We are teaching our 7-year-old with multiple life-threatening food allergies (J.) how to read ingredient labels. It seems awfully early to put such responsibility on her shoulders (even with us adults as constant backup). On the other hand, it seems like a natural progression of how we “handle” living with food allergies.
We have been over the initial shock of coping with food avoidance, and through our share of early emergency accidents, for awhile now, because J. was diagnosed before she was even a year old. And we’re past the fear that seemed ever present when she was too young to speak, to tell us clearly whether she’d accidentally shared a cracker or been hugged by someone who just had a squeezy yogurt. We’re in a fantastic position now, relative to those frightening years.
But with that ease has come a steep slope of food allergy instruction to a child just barely out of kindergarten. Every family has a different approach to food allergies and, indeed, to any chronic condition. Our approach, especially as allergies have become a normal part of our lives, has been complete openness and acceptance---that this is a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. We have never been a family requesting anonymity about J.’s allergies in classrooms or parties; rather, the more people who know, the safer we feel that she can be, and the more she can enjoy herself with friends in that safety.
A part of that approach that didn’t strike me as a challenge until recently, though, is that J. is completely involved in her food avoidance. For the most part, this is great: J. carries an EpiPen set and Benadryl with her at all times, and it’s already second nature even at her young age. And we have never worried about her assuming another family’s tub of butter is safe, because we clearly call ours J. butter and explain that lots of things called butter aren’t identical to her particular brand, for example. But this involvement has piqued her interest in ingredient lists and has made her hyperaware at an early age that 1) her products aren’t in most other homes and 2) ingredient lists, which can be long and complicated, are vital to her health.
J. is awfully quick, so she wants to check every ingredient list now that she is reading well. It’s a natural progression of what we’ve been teaching her for years, I suppose, but it’s also a little bit sad to see such a small, sweet girl try to read "monocalcium phosphate" and see the suspicion creep into her eyes. Part of living with food allergies is being able to stay calm, whether it’s in an accidental ingestion crisis or simply in a school event where everyone is walking around with buttered popcorn or egg-y cupcakes.
Every food allergy family has to learn to tread these waters in their own way, and it can seem world ending at first, and for a long time. I don’t claim that we are doing this raising-a-kid-with-food-allergies thing right, because I don’t think there is a single “right” approach. But I am confident that J. won’t accidentally take someone else’s rice krispie treats as safe just because we make our own version at home, that she knows and appreciates our efforts to keep her safe but also expose her to real-world food settings instead of living with blinders, and that she is well on her way to navigating those sometimes-scary settings on her own one day.
Do you have a different approach to protecting your own child with food allergies? Does your household use specialty products that your child might not be aware of, thinking that other people’s foods might be as safe as their own? How do you explain what ingredients you are using to your child, and when did you start doing it?
Hi, I'm Nicole.
ABOUT THE BLOG
An apothecary is a person or a place. Either one implies healing and relates to pharmacy in its truest sense, as a source of treatment and advice.
This blog is my way of uniting my pharmacy training with my efforts to provide a healthy and safe lifestyle for my family. In true apothecary form, I research and prescribe alternative ingredients that work just right in each specific recipe, and I would like to share the results with anyone who needs help making their own family’s kitchen allergy safe and heart healthy.
Nicole Van Hoey's books on Goodreads
Bakery Bites: Breads and Treats Without Dairy, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds, or Soy
ratings: 1 (avg rating 5.00)
Kitchen Adventures With Multiple Food Allergies: A Recipe Collection for Celebrations Without Dairy, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Seeds, or Soy