When my family moved to a new neighborhood five years ago, we quickly learned that our new neighbors’ oldest son had a severe peanut allergy. Our children became fast friends, and the kids went back and forth between the two houses all the time. None of our three children have food allergies, so this was very new to us. To ensure that he was safe while under our care, we knew we had to get up to speed on how to keep him out of harm’s way (and well fed!).
Here are the top 10 tips we’ve learned, in case you find yourself in a similar situation:
1) Ask the Question. Inviting a new friend over for a play date or sharing snacks at the park? Always ask the other parent or caregiver if their child has any food allergies. Allergy parents are often grateful if you bring it up!
2) Read Labels. Get to know the ingredients of the snack foods you regularly buy. Which granola bars contain tree nuts? Which crackers are made in a facility that processes peanuts? At a minimum, know where to look on the packaging to find allergen info. I’m often surprised when a food I would have considered to be nut-free actually isn’t. We’ve created a cheat sheet for you to learn the rules of label reading!
3) Keep the Original Packaging. It’s so much easier to check the ingredient list on a box of crackers if it is still in the original packaging. Often, similar products made by different companies have different allergy warnings and ingredients.
4) Have Allergen-Free Snacks on Hand. Consider offering fresh fruits, veggies, or cheese for kids who can eat dairy. We’ve found that parents of kids with allergies are happy to make suggestions for healthy and safe snacks that everyone can enjoy. As an added bonus, minimally processed foods are healthier anyway!
5) Think About Cross-Contact. When you make a PB&J for your child, does the knife go in both jars? If so, that jam may contain peanuts. I try to use two different knives, but if we have a friend over with a peanut allergy, I open a new jar of jam rather than risk an allergic reaction.
6) Keep Up the Hand Washing. We all know we should have kids wash hands before eating, but what about afterwards? If your kids eat a peanut butter sandwich, be mindful that their hands may have peanut residue on them, which could pose a risk to those with peanut allergies! Post-meal hand washing also helps keep those toys clean! 🙌
7) Think Outside the House. When we carpool with the neighbor that has a peanut allergy, I wipe down the car handles and other surfaces that our kids touch, especially since our family often eats in the car! Let’s be honest, don’t we all? 😉
8) Make Birthday Parties Inclusive. Ask about food allergies on the invitation. For an electronic invite, you can list what you are planning to serve. We have a child in one of my kids’ friend groups with an egg allergy. His mom is always willing to bring alternative snacks and treats, so a heads up is appreciated in case she needs to plan ahead!
9) Know and Support Your School’s Rules. Our elementary school has some classrooms that are nut free, so we always pack nut-free snacks. The lunchrooms are generally nut friendly, with designated nut-free tables. If my child wants to eat with a friend who sits at the nut-free table, he also needs a nut-free lunch. It’s important to avoid undermining the school’s allergen policies. There are plenty of delicious food options for your child that will also keep their friends safe!
10) Make it Easy on Older Kids. Older kids don’t want you hyper-managing their food choices, especially when they aren’t your children. Make it easy for teens and tweens to self-manage their food allergies by offering plenty of safe options and letting them choose.
With these guidelines in place, we have been able to successfully navigate the food allergy terrain while keeping our children’s friends safe (and bellies full!).
– Susannah and the Allergy Amulet Team