Some kids can eat small amounts of one food that bothers them, but eating several small amounts of several foods that bother them could overload their body the same as eating a lot of one food that they are allergic to. My son is mildly allergic to tomatoes, strawberries, peanuts, caffeine, chocolate, and all milk products. This means that if he has a chocolate chip cookie, he will be okay. If someone accidentally puts butter on vegetables and serves them to him, he'll have a bit of a sore tummy, but otherwise be fine. But if he were to have a piece of chocolate cake with icing made with butter and a hot dog with whey in it at a birthday party, he would be writhing in pain at about 11pm that night. Other common allergens in this category are soy, eggs and red food colouring.
If neither you nor your children have allergies, it can be easy to forget about or dismiss other kids' mild allergies. Many of the foods we think of as being "kid friendly" are the very ones that will upset they systems of kids with allergies. Below I have provided a list of do's and don't, along with a couple of stories about what it can be like for a young child with food allergies.
- Decide they are being over-protective and serve their child something that contains an allergen.
- Comment in front of their child that they are missing "the good stuff" at a party or social event.
- Make a big point about their allergies in front of the child's friends.
- Ignore or dismiss their child when they tell you they can not eat something -- even if they are a pre-schooler.
- Put toppings on the child's food -- butter, soya sauce, salsa, ketchup, whipped cream or chocolate chips may be harmless enough for most kids, but they could cause a major reaction in an allergic kid.
- Give them seasonal "treats" such as milk chocolate or red suckers as the soul gift at a seasonal party or event.
One time we went to a supper that was held after a fund raising event. The food had been provided by several ladies at the local church. They had each made a casserole. Quick, think of a casserole that doesn't have milk, cheese or tomatoes in it. Oh, there isn't one. My son ate plain white rolls and carrot sticks for supper. For dessert, a local store had donated chocolate bars for the kids. Again, my son had to watch all the kids around him break into their chocolate bars, and be left with nothing. Several well meaning people offered to get him a chocolate bar, or to share theirs with him. I had foolishly assumed that there would be something there he could eat, and had brought no alternative options. We left the event early, and my son cried in disappointment and frustration on the way home.
- Have a chat with mom about the food you will be serving at a party or event. Most moms with allergic kids will gladly bring along some soy ice cream or jelly bean easter eggs so their child can join in the fun. I have even brought a sub along to a party where the main meal was to be pizza.
- Discreetly discuss food preparation with your friend or their older child before you add things that might bother them. Keep one cupcake un-iced until you check with someone.
- Offer a choice of toppings on the side at a meal or event.
- Sympathize with or distract your friend's child if their allergy is not taken into consideration at an event.
- If your friend visits frequently, keep alternate products that store well on hand. One family we visit often keeps a small container of soy ice cream in their deep freeze for Andrew. Pea butter for sandwiches is a nice alternative for slightly peanut allergic kids.
- Add a few basic foods, such as rice, potatoes or bread and a plain protein option at a family gathering or pot luck. Good desserts to add to cake and ice cream are watermelon or Rice Krispie squares or gummi bears. Set a bit of dough aside before you add the chocolate chips to that batch of cookies or banana bread. If you do not have time to do this, ask the mom to bring something their child can eat to share with all the kids.
- Give pencils, balloons, noise makers, art supplies or stickers instead of food items in goodie bags or seasonal swaps.
One time my son's allergies were handled well was when my son's playschool class went on a tour of Dairy Queen on their last day of school. The trip ended, predictably, with all the kids having a chance to make their own ice cream cone. My son walked out proudly holding the ice cream cone he had made on the cool big machine, only to have to give the cone to his little brother and watch all his friends eat ice cream around him. I could see that he was on a downhill spiral towards a meltdown as he asked, "How come they don't serve soy ice cream here?". One of his friends' moms wisely said, "They should serve soy ice cream. That would be great, wouldn't it?". This comment raised my son's spirits. We then asked the store manager for an official dairy queen cone that he could fill with soy ice cream when he got home. This was enough to get him past his disappointment, and he happily socialized with his friends while they ate their cones.