Walking in a Food Allergy Parent’s Shoes

The following is written in a real mom’s own words. This is an outlet for parents who would like to share their stories, in the hope that others will connect and find support. If you have a story you’d like to share, please message us on Facebook or email us at bianca@momof11kids.com.

Let me introduce you to my oldest niece, Harper. She has blonde hair that is juuust long enough for the sweetest little ponytail. She’s got bright blue eyes, and an undying love for the Minions. She likes green grapes. Is always dressed to the nines. Could win a hot dog eating contest at the age of 18 months.

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She’s one lovable pint of peanuts. But she can’t eat them. If you feed her peanuts, tree nuts, or anything that has come in contact with them, you put that bubbly little girl at risk of life-threatening anaphylaxis.

She can’t tell you this herself, because she’s too young. So she trusts you to know, to be compassionate, and to be super cautious around her. She is one of 15 million people in the U.S. with food allergies, including 1 in 13 children.

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Even as her auntie, it was not until I prepared a full meal for her that I could truly grasp what goes into caring for a child with food allergies.

My sisters-in-law and I were planning the menu for my mother-in-law’s birthday dinner. We would celebrate with an Italian dinner, and each contribute a different dish. I volunteered to make homemade sauce and eggplant parm. Instinctively, Jenn (Harper’s mom) asked that I share the food labels with her before cooking.

“Of course!,” was my natural response. Little did I know, my go-to shredded cheese brand is packaged in a facility with pecans – one of the most dangerous of all of my niece’s allergies. I only learned this in the research process that is a part of Jenn and her husband Billy’s day-to-day routine.

Also part of their routine:

  • Allergist and specialist appointments
  • EpiPen pick-ups
  • Training and education for all caretakers, from family members to daycare teachers
  • Eczema breakouts
  • Countless calls to manufacturers to check on allergens and cross-contamination
  • Dozens of “we’ll get back to you”s from corporations who should be making this information readily available to consumers
  • Often frustrating conversations with restaurants, bakeries, and other establishments the family wishes to go
  • Participation in support and awareness groups
  • Walks and other advocacy and outreach events
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A real-life example is the best way to show you what it feels like to walk in a food allergy parent’s shoes. This is the actual email I sent Jenn, with a rundown on every ingredient I planned to use in my portion of the birthday meal. Her thoughtful responses are in red.

Let me stress that this is one meal, one day of this growing little girl’s life. Harper eats at least three meals a day (I don’t know where she puts it!), so imagine repeating this careful process for a week, or a month, or more. This is what Jenn, Billy, and food allergy parents everywhere go through. It’s just a taste of why they’re champions.

On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 10:33 AM, Kate Brierley wrote:

Will contain: fresh eggplant, fresh basil, fresh garlic, onion, black ground pepper, salt

  • This is all okay (plain black pepper is usually fine, as long as it isn’t mixed pepper – mixed pepper can contain pink peppercorns and these are not safe w/ tree nut allergies).

I will not dip the eggplant in egg, I will do it in water and then the bread crumbs.

  • Honestly it is okay for you to dip it in egg. She got the okay to eat egg and we are okay with this.

Here are specifics on the brands I use:

  • Tomatoes for sauce: These are fine, we have used Pastene brand, Hunts, Redpack.
    • Pastene chunky style canned tomatoes
      • Ingredients: Vine Ripened Ground Fresh Tomatoes, Tomato Puree, Salt, and Naturally Derived Citric Acid
  • Mccormick Italian Seasoning for sauce: Mccormick is a trusted brand that we use, they manufacture most of their spices in peanut/tree nut free facility.
    • Ingredients: Majoram, Thyme, Rosemary, Savory, Sage, Oregano, Basil.
  • Breadcrumbs:
    • Note: most breadcrumbs contain trace amounts of soy flour and soy lecithin – is this okay to have? I figured not, so i’ll be getting gluten free breadcrumbs, 4c brand. Ingredients attached and here is the link.
      • Soy is actually okay for Harper. Soy is one of the top 8 allergens in the US, but Harper tested negative to this, and for example this is in A LOT, and she eats those items just fine.
  • Mozzarella cheese:
    • I will use whatever you guys recommend. Great Value (Walmart brand) shredded mozzarella may contain traces of almonds or pecans so I won’t use that. Thinking of going with Sargento which claims to be nut and allergen free across many sites
      • We have learned that about 80% of all “Great Value” products are not safe. One would wonder what in the world are they manufacturing in the plant w/ cheese that contains these tree nuts? Pecans is one of her highest allergies. Sargento is known to be allergy friendly.

Every 3 minutes, someone visits the ER from a food allergy reaction. I have to think that so many of those visits must be from children like Harper, who are too young to be their own advocates. Maybe they wanted a taste of what their classmate was enjoying…a simple lick or nibble of the wrong item could spell disaster.

As a non-allergy parent, I am trying to figure out the best way to offer support. And I think it is to do just that.

Be there! Be aware, and willing to do your due diligence to make sure your loved one is safe. Even if you think an item can’t possibly contain nuts, check. And re-check. Ask questions. Don’t make the parent feel like they are putting you out. Don’t leave the child out of anything, if you can help it. They didn’t choose this, and will likely spend the rest of their life dealing with it. Make it easier on them any way you can.

Props to you, food allergy parents, on keeping your kids safe. Never feel like you are inconveniencing us. We want the best for them, too.

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For more information, visit Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) or their Facebook page.

Thank you to Jenn, Billy, and Harper for allowing me to share your story.

Have something to share? Write about anything family-related, from pregnancy or struggles with getting pregnant, to breastfeeding or not, being a stay-at-home or working mom, kids and pets, how things change when little ones come along, c-sections, natural births, was the epidural as scary as you thought, vaccinations, first birthday party ideas, your best parenting moments, your biggest challenges, infertility, foster kids, allergies, taking care of you, the cutest things they’ve ever done. There’s almost nothing that wouldn’t fit, whether it’s happy, or not so much. If it’s real, we love it. Email bianca@momof11kids.com to get started.

No Responses to “Walking in a Food Allergy Parent’s Shoes”

  1. As a family with severe food allergies, I love this post! There is so much that goes into really investigating what is in our food and how it is handled before it reaches our homes. Well done!

    • Kate Brierley on

      Hi Suzanne – so you know firsthand! So glad you are happy with this post. Keep up the great work in your home!

  2. Kristy on

    I love this so much. As a food allergy mom I will never get sick of people asking questions and verifying if foods are OK. Thank you for putting a positive spin on a very sensitive subject. 🙂

    • Kate Brierley on

      I’m just glad I could do it justice, Kristy – thanks for reading!


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