Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lyndsay Edwards of Allergy Blog Awards UK. In her podcast, she asked a lot of thought-provoking questions on the topic of parenting a child with food allergies.
Because of the challenges and risks associated with food allergic reactions, it is critical to raise food allergic children to be confident, resourceful, and self-advocating. And all of that begins with a good attitude towards food.
Here is the transcript of Lyndsay’s well-crafted podcast [or listen here: Allergy Blog Awards UK – Allergy Shmallergy Living Positively with Food Allergies].
So, I know your son was diagnosed with a dairy allergy at 6 months old and other allergies by the time he was just 15 months old, can you just take us back to that time and what it was like for you getting the diagnosis?
Despite his eczema, acid reflux and asthma (conditions that I now understand to be related to food allergies), I was in denial. Even though I followed her instructions to the letter, I scoffed at our pediatrician’s recommendation to avoid feeding my son a whole host of allergens as we introduced first foods. “He’s probably not allergic to any of these!” I remember saying.
When she called us to discuss the results of my son’s blood test, revealing that he was allergic to eight different foods in addition to environmental allergens, I was completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t stop wondering:
What does this mean? Not only the test results, but also in a bigger sense: what does this mean for his life? Will he have a normal life? And more importantly, what can I feed him for dinner tonight?!!
I found myself grieving for the hopes and dreams I had imagined for my child (like baking cookies and spontaneous trips to get ice cream), but then my husband snapped me out of it. He reminded me that we would find work arounds. And, if they didn’t exist, we’d create them! Very quickly, THAT became my focus.
How do you cater for your son at home? Do you all eat the same?
Because my son was allergic to so many foods, I had to learn how to cook (and fast!). Unbelievably, he’s my most adventurous eater. He loves everything seafood (no matter how crazy the dish), sushi… and he’s consistently adding requests to his list.
These requests inspire me to learn how to cook all kinds of intimidating international cuisine. No one who knows me would have EVER guessed that I regularly cook Chinese food or Persian or make all kinds of sushi. In high school, I once burnt soup! SOUP!
When he was a toddler (and an only child), I was making separate meals for my son. But being a short order cook isn’t my strong suit and I didn’t want my son to feel like I was treating him differently because of his allergies. In his own home, he should feel safe and included. As I got better at reading recipes, swapping out his allergens for substitutes, I started serving only one meal (what a relief!). I also began finding meals with optional parts (like tacos that you could stuff with cheese or not and make-your-own pizza night). I now have quite a collection of tried and true recipes that are free of peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, dairy and in many cases egg (an allergy my son has since outgrown).
When did you start your blog and what inspired you to do so?
It was very important to us to raise a confident child who felt capable in the world. Food allergies are very stressful. I wanted to share simple solutions with other parents and put out useful information so that families can remain calm and make informed decisions.
One of the things that really stood out for me on your blog is how you focus on teaching your son about his food allergies in such a positive way so that he doesn’t feel left out or sad, can you just explain how you do that and what has worked for you and your son?
We have repeated the message that everybody deals with something – sometimes that “something” is invisible to the eye, like food allergies.
We try to downplay the importance and emphasis on food. For example, we try to reward achievements with activities rather than treats.
And, we remind all of my kids that the best party of any party is always the company, hardly ever the cake.
Involve your kids in problem solving. We can’t control the fact that my son has food allergies, but I can give some control OVER them by getting his input on overcoming obstacles.
Prepare, prepare, prepare to provide special treats in anticipation of special events. Bring a gluten-free cupcake to the party; pack a sesame-free hamburger bun for the barbeque; carry a little dairy-free butter out to dinner. Create positive experiences around food and demonstrate how easy it is to overcome challenges.
Let him vent! We’ve taught my son the names for his feelings and encouraged him to talk about them. First, children need to know the language to use to express their emotions. Then they can engage in an open dialogue to release stress and give parents an insight into how they are experiencing the world.
Ok, before I get to my last question, can you tell everyone where they can find you on social media, your website, etc?
Yes, of course!
[You all know where Allergy Shmallergy is! shmallergy.wordpress.com]
And my final question is if you could give allergy parents one tip, what would it be and why?
Help prepare your child to negotiate the real world: practice asking questions, allow them to speak to a waiter, in short: EMPOWER them! Give them the tools to tackle the world!
And, provide a safe place for them to come home to. A safe home environment (free of allergens) as well as a safe space psychologically where they can relay their triumphs and articulate their frustrations without judgment or anxiety and find support.
That’s two tips (sorry!), but I hope they’re both helpful!