So I just read another tragic story of a young boy who died after eating something with peanuts in it. As a parent of a child with severe tree nut and peanut allergies, my heart sinks every time I see one of these all too common headlines. It is our worst fear and our ongoing nightmare: that we couldn’t protect our child from a life threatening reaction. We try to use logic (I cook my kid’s food, I pack their lunch, they carry their epipens, I’ve talked to the teachers, etc. etc.) and we try to convince ourselves (I won’t let it happen, it can’t happen). But at the end of the day, you can never put those feelings away. It is a reality and one that we must live with. Life threatening allergies kill people. They kill children. And the occurrence of such life threatening allergies has been rising steadily.
If you have a school aged child, you no doubt are aware of this fact. Every school handles it differently, but you probably have received a notice about going peanut free, or that there is a peanut allergic child in the class, or have seen a sign that reminds kids to wash hands. And judging by some of the grumbling and resistance I’ve heard, you no doubt are sometimes annoyed by this fact. “My kid only eats peanut butter. Tough luck. There’s nothing I can do.” (Might I add that food allergy families have dealt with severe dietary restrictions no matter how much our child wanted to eat something, so this argument doesn’t hold a lot of water with us.)
The bottom line is that you wouldn’t invite a house full of toddlers over and leave out an open container of bleach or a loaded gun. If you are negligent with food allergens, you are being no different. Harsh but true in many respects. And I understand that many parents are wonderful. They are truly amazing and ask if they can have a safe recipe to make for a treat or decide not to send peanut butter in their child’s lunch. We appreciate you so much. You make our lives that much easier.
So, here’s my list of things to do/not do. Anyone with a child. Or anyone in general. This is how you can help people with food allergies. Please do. Lives depend on it. And they are lives that mean everything to us. Please.
1. Don’t send peanut butter or nut products in your kid’s lunch or snack. There are many allergens, but nut allergies tend to be the most life threatening and life threatening contact reactions are real. That means if your kid eats peanut butter and doesn’t wash their hands and she holds my kid’s hand in the hallway, we have potential for a deadly reaction. There are many options instead of peanut butter. Sunflower Seed butter is great. Keep the granola bars with nuts at home for after school treats. There are a million other things you can send. We don’t want you to not eat nut products, we’d just prefer you do it at home.
2. Make sure your kids wash their hands after eating breakfast. If they are heading to school with that on their hands, we have reaction potential.
3. Don’t eat nut products at the park. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve seen half eaten granola bars underneath swings or on climbers. It’s unsafe, and quite frankly, poor manners to leave uneaten food and wrappers anywhere.
4. Don’t send products with nuts to school events, camp events, parties, or anywhere that there is potential for a nut allergic child to eat it. Kids are not adults. They don’t read like adults, they don’t understand that a regular rice krispie treat looks a lot like a peanut butter rice krispie treat, and they feel really awful that they can’t enjoy what their friends are having. Once again, there are a million other choices for party treats.
5. Related to that, clearly label anything that you send. If you must send nuts, put a freaking red flag on the platter that says this treat has nuts in it. Young children need help. And it is good practice to label anything. It helps the dairy allergic, egg allergic, or soy allergic kids know what choices they can make too. Just help us out. Please?
6. If you send/serve a store bought treat, kindly keep the packaging so we can check it. Once again, our kids love to be included when it comes to food. If there is a chance they might be able to have something, we’d like to know.
7. If you are a supermom or superdad, ask us in advance what you could serve that would be safe for our child. It’s not necessary and we usually have back up treats or plans, but this is just simply awesome. It makes a food allergic kid cry (and her mom too) when someone cares enough to make sure they are safe and keep them included.
8. If you are a family member or friend, NEVER underestimate the severity of a food allergic child’s reaction. You don’t know. And it can change all of the time. No risk is worth death. Don’t assume any ingredient is safe without asking. No one is trying to control the situation with their kid’s allergies. They are simply trying to keep them alive.
9. If you are a restauranteur, train your staff on allergies. There is tons of free information out there. Make sure they know that food allergies are deadly and what procedures need to be taken if a patron has allergies. They are not making special requests to be difficult. But food allergy families have to use restaurants too. We can’t stay home every minute of our lives to prepare food. We go on trips and have to hit a drive thru before a soccer game just like you.
10. Schools? Get rid of the nut products in school lunches. It is simply not worth the risk. And once again, there are a million other things to be served. Oh and teachers, coaches, dance instructors, etc., don’t ever think about bringing in a treat for your class with common allergens. Especially when you know someone in the class has allergies. Be smart. Be kind.
11. Governments, Schools, etc.? Pass epinephrine laws. Make the schools stock it. Make restaurants stock it. You will save lives.
This might seem like a lot. But it’s nothing. Nothing like facing your child’s death at every meal of the day. Every field trip. Every party. Every dance.
You don’t want to walk a mile in our shoes. So how about just helping us out?
(And I’m sure I haven’t thought of everything. Please comment with your own tips.)