Teaching Kids About Food Allergies

It is officially Food Allergy Awareness Week!  This is a great time to remind friends and family about the seriousness of food allergies, practice administering epinephrine,  try new allergy friendly recipes and educate your community.  This week I am lucky enough to present to some of the classes in my children’s school.  I think it is so important for the kids (and adults!) who do not live with food allergies to understand what they are and how to help.  Here are the basic topics I review:

What is a food allergy?  I think this is obviously the starting point for any talk on food allergies.  I explain that eating even a small amount of the allergen can cause a harmful reaction.  I talk about the top eight food allergens and how some of them hide in many of our everyday foods. I explain cross-contamination and the importance of hand-washing. With smaller kids, that is about how much I delve into it.  With older  kids, I explain more about the immune system and get more specific about what happens in the body during an allergic reaction. I really want the kids to understand that allergies are serious and their friend is not being “picky” when they say they cannot have even a small bite of the food.  I tell them that their friend can get sick very quickly and may need their medicine and possibly to go to the hospital.  Again with the older kids, I will go more in depth about what happens during a reaction.

How can you help someone with food allergies?  This is where I explain what signs and symptoms to look for and to get an adult quickly.  I like to reinforce that they need help fast and to tell the adult that their friend has a food allergy.  I also discuss bringing non-food treats for birthdays and including everyone.  I explain how it feels to be the only kid who can’t have a special treat at parties, gatherings, etc.

I think these are the main things to review, especially with the younger kids.  You can absolutely go into more topics, especially with the older ones.  If you know there is a bullying issue or just to reinforce an anti-bullying theme, that is another good idea.  I touch on that in my “including everyone” part of the speech but it can be elaborated on for sure.

 FARE has some free downloads on their site for presentations and handouts.  I like to give them one of the coloring sheets to take home and I send a letter to the parents in case there are questions later.  Kids are such sponges and can learn so much from even a 20 minute presentation.  The earlier on they understand this stuff, the better!

I would love to hear what you are doing for Food Allergy Awareness Week!



Dining Out with Food Allergies

This is an area of a lot of stress for many people dealing with food allergies.  Some choose to avoid it altogether because they feel it is just too dangerous.  Perhaps it is.  There are so many variables.  Did the kitchen staff wash the surfaces and utensils thoroughly before preparing my meal?  Did anyone touch my allergen and then touch my food?  Does the kitchen staff know if the ingredients used in my meal were processed in a facility where my allergen is used?

It is a good idea to ask around and see if people you know with food allergies have recommendations for allergy friendly restaurants. Some are known to be extremely careful, and to educate their staff on the seriousness of food allergies.

I like to review menus in advance and figure out what menu options seem allergy free.  Sometimes I call beforehand to make sure there are no ingredients that will be an issue. Once we are there, we always tell our server about all the allergies we have to deal with.  We explain that these are potentially life threatening allergies, NOT FOOD PREFERENCES!  Even if we have been to a restaurant and found it safe in the past, we go through the routine every time. Restaurants may change ingredients or recipes whenever they choose. We always have epinephrine on hand.  Since we have a peanut allergy, we rarely order dessert.  So many desserts are processed where peanuts are and it’s just not worth it. (We are usually full by dessert anyway, so it is not difficult to pass it up.)

Some people advocate that you should visit a restaurant during a downtime. The thought is that the staff is less busy and can focus better on your requests.  There is less of a chance of a mix up.  I do agree with this, however it is not ideal to have to eat dinner at 3pm or 10pm.  I can see both sides of this argument.  You should consider this and if possible, visit during these less busy times.

A great option is using chef cards or allergy cards.  These are cards that you print up and give to your server, who in turn gives it to the chef.  This gives them a written reminder about the allergy and how to proceed.  Many websites have downloadable versions that you can customize and print yourself.

FARE has a great one : Chef Card

You can also design them on a business card and have them printed.  I am working on one, I will post once it is ready!

Once your food is brought to the table, check to make sure it is correct,  Ask the server again if this is _________free.  Reiterate that this is an allergy.

The more your dine out, the more comfortable you will be with asking questions and telling your story.  Our nine year old does this himself now.  It is important to teach the kids to do this for themselves.  They will be away from you at some point and need to be their own advocate.

