According to recent research, food allergies are on the rise in the United States and have been for years. Estimates from the CDC note that as many as 8% of all U.S. children are affected by food allergies, which translates into about 1 in every 13 kids. Put another way, that’s as many as two kids in every elementary school class!
Even though awareness of food allergens is growing, it can still be challenging for kids with food allergies to navigate their world safely and confidently. Below, we’re sharing some helpful tips to manage your little one’s food allergy—not just as parents, but together as a team. (Keep in mind that these tips are general and that only your pediatrician or allergist can provide specific medical advice.)
1. Talk to Your Kid About Their Food Allergies
Food allergies can be scary at any age, but young children face extra challenges, both in understanding what a food allergy is and how to keep themselves safe. Kids may feel isolated or “weird” as a result of their food allergy diagnosis, and they may not know how to express their emotions fully.
The best way to support your child is to talk about these issues together! After you’ve been to the allergist, sit down to discuss which foods are safe and unsafe. Encourage your child to ask questions and keep gently checking in over time. Ask how they feel and whether they have any worries, fears or concerns. The more comfortable your child feels bringing up their food allergy with you, the more supportive you can be.
By creating an open environment, you’ll help your child understand their body better—and feel more empowered to manage their own food allergy at school, sports practice or other activities outside the home.
2. Talk to Your Kid’s School
No one would argue that the increasing food allergy trend is a good thing, but if there is an upside, it’s that people are now much more aware of the dangers of food allergies in children. All schools and childcare centers should have an established food allergy plan, especially for the most common types of food allergies like milk, eggs and peanuts.
To understand the food allergy policies in place, request meetings with your child’s principal, school nurse, teachers and other key staff. Be sure to:
- Ask for copies of all required forms, which may include special meal requests or medical authorizations. Check which ones require a doctor’s signature.
- Get a written schedule of when the school nurse is in. Ask who is present/in charge when the nurse is out.
- Ask about the school’s experience with food allergies in kids. Has the school ever experienced a severe reaction or anaphylaxis? What plan is in place?
- Inquire about relevant food allergy policies. What are the guidelines for allergy-friendly lunch areas, bringing food from home, sharing snacks in the classroom, participating in field trips and extracurriculars, or allergy-related bullying?
While you’re discussing these topics, it’s a good idea to form a clear action plan of what to do in case of emergency. Who should your child notify? Who, if anyone, will provide medical treatment like an epinephrine injection? Who should be called—you, the doctor, the ER?
Along with the official paperwork, it’s a good idea to translate this emergency plan into kid-friendly language and print a copy for your child. You can tape it to their lunch box, stick one in their backpack or even set it as the background on your kid’s mobile device.
3. Teach Your Kid About Food Allergies (and Have Fun!)
Working with your child’s school is definitely critical, but it’s equally important to work directly with your kid! The more your child understands their food allergy, the more comfortable they will be establishing their own safe eating environment and advocating for themselves if and when they need to.
Here are some interesting ways to teach your child about food allergies:
- Sit down and explain in simple terms what a food allergy is.
- Go over the emergency action plan that you’ll be putting in their backpack or lunchbox.
- Give your child a list of their food allergens and practice reading them aloud together.
- Show your child how to read food labels and which words to look for.
- Take a road trip to the grocery store and make a game of finding all the food allergens, both in their whole and processed forms.
- Give your kid a dedicated shelf in the fridge or pantry and help them stock it with allergy-safe snacks that they can independently choose.
- If your child likes crafts, make a collage comparing safe and unsafe foods. Print pictures online or cut them from newspapers, magazines and food packaging.
- Check out kid-friendly websites like Allergy Adventures for games, puzzles and videos about common food allergies.
- Make food allergies the stuff of heroes and legends with fun, age-appropriate books like The Princess and the Peanut Allergy or Aidan the Wonder Kid Who Could Not Be Stopped: A Food Allergy and Intolerance Story.
Don’t feel pressured to make every teaching moment a game, either! Since kids are basically little sponges, one of the best ways to teach your child about food allergies is to model the behaviors yourself. Announce out loud whenever you’re checking food labels, packing up medicine or performing other routine allergy management tasks. As much as you can, take the extra time to include your little one, even at a young age, so that they understand what to do and can feel more in control.
Managing a Food Allergy as Your Child Grows Up
Although navigating a food allergy is never easy, you can take heart in the fact that many kids’ food allergies are temporary. As many as 80% of all children who are allergic to milk, egg, soy or wheat will outgrow the allergy, often by the age of 5. Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, however, are more frequently lifelong.
In either case, teaching your child how to understand, accept and manage their food allergy is a skill that will benefit them for a lifetime—even if they’re fortunate enough to eventually outgrow the specific allergy. Even young kids can gain a good understanding of self-care behaviors, setting them up to form a positive relationship with food and understand what to eat in order to feel healthy and good.
For more allergy management tips, check out our post on what parents of kids with food allergies need to know!
How Does Nurture Life Approach Food Allergies?
Nurture Life takes food allergies just as seriously as we take nutrition. Our food production facilities are completely free from peanuts and tree nuts (except coconut), and we use clearly labeled dietary tags to help you easily check if a meal will work for your family’s needs:
- Milk free
- Egg free
- Gluten free
- Fish free
- Sesame free
- Coconut free
- Pork free
Our nutritious meals are school-safe, and we have allergy-friendly options in every age group so that your child can grow up on wholesome food that makes them feel good. With our baby, toddler and kids meals, avoiding food allergens doesn’t have to mean avoiding delicious flavors or nutritious ingredients!
If you have any questions about our food allergen labeling or our allergy-friendly food production facility, we’re here to answer them! Please reach out to our nutrition team at firstname.lastname@example.org.