Last week I read a news story about a 3 year old little boy in New York. He died as a result of eating a grilled cheese sandwich at preschool. He had a food allergy to dairy and went into anaphylactic shock after ingesting the cheese in the sandwich. This sad and unfortunate incident really hit home for me. See, my daughter, Brooke, is a healthy, vibrant, active 4 year old. She’s also got some pretty serious food allergies. We now have to learn to live a life with a child with food allergies.
Shortly after her first birthday, I began to notice random hives on Brooke’s torso. I took her to the doctor and at first they diagnosed them as harmless. However, over the next 2 months the hives progressively got worse and the doctor did a blood test. The results were shocking: she was allergic to all dairy, nuts (both peanuts and tree nuts), and eggs. I remember asking the doctor what I was supposed to feed her.
In addition to having to do an overhaul on all of Brooke’s food, other things that most people take for granted had to be changed. For example, we had to change her soap, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, and hair dressing. Those items often contain tree nuts and sometimes milk. I had to learn code words for her allergens, like whey and lactose for milk.
A New Way to Shop
I went from being able to run through the grocery store and grab anything off the shelf to standing in aisles for large chunks of time reading the back of boxes only to leave in frustrated defeat when everything contained a food allergen. I learned very quickly to make food at home and researched what I could substitute for the things she’s allergic to. Vegan cookbooks became my new best friend.
I gave up on store bought lotion and learned how to make my own. We struggled until I was introduced to mango butter by a high school friend and it’s now a staple in our house. I also learned the pros and cons of oils like vitamin e, avocado oil, jojoba oil, and olive oil.
Occasions like birthday parties and Halloween require me to prepare her food and treats ahead of time and bringing them with us so she doesn’t miss out on the event. This year we didn’t even take her trick or treating because of her food allergies. She can’t eat 99% of the candy and it just seems cruel to let her trick or treat for candy she can’t keep. Instead, we stayed in, watched Halloween shows, and ate homemade treats.
It’s hard out here in these child food allergy streets.
But I think the hardest part of this journey has been the lack of understanding and awareness many people have when it comes to children with allergies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped people from giving Brooke candy and food, often without permission. When informed that she has food allergies, many people apologize and ask what she can have, but it’s important that society as a whole gets out of the mind frame of just giving kids candy and food.
As parents we can teach our children not to take food from strangers, but what happens when it’s not a stranger? What happens when it’s a friend’s parent, or a relative, or, as was the case of the little boy in New York, a teacher? Young children don’t know to say no to food when it’s from a trusted adult. It the responsibility of the adult in the situation to be mindful of the child’s safety and that includes taking into consideration any food allergies the child may have.
Child food allergies are real and can be deadly. But they can also be handled and managed. Be mindful. It could save a life.