As a summary, here are the things to remember when dining out:

  1. Ask for recommendations

  2. Review menus ahead of time if possible

  3. Call in advance to verify recipes

  4. Optional: Visit during a downtime

  5. Stress to your server that these are allergies not preferences

  6. Bring a chef card with your allergies listed

  7. Check your food once it is brought to the table

  8. Always carry epinephrine!!


I will be posting an allergy friendly granola bar recipe this week, stay tuned!  Food allergy awareness week is next week!!!




Food Allergy Basics

If you or a loved one does not live with food allergies, you may not be aware of how involved  or serious they truly are.  Before our oldest son was diagnosed, I had no idea how much this would change our life, and I am a registered dietitian!  There is no cure for food allergies, total avoidance of the offending food is the only treatment.

There are a wide variety of reactions possible.  Hives, itching, swelling of the lips, throat, or tongue, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing are symptoms of a food allergy reaction. This is not an exhaustive list. There is always a chance of anaphylaxis, whether previous reactions have been mild or severe. It is very unpredictable and the treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine.  Benadryl will not stop an anaphylactic reaction.

Living with food allergies requires constant vigilance- always reading labels, always asking questions, always carrying epinephrine and always educating others.

There are eight foods which cause the vast majority of allergies.  These are egg, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. In 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) went into effect.  This law made food labels much clearer to read in regards to these top 8 allergens.  The common name of the allergen is required to be listed on the label now.  This has made it easier to determine what foods are safe.  However this is not fool-proof.  Foods may be processed in a facility that processes an allergen, and this is NOT required to be listed.  More companies are voluntarily listing these warnings but this is not a law.  Another concern is that people are allergic to foods that are not in the top 8 allergens.  What about them?  It becomes more difficult to deal with a food outside of the top 8.

Unfortunately we often cannot rely on food labels due to the above reasons.  This means actually calling the company and asking specific questions to determine if the food is safe.  Imagine having to do this on a regular basis, just to stay safe.  This is a reality for many families dealing with food allergies.  And just because you call a company once and hear that it is safe does not mean it will always be safe.  Companies change their operation from time to time, so there is constant re-checking involved.

We also have to consider cross-contamination.  When cooking and preparing food, it is so important to wash surfaces and utensils that came in contact with the allergen very well before using those again for the safe foods.  This includes hand-washing and possibly brushing teeth.  If I were to eat peanuts, I would wash my hands and brush my teeth before giving my son a hug and a kiss. This may seem over the top, but we would much rather prevent a reaction and spend a few minutes cleaning up than end up in the ER.

Since 1 in 13 kids have a food allergy, this is real life for someone you know.  When we ask how food was prepared, when we ask to see a food package to read the label, when we ask you to wash your hands, I hope you will understand that we are not be being helicopter parents.  We don’t want to have to ask these questions.  We don’t want to constantly be on guard. It’s exhausting. We are trying to prevent a serious reaction.  We want our kids to live normal lives and not feel excluded, so we do it.  We do it because we have to.

We have amazing family and friends.  They have been so willing to learn our allergies and prepare food that everyone can eat.  They ask me questions, text me pictures of food labels, and always include our children.  I hope that all families dealing with food allergies have such an amazing support network.  We love you guys!!!






Food Allergy Awareness Week


This a topic near and dear to my heart.  As the mother of three children with food allergies, I have been living it for almost nine years.  We are lucky and none of our  kids have had an anaphylactic reaction, thank God. We hope we never have that type of reaction, but we know it is always a possibility.  Anaphylaxis is unpredictable.  People may only experience mild reactions to their allergens and then suffer anaphylaxis and vice versa.  A food allergy is a serious medical diagnosis and the only treatment is total avoidance of the food.

We are avid label readers and are constantly asking questions in other people’s homes, at restaurants, sporting events, movie theaters, etc.  We are always on guard because we have to be.  Our children have been taught to read labels and ask questions themselves.  They know how to speak up for themselves.  If they are not sure something is safe, they ask us.

This month I will be sharing some of our experiences with food allergies from pre-diagnosis to now.  I will share my favorite resources and facts and what you can do to support food allergy research and awareness.  I hope you follow along and learn more about food allergies and how to help your friends and family living with them.

Thanks for tuning in!