel overwhelmed and it's interfering with your life, seek professional counseling.
Give yourself time to adapt. You may feel apprehensive about certain situations once you know you are dealing with a severe food allergy, so don't push yourself. Knowledge on how to cope with restaurants, school, play dates and family members will not come to you overnight. It's OK to feel scared or confused. As you learn more about food allergies and manage situations successfully, you will gain confidence. But don't expect this to happen immediately. You need time to accept the situation and learn what works and what doesn't before you can begin educating others about it and advocating for your needs.
Always have safe food on hand--and bring it wherever you go.Food is pushed at kids almost constantly (many of you know this already) so don't get stressed, be prepared. If you are heading out with your child, be sure to bring safe alternatives so that you are not tempted to offer unsafe food simply out of hunger or desperation.
Don't forget the epinephrine autoinjector.If you're like me, you switch bags or purses, rush around in the morning or are simply human and sometimes forget stuff. Epinephrine is so important, however, that I've turned around and come home rather than go anywhere without my daughter's medication. Leave Post-It notes by your front door or on the dashboard of your car, get your child a special fanny pack or medicine carrier but find ways to remember the epinephrine. It won't help anyone if it's sitting at home in a cabinet; epinephrine autoinjectors can and do save lives.
Start teaching your child about their allergy in age-appropriate ways. Kids need to learn how become their own advocates. You can help them, even at young ages, by role-playing different situations (such as what to do when offered a food that isn't safe), discussing unsafe foods and activities, and if they are old enough, (discuss when is the right time with your allergist) teaching them to self-administer their epinephrine autoinjector.
Kids who can advocate for themselves are more confident and happy kids as well as a safer ones. For younger kids, Beyond a Peanut flashcards and books like Ally the Allergic Elephant and The Princess and the Peanut are non-scary ways to teach allergy safety to your kids. For older kids, FAAN has a section of their website devoted to kids ages 11 and up.
Embrace cooking and baking from scratch. Not everybody loves to cook but once you deal with food allergies it's actually more stressful not to cook. Why? Because when you frequently visit restaurants or pick up take-out you don't have control over what's going into your food--and that can mean risk of allergic reaction. Plus, cooking at home is healthier overall (and not just lower-risk for food allergies)and its more economical, too. If you don't have tons of time to cook on busy week nights, then cook what you can on your less busy days and freeze meals in advance. Also, be sure to have one or two quick go-to meals in your recipe arsenal and keep the main ingredients on hand at all times.
Be cautious but enjoy your life. This is what our first allergist told us and he was right. You can't stop living because you now deal with a severe food allergy. That's not to say you should take unnecessary chances on food or downplay the seriousness of the situation. However, if you go forward in a positive way, you will affect the outlook of your entire family. If you are the parent of an allergic child, you want them to be happy and live life to the fullest, even though you may worry about them. Adapting to food allergies can mean having to alter how you go about some things, but don't let it limit you (or your child, whoever has the allergy) too much.