We need to stop treating food allergies as an inconvenience
We've all heard about food allergies and have glossed over the stats that 1 in 13 kids are affected by a food allergy. And that the most common food allergies are things that are in so many of the foods we consume every day without thinking twice. We've been conditioned not to have even the slightest trace of a nut in our kids' lunch. And then there’s the no egg and no gluten rules. As a mom and also an employee at an allergy clinic - I KNOW about these things and yet still I was floored when a few weeks ago I learned that a child in my son's class had celiac disease.
How food allergies affected my personal life
After all the years of hearing about "kids with food allergies" it just recently hit me on a personal level. It wasn't just "the kid with the food allergy" anymore, it was Aidan. Aidan, who I hear about every day after school. Aidan whose parents now must drag their own gluten-free pizza to the bounce house birthday party along with a special cupcake and have to make sure to not forget to tell the school activities director about the food allergy because they sometimes make homemade Play-Doh out of flour.
Food allergies can be scary. And despite the fact that they're becoming more common, allergies can make people feel different or embarrassed. It's not easy monitoring the labels and ingredients in everything. It can feel awkward to ask "What's in this?" when you take your child to someone else’s house or feel like you're holding up the line in the cafeteria when you'd rather be enjoying the meal and social time.
I felt so sad for Aidan and for all the extra work his parents would have to do to make sure he stayed safe and still feel part of the group. It made me think about what I can do as a fellow parent to make sure I'm doing all I can to consider all of the kiddos that suffer from food allergies. I mean, it takes a village, right
Here’s how I'm committing to doing things for kids and families with food allergies, and I encourage you to consider them too!
1) Show compassion. Stop the eye rolls and feeling inconvenienced when asked to bring the gluten-free, nut-free, whatever-free snack. I can only imagine how hard it would be if I were in that other parents' shoes. Suck it up and spend the extra time to find the allergy-free snack.
2) Be proactive. Ask if a child has food allergies before hosting a party or play date. I use to leave it up to someone else to tell me about these things, but by me asking first, I can put in the effort to show that I care.
If I do learn that a child has a food allergy, I'll be sure to also ask what a reaction looks like - just in case - and what to do if a reaction occurs.
3) Learn what to say and what not to say. I really liked this article which gives some great tips on the dos and don’ts on talking to someone with a food allergy. This is sometimes hard for me since I do work at an allergy clinic that offers food allergy treatment. Of course, I want to offer a solution! But sometimes the parent is overwhelmed and not ready to hear about all the options. You don’t know until you know. So, check out that link!
I believe that with anything, all it takes are a few small tweaks to make a difference and that certainly applies in this situation. If you have a tip you can share about ways others can support you, your child or your family in food allergy awareness, please share them in the comments section below!