A few years before becoming a parent I found out that schools were making changes. First, they weren’t allowing latex balloons. Soon after, they began regulating cupcakes and sweets for parties. When I heard that they outlawed peanut butter, I was horrified. After all, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in more than half of my lunches for 12 years. I had no idea what I would do for my future kids. Obviously they would starve if they had my taste buds. I didn’t know anything about food allergies other than that they would be an inconvenience for me instead of just the kids they affected.
Last year I met one of my first Mom friends and I found out that her son had severe food allergies. We were in the same group of nursing Moms, so I heard about her struggle changing her own diet to accomodate for her little boy. At first it sounded awful. Even the littlest amounts of indigestible foods could send his sensitive system through the ringer. On top of the difficulties of caring for a newborn, she had to change her diet and the way she cooked and the way she ordered foods. But, we all have our challenges as new Moms.
It took me a while to realize how lucky her little boy is. His body is actually built to only allow him to eat foods that are good for him. These first years will, undoubtedly, be a challenge. But he will sail through the teenage years without the torment of sugar-induced mood swings. He won’t wake up without energy or go to bed feeling like he has a brick in his gut. His Mom knows what foods he needs and he can trust her to provide a healthy diet, which is amazing if you stop to think about it. I realized that it wouldn’t be so bad to take a lesson from the food allergy Moms.
I decided to be an Allergy Ally.
At first, it was hard for me to find the information I wanted. What does a child actually NEED to eat? There are a million ways to find out what a child can eat, but I’ve been in search of the healthiest diet for kids and I feel like I’m only at the tip of the iceberg. What I do know is that kids with allergies or those who are vegans or vegetarians are not necessarily missing out on nutrients. I also know that many of their Moms are super-investigators. Early on, I was so amazed that they could translate the complex ingredient lists on the back of every food. Now I know that if they can’t read it, they can’t eat it. Their diets consist of low or un-processed foods and lots of produce. Who can argue with an apple a day?
I was already on the path to being a self-proclaimed allergy ally after I noticed how difficult it was to keep Hannah and her friends from sharing snacks at playdates. No sooner will I walk into a room than her hands will be in someone else’s food bowl, so it’s no surprise to me that other nimble toddlers act the same way. I could see that our playdates might be problematic for some. Then I read about Carrie’s Playgroup Conundrum (http://www.chockababy.com/2013/02/life-with-food-allergies-playgroup-conundrum/) and I understood as well as I could for someone on ‘the other side.’
One of my Motherhood Mantras is to say yes as often as possible. Our house is arranged so that I don’t have to tell Hannah to get out of trouble. Her toys are accessible and educational so that she can find as much entertainment as she wants. Most importantly, I try to provide her healthy foods so that when she asks for a snack or for more of a meal the answer is always ‘yes.’ I want her friends to have the same positive experience when they are here. If we’re serving a food, it’s important to me that it’s a shareable snack.
I asked Carrie for some advice about how to host an allergy-friendly playgroup and she offered these suggestions:
1. Never be afraid to ask a mom about her child’s allergies. It can be hard to bring it up all the time but we want others to know and learn about them.
2. If you’re hosting a playdate, try to provide “safe” snacks for all kids. Even if you are sure they are all safe, keep any packaging so the Allergy Mom can double check before serving her child any snacks. If you put them in cute little bowls, put everything in their own bowl to avoid cross-contamination.
3. It might seem small, but when you’re with friends with allergies, try to keep snacks and drinks in one location – such as at a table. Wandering snacks and drinks cause a ton of stress for moms during playdates. Think crumbs, greasy fingers, and stray snacks that can be munched up off the floor by any child.
4. If food is the main focus of an event with your child and their friends, ask about allergies, and then ask for suggestions from the Mom to keep it a safe event.
5. Always have your child wash hands and face after eating when playing with an allergy child. If you forget and the Mom asks your child to, don’t be offended. Know she is just protecting her child.
We all want our kids to be healthy and nutrition is a key component of that. I’m happy to take advice from a person who knows which foods are best for kids. I hope that this post helps open up conversations about giving kids the foods they need.
Carrie’s blog, Chockababy is a great resource for families with food allergies.