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nut allergy

Having a child with a nut allergy (or any food allergy for that matter) poses particular challenges when they start choosing foods for themselves.   When Maya was diagnosed with a peanut and tree nut allergy last year that was one of the first things I worried about.  I knew that for the time being I would be able to protect her, for the most part, by choosing her foods for her, being diligent about reading labels and directing others about what she could and could not eat.  But, what was I going to do when she started being places on her own, choosing her own foods, being exposed to foods that I didn’t pick out or read the labels of before hand?

For children with life threaten nut allergies the consequences can be devastating if they inadvertently eat something that contains nuts.  My daughter has an epi-pen that we can use if she happens to have an anaphylactic reaction, but still.  The best approach to helping avoid potentially dangerous exposure to nuts is to teach your child from a very young age what to ask and what foods to avoid so they can be their own advocate.

We’ve already started teaching Maya that she can’t eat nuts.  She is still to young to really get it, but slowly I see it sinking in.  Sometimes I say she can’t have something at the store and she’ll respond by saying “ya, nuts, no nuts.”  I guess after hearing it so many times she’s starting to get it.

A few of the things I’ve started doing already to help Maya learn about her nut allergy and what she needs to do are:

  • Telling her whenever I can why she can’t eat something.  If she can’t have a piece of chocolate or a cookie because it may contain nuts I tell her that.
  • Telling her that she can’t eat nuts and why.  I try to explain that nuts are dangerous for her and her body will have a bad reaction if she eats them.
  • Showing her what nuts look like and telling her she can’t eat them so that she will recognize them if someone offers one to her.

A few things we plan on doing as Maya gets a little older to help her learn what to ask and what to avoid:

  • Teach her to ask if something has nuts.
  • Continuing to teach her about the foods she must avoid and those she needs to be careful about.
  • Teach her to use her epi-pen when she is old enough.
  • Teach her to tell people who are offering her food that she is allergic to nuts so hopefully they will help her avoid dangerous foods.

I think that teaching your child to be their own advocate is very important.   You tell those caring for your children about the nut allergy, how to use the epi-pen, etc, but teaching your child about their allergy and making them an advocate for themselves creates another line of defense.

Do you have a child with a food allergy?  What things have you done with your child to help teach them about their food allergies?  Have you found some things work better than others?

halloween candy

Before Maya was diagnosed with a peanut and tree-nut allergy I didn’t give any thought to what kids with nut allergies did on Halloween.  Trick-or-treating is a big part of Halloween and probably the part kids most look forward too.  Going around the neighborhood in their costume collecting candy from all the neighbors is what people most associate with Halloween.  However, if you have a child with a nut allergy the candy part of Halloween can become a bit scary.  A lot of what ends up in your child’s trick-or-treat bag will either contain nuts or present a cross contamination risk.  You don’t want to have to take that joy of trick-or-treating away from your child.  They go through enough in life because of their nut allergy that makes them feel different, this doesn’t need to be one of them.

Making Halloween safe for your nut allergy child doesn’t have to be difficult, it just requires a little forethought on your part and a little imagination to make your child feel special and not left out.

If you are comfortable it is perfectly safe to continue to let your child trick-or-treating with his or her brothers and sisters and friends.  Set specific ground rules and make them apply to all your children.  Such as, no one is to eat, unwrap, play with anything they get in their trick-or-treat bag until they get home and you have a chance to examine it all (this rule should apply regardless of whether your child has a nut allergy or not).  Once your child gets home take their trick-or-treat bag and go through it.  Remove all candy that contains or may contain nuts.  Many parents with nut allergy kids do an exchange, for everything they take away they replace it with something that is safe.  You could also just have a trick-or-treat bag pre-made for them them and when they come home exchange they bag they have for the new safe bag.

There is plenty of Halloween candy that is safe for nut allergy kids.  Here is a list of a few I could think of (be sure to always read the label as some manufacturers may change their processes at any time):

  • Skittles (all varieties)
  • Most jelly beans
  • Anything made by Haribo
  • Hershey Kisses (except the peanut butter and almond varieties)
  • Full size Hershey Milk Chocolate and Krackle bars
  • Milk Duds
  • Hershey Kissables (great M&M alternative)
  • Rolos
  • Many Wonka products including; nerds, bottle caps, runts, gob stoppers, pixy stix and tart n tiny.
  • Smarties (rockets for my Canadian readers ;))
  • Laffy Taffy
  • Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie Pops
  • Lifesaver Gummies
  • Whoopers (except the peanut butter variety)
  • Sweet Tarts
  • Sunmaid chocolate-covered raisins
  • Twizzlers
  • York Peppermint Patties
  • Red Vines
  • Jolly Ranchers
  • Starburst
  • Candy Corn (read label carefully)

Remember to always read the label carefully as not all varieties, particularly non-name brand versions can be manufactured in facilities that also manufacture nut products.

You will likely have to spend a bit more time in the candy aisle than most people because you’ll have to read labels carefully.  Luckily there are lots of options so you will be able to find several things to hand out for Halloween and to give to your child as an alternative.

Our plan this year, since Maya is still so young, is just to let her to a little trick-or-treating on our street and just keep what is safe.  She doesn’t need a lot of candy, so I figure what she is left with should work out just fine.  Once she is older I plan on doing the exchange with her by taking what isn’t safe and replacing it with something that is.

What tricks do you use to keep your nut allergy child safe on Halloween?

I’ve learned that having a child with a nut allergy means you have to read the labels of everything you buy a little more carefully. As you load your grocery cart you are looking for actual nuts in the ingredients list of everything you pick up as well as special label warnings such as “may contain nuts”, “produced on shared equipment with nuts”, or “produced in a facility that also processes nuts”. Since even the smallest amount of nut protein can result in an allergic reaction it is always best to steer clear of any product you either suspect may contain nuts, or you suspect may have come into contact with nuts.

Remember, there is a lot of stuff out there that is perfectly safe for your child to eat and the more you learn about nuts and nut allergies the better you will get at identifying safe and unsafe foods.

There are a few foods that are considered “high risk” for those with nut allergies. They include;

  • Baked goods: Unless you make it yourself or it has a clear label that it is safe it is probably a good idea to avoid it. Cross-contamination is very common with baked goods as there is a lot of sharing of prep surfaces, cooking surfaces and cooking utensils.
  • Candy (especially chocolate): There are a few candy manufacturers that make some of their chocolate and candies in nut free facilities, however, most are prepared on shared surfaces with nut products. Read the labels carefully. If it isn’t labeled as safe, skip it.
  • Ice Cream: Cross-contamination is very common in ice cream parlors. The same scoop is used over and over again. Even soft serve can become cross-contaminated if the same machine dispenses multiple kinds of ice cream. Do your research before allowing your child to eat ice cream while you’re out. The safest thing to do is to buy a carton of ice cream from the store so you know what the ingredients are and you know the product is safe.
  • Ethnic Foods: African and Asian cuisine often contain peanuts and tree nuts. With Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine cross-contamination is possible as some of their dishes may contain nuts. It is best to avoid these foods unless you absolutely know it is safe (ie you made it yourself or have talked to the restaurant owner and chef).
  • Sauces: Many chefs use peanuts, peanut butter, or other nuts to thicken their sauces. Read labels, talk to the restaurant manager, and know it is safe before you allow your child to consume it.

To name a few. It really comes down to doing your homework. Thankfully food labels are a lot easier to read now adays and often contain special warnings that make it so much easier to identify safe and unsafe foods. Nuts can be easy to avoid if you know what to look for.

Here are a few helpful websites: