This happens more often than not: You attend an event that should not be food related at all…and BAM! There it is: FOOD…and your child is staring at it…and then at you...you start to feel panicked, thinking “oh no, can he have that? I didn’t bring anything special for him in case he does ask! Please don’t ask me if you can have it!”
I’m the mother of a food allergic 5.5 year old. Actually, I find myself saying the words “severely food allergic” all the time. For me, I want people to understand that my son can die from this. This is serious, not some type of fad. People don’t know how hard this is for us “food allergy parents.”
So what do we do when this happens? When faced with food your child can’t eat, but you have no “safe” alternatives to offer him? I believe you CANNOT let your child see your anxiousness. Stay calm and pretend it’s not a big deal (even though it is, to the both of you). You do not want your child to become anxious over food situations.
I am usually prepared and have safe snacks or a special candy for him. Candy? Yes. There are so many things he can’t eat so I allow the occasional bag of Skittles. (Heck, I grew up eating Twinkies. His overall eating is so much healthier than my generation.)
Here’s what recently happened to us.
We signed up to walk in a 5K. It was fundraiser for a community organization that helps families with children who have serious medical conditions. Of course we have Patrick’s cute little backpack that we take everywhere, which holds his 4 Epi Pens, inhaler, Benadryl, antibiotic ointment and safe snack bar (although that’s not a “fun” treat, in any way).
I didn’t bring anything else to eat. Hey, we were walking a 5K! The eating would take place at home, after the event.
Maybe it’s my fault, and I should have known there would be food trucks and treats there for after the race. I’ve only done one 5K before this one, and Patrick wasn’t with me that time. Looking back, there probably were food trucks and other food vendors there. But this time I wasn’t thinking about food; I was thinking about this cool experience we would be having together, being physical for a good cause.
So after we walk the 5K, we’re feeling great, and he gets his medal. We’re standing by the stage. Great morning together. I’m beaming. And I look down and see him…staring at all the kids eating shaved ice. He then looks up at me. “Mom, can I have that?” The dreaded question. Every food allergy parent reading this knows how that question feels.
Well, shaved ice is ice and syrup, and you would think he could have that, right? But it’s not that simple. I remember a few years ago asking the guy at the same shaved ice truck about the syrup, and remember he couldn’t tell me if it was safe. He didn’t know if it was or wasn’t manufactured on shared equipment with peanuts. But Patrick is looking at me with that hopeful look, and I think, “Well, maybe things have changed. Let’s go ask.”
I ask the girl working the truck, who is very receptive to my questions and has a binder with info for me to look at. This is a very unusual experience for a food allergy parent! Both for the vendor to be receptive to our questions, and for them to have allergen information on hand.
And guess what? We get totally lucky. All of the pertinent information is in the binder, and (drumroll, please…)…the shaved ice is SAFE!
I let him get the biggest shaved ice there is. The smile on his cute little face is priceless. We were lucky this day. I take a deep breath and I am grateful we had a positive outcome.
What if I had to tell him no? It’s so much more common than not. I would have said, “You know what, love, we can’t have it, because we can’t take the risk.”
I like to say “WE,” and never say to him “YOU can’t have it.” I feel like I’m reminding him that he’s not alone in this. I would have then offered him a choice of some other treat that we’d go and get right after leaving this venue.
You get used to making up for all of the things your food allergy kid misses out on. And you hope that more often than not, you can make educated choices and minimize your child’s risk of exposure. It’s a part of our everyday lives.
p.s. You can follow my journey as a food allergy mom on Instagram @allergybear!