Surviving as a Foodie Family with Food Allergies

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READING TIME: 6 min.

We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw red raised hives begin spreading across our 8 month old’s face. As first time parents, especially, this sent a wave of fear through our bodies. 

Just five minutes prior, we were celebrating that our son was about to start eating real table food, and not just baby food purees. And with a Chef for a daddy and a mama that comes from a family of foodies, this was a big day for us. We were about to open up a world of edible exploration for our child.

That day turned quickly into giving him Benadryl and putting him down for a nap, so we could call his pediatrician. We were then advised to watch him closely for breathing issues while sleeping, and that sure does the trick to make a mama unbelievably anxious. It was apparent that our son’s body did not, in fact, like scrambled eggs. We were then advised to avoid giving him eggs but to otherwise proceed with life as normal. 

Fast forward a couple of months and we had two scares while on vacation across the country that he might actually be allergic to some other foods. That launched us into learning what life is like with a kiddo who has food allergies. 

By his first birthday, our son had gone through his first round of allergy testing (like a champ, I might add). In the 2 years, we’ve been on this journey, we’ve learned a lot about the world of living with food allergies and how to keep our son safe, while also filling his life abundant tastes and culinary experiences.

So, if you have a child with food allergies, these lessons we’ve learned may help you too…

First of all, eggs are in EVERYTHING.

Breakfast restaurants of course…..but breads, bagels, baked treats, ice cream and pastas are common culprits (but of course not all bread and pasta and ice creams, so you have to triple check). Then think casseroles, sauces, dressings, and when random things have an “egg wash” covering their surface.

Basically egg is one of those foods that can be hidden in almost anything. So, of course, we have to ask about practically every menu item when we take our son out to eat. That’s to be expected. 

But, what I wasn’t expecting is how few restaurant employees actually know what’s in the food they are serving to the public.

Occasionally, our server will be very attentive when learning about our son’s allergies and be able to ramble off everything on the menu that is egg-free and how they can accommodate to keep him safe. The next best thing is when they take us seriously but admit immediately that they’ll have to check with the Chef and get back to us about safe menu items. 

More often than I’d like to admit, a server will look at me and avoid helping us by saying things like, “yeah that might have eggs in it,” or “I think it does, I’m not sure,” and not offer to find a definitive answer or help us any further. Just leave us with a blank stare waiting for us to finish ordering. Or, even worse, telling us a dish is safe and then serving it to us, only to find out it actually does contain egg (yes, it’s happened).

The most shocking response I got was at a local restaurant when the employee looked at me and said, I don’t know what’s in the food, I just work here.Seriously? It took everything in my power to not lose it on that employee. 

The biggest lesson learned here is to be overly serious and don’t be afraid to ask a million questions and talk to the Manager, but to still be overly cautious when eating out. 

What else can you do to enjoy a meal out or experience more variety at home?

Plan ahead: Almost all restaurants these days have websites with menus. If you are going to a corporate or chain restaurant fast-casual restaurant, this also usually entails access to an ingredients list or allergen menu online. If not, call ahead before going out to eat or ordering take out and talk with a Kitchen Manager or Chef at the restaurant. This helps eliminate surprises once you arrive. 

Make (and take) alternatives: Our little one just so happens to LOVE dipping his food in sauces … not so safe with an egg allergy. But we’re lucky that it is 2020 and we’ve found some really great alternatives. For example, Sir Kensington’s Fabanaise is a staple in our home as a vegan mayonnaise that also doesn’t include mustard (turns out our kiddo is also allergic to mustard). We’ll make Caesar dressing, aioli, and coleslaw dressing to name a few and aren’t scared to travel with our own sauce to make his dining out experience more enjoyable and so he doesn’t have to miss out on what everyone else is eating. We’ve also discovered egg alternative JUST Egg, so we can recreate omelets at home (of course reminding him that these aren’t real eggs, so he doesn’t think he can eat omelets at the restaurants).

Think like a kid: Our son’s first birthday party for a friend happened a few months ago. I did think ahead about the fact that there was going to be birthday cupcakes that he likely couldn’t enjoy, so I visited our favorite vegan bakery in Dallas, Reverie Bakeshop, and purchased him a festive cupcake to take to the party.

What I did NOT anticipate, was the risk of him sitting at the table with 15 other two-year-olds around him who were eating those toxic cupcakes right next to him! Luckily, I was there to hoover and make sure he didn’t try to share a friend’s cupcake or start playing with the crumbs that were all over the table (which I saw him considering a few times).

You really have to get in a toddler’s head to think not only about what they’re eating, but how his environment could put him at risk. 

Teach ’em young: We’re preparing for our first day-camp experience and while it’s an exciting time, it’s making mama a bit nervous. Our care providers all have experience keeping kiddos with allergies safe, but I’d be lying if I said that felt like that was enough.

Now that our son has developed some good language skills and more understanding, we’ve taught him that he can’t eat eggs. And, while I know he wouldn’t think twice about biting into a cookie that was handed to him, he’s starting to say “no eggs” in relationship to the food he eats. We’ll continue to teach him about foods that can make him sick so he can learn to help manage his own safety as he grows older.

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Hilliary grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, but has lived in many places across the U.S., settling in Dallas in 2018 with her husband and (now) two sons. She is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Specialist and Family Coach, and owner of Tranquil Beginnings. Prior to this, she spent much of her professional career working to improve the lives of children and families, utilizing her education in psychology, social work, and nonprofit management and fundraising to provide care for children, support little ones with developmental disabilities, teach trauma informed yoga and mindfulness to youth who have suffered Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and raise money for healthcare systems and mid-sized nonprofits. When she isn't changing families' lives through her work, she can be found enjoying the city's kid-friendly activities, working her way through Dallas' culinary scene, exploring the outdoors, practicing yoga, and enjoying live music!

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