Hidden Foods, the Holidays and Relatives with Good Intentions
Parents often feel alone in the battle against food allergies. Even though there are 15 million people who suffer with food allergies, it can still feel like a lonely journey. It doesn’t help when friends and family don’t seem to fully understand the seriousness of food allergies. Most parents would agree that the holidays are particularly difficult. Food is everywhere, from Grandmother’s house to Aunt Jane’s Thanksgiving dinner. And, much of the time, it is the challenge of hidden foods that’s the culprit. It’s a sad reality that many relatives and friends simply don’t ‘get it’ when it comes to the dangers of food allergies.
This lack of public awareness and understanding of the seriousness of food allergies often forces parents to limit their child’s social activities. Birthday parties, school outings and family gatherings, once thought to be fun and harmless, become potentially hazardous situations.
As a parent of a food-allergic child, you know the importance of reading labels to avoid hidden foods. Since there are numerous alternate names for hidden foods, being familiar with them will help you know what to look for when reading labels. It’s good to share this knowledge with your food allergic child as well as family, friends and caregivers who may take care of your child in your absence.
Be informed and aware without giving way to undue anxiety. Stress over food allergies is not the answer. It can affect the well-being of everyone in your family. There are things you can do, starting with education. Educate yourself, others in your life, and your children when they are old enough to understand. This will reduce the risk of a dangerous reaction and also alleviate some of the stress.
Here are some helpful tips for coping with the challenges of hidden foods.
- Communicate your child’s needs to others, especially teachers, neighbors, relatives and others who will be part of her everyday life. This will reduce the risk of a reaction and put you more at ease.
- Call Grandma or Aunt Jane, whoever is hosting the holiday feast and ask specifically about the menu so that you have advance warning and can alert your child.
- If the traditional family menu uses a problem food, offer to prepare a similar addition that can go on the table and that you know will be safe. If you have a great relationship with the host/hostess, you can offer to make a substitute but be careful about this suggestion.
- Try to anticipate, based on past experience, which guest is likely to offer a problematic food and, if your child is old enough to understand, alert him/her.
- Speak privately to any family members who cause you concern to avoid public discomfort but still get your point across.
- Regain your confidence by finding safe foods and recipes. For great allergen-free recipes, check out Kids with Food Allergies’ “Safe Eats” recipe database.
- Work with your pediatric allergist to develop and write down an emergency treatment plan. Make sure you have emergency medicines on hand at all times.
- Teach a few close friends and family members how to cook food for your child and how to administer medicine so they will be ready if you ever have to be away.
- Continually educate your child about food allergies, what he can and can’t eat and who is allowed to give him food. Teach your child to read an ingredient label as soon as they are old enough.
- Get involved in your child’s school where you can meet people — and also monitor food.