by Natalie Rice*
If you have any experience in the food allergy world, you likely know the uphill battle that adults and children with food allergies, as well as parents of children with food allergies, face when it comes to educating those around you. From scenes in TV and film that make fun of allergic reactions to the “we never had food allergies when we were growing up” attitude (which, by the way, is somewhat true), it’s a challenge to get those around us who do not live with it to understand its severity. An allergen to your grandchild is like kryptonite to Superman. One bite (or less!) of the wrong food can lead to an anaphylactic reaction, which happens quickly and, if not treated right away, is potentially fatal. I will say it again: potentially fatal.
I live in a multi-generational home filled with grandparents, parents, and grandkids, one of which has a severe peanut allergy. Everyone under our roof is well versed in food allergies. In the peanut allergy and food allergy groups in the social media world, however, some of the biggest concerns I see are parents questioning grandparents’ understanding of the severity of food allergies and how to handle them. This can make family gatherings or leaving the kids with the grandparents complicated and uncomfortable. Below are some tips to help grandparents safely and confidently manage their grandchildren with food allergies. Educating yourself, preparing your home, and asking questions will likely impress your children so much that they will leave the grandkids with you for days at a time!
1. Listen to your children about their children. Understand that allergies are a severe health issue. Your children are not being over-protective – their concerns are legitimate and it’s important to respect those concerns and to always be prepared.
2. Learn the signs of anaphylaxis and how and when to administer epinephrine. Each food allergic individual has an action plan – ask for a copy of it and hang it in your kitchen. You can find great resources on FARE’s website (Food Allergy Research & Education).
3. Learn how to read a food label. Reading labels and understanding the difference between “may contain,” “contains,” “processed in a facility that also processes…” is essential. Find out what warnings are acceptable for eating and what warnings are not – each family feels differently. Ask your kids – they will be thrilled that you know what these labels mean!
4. Learn how to avoid cross-contamination and cross-contact, especially if the allergen is present in your house.
5. Research allergen-friendly food brands and keep their snacks in your house. Ask your kids what your grandkids like. Some great allergen-friendly food companies are: Enjoy Life Foods, Rule Breakers Snacks, Hungry Harry’s, Safe + Fair, Katz, Without A Trace Foods, FreeYumm, Oats In Coats, and Made Good Foods. A drawer full of safe snacks will impress your kids and make your grandkids feel special.
6. Make food fun! If you understand your grandchildren’s allergies, you will know which ingredients to get so that you can still enjoy cooking and baking together. Not only will you treasure the time with your grandchildren, but your grandchildren will have fun and feel safe with you. And if there’s one thing that kids and parents of kids with food allergies want, it’s to be able to have fun and feel safe, and I have no doubt that all grandparents want that for them, too.
*Natalie was a single, stay-at-home mom who finally had her two kids in school together so she could get back to work when the pandemic hit, so now she’s still a stay-at-home mom. And she’s definitely still single. Her Master’s in Accounting and her MBA prepared her for 6th grade pre-algebra and kindergarten reading last year. While home with the kids and dogs and her parents, she started a blog, Peanut-Free with Harley, to help spread the word about food allergies. Now that getting back to school is around the corner, leaving the safety of eating at home means she – along with every other allergy parent – has more than just COVID on her mind. Natalie, with the help of Harley, is on a mission to keep people informed. You can find them on Instagram @peanutfreewithharley.