There are too many stories of parents rolling their eyes at kids with allergies, mocking them, blaming them for the menu restrictions at class parties, fighting peanut butter bans in schools, and bemoaning the loss of their right to eat peanuts on airplanes.
But we’re not all like that. I promise.
My kids don’t have any food allergies, but my daughter used to have an allergy to eggs (she outgrew it when she turned two). I only had a tiny taste of what it means to have a child with allergies, and let me tell you … it’s stressful.
Luckily, I’ve found that our generation — and our kids’ generation — is very accepting and supportive of people with allergies and sensitivities. Food allergies are becoming more common, and that means more parents are aware of the potential for serious reactions.
I have never had to rush my child to the hospital in an ambulance, and I can’t imagine how scary it must be. The least I can do is make sure I’m doing my part to keep my friends’ children safe.
It’s the season of loving and giving, and that means it’s the perfect time to boost your awesome friend factor. Here are a few ways you and your children can be supportive of families with food allergies …
- Teach your kids to be respectful of allergies. There’s a sign at my son’s preschool that declares it a nut-free zone, and he pointed at it once and said “No peanuts allowed.” We talk often about how some kids have allergies to certain foods, and it would make them very, very sick and put them in the hospital if they ate or touched them. We don’t eat peanut butter before school or playdates, and I remind them why if they ask for it.
- Inquire about allergies before a playdate or birthday party. When you’re having a new friend over, ask if they — or their children — have any allergies or sensitivities. I usually bake cookies or muffins for a get-together, so this ensures I won’t make anything with eggs, nuts, gluten, etc. if it’s a problem for someone. Even a fruit platter could be an issue if the bananas are touching the grapes, so never make assumptions.
- Cruise the grocery store with care: If you usually rely on quick pre-packaged snacks for playdates or parties, don’t despair. There are plenty of great brands who make allergen-free goodies, like Annie’s Homegrown, HomeFree, and Enjoy Life. You can also ask the parents for suggestions of what to pick up, since they’ll have an inside track on what tastes the best.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Year ago, I asked a friend with a peanut allergy if I should hide our jar of peanut butter in the laundry room, because I had no idea what counted as “contact.” Ask about the severity of their allergy, and if there’s anything you shouldn’t make/serve/keep in the room. Does their egg allergy mean they can’t have it baked into a birthday cake, or is that fine for them?
- Spell it out. If I’ve made allergen-free food for a party, I’ll make a little note that says “Egg-free” or “Nut-free” — and I’ll keep the food separated from the eggy or nutty versions. I point out the allergen-free version to the parents, of course, but it’s nice to know they’ll be able to identify the “safe” cupcakes or muffins if I get wrapped up doing something else.
- Respect the food rules of public places. If we’re going to an indoor playground, I check first to see if PB sandwiches are OK to bring for lunch, or if we should stick with cheese and crackers. Our preschool has a strict policy that all snacks must be pre-packaged and come from an approved list. Sure, I’d rather bake fresh homemade oatmeal cookies rather than buying a bland boxed variety, but it’s not about me, is it? It’s about keeping children safe, so I’ll buy whatever’s on the list. If I want to bake my kids oatmeal cookies, I’ll bake them at home for our own dessert — no biggie.
- Be mindful. I have an ongoing note in my phone where I keep track of friends’ allergies and their kids’ allergies. Before a playdate, I can take a quick look to see what’s off-limits. If we’re going out to eat, I insist they choose the restaurant so they’re comfortable with the allergen-free dishes.
Tell us: How do you show your friends with allergies that you care?