May is food allergy awareness month. There is one amazing and important reason why food allergy awareness means so much to me.
His name is Tanner and he is my son. If you would like to read Tanner’s story, and the scary way we found out about his food allergy, you should visit Rebecca from Strength and Sunshine. She posted a feature about it.
I wanted to share the ways we teach our son to be aware of his food allergy. Our goal is that in starting his awareness early as a young child he will become self-reliant as he reaches teenage years and adulthood. FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) provides us with many statistics and facts. Such as, it is known that teenagers and young adults with food allergies are at the highest risk of fatal food-induced anaphylaxis. With a tree nut allergy usually being lifelong, I think now is the best time for us to start teaching him the basics of his food allergy.
Wear a Food Allergy Alert
Like many families, we often attend summer cook outs, holiday parties and other events. The kids run around and play with each other. There is usually food laid out for everyone to enjoy. We make sure that Tanner is wearing his medical ID bracelet at these types of functions.
We bought this one from Lauren’s Hope.
It’s a great ID bracelet for a young child.
- It doesn’t easily fall off
- The bright colors and buttons make it fun to wear
- It stands out to others on a fast moving little kid
They also have so many other great options for older kids, teenagers and adults.
Know WHO and WHAT to Ask
Tanner knows that Mom and Dad are the authority of Tree Nut Patrol. It’s important that a child with food allergies knows who he can trust to check the food that he eats. All adults seem to have authority in a child’s life, but make it clear who has final say on green lighting food as safe to eat.
We have taught Tanner if someone, who isn’t Mom or Dad, hands him something to eat to ask “Does this have Tree Nuts?”. It’s very simple. Just as we teach him to say, “Am I excused?” at the dinner table when he is finished eating. I encourage him to say “Does this have Tree Nuts?”, if a friend offers a snack or candy. It becomes a habit and usually perks the attention up of whoever is giving him the food to address my husband or I first.
We have Epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens) stashed everywhere. Failure to promptly (i.e., within minutes) treat food anaphylaxis with epinephrine is a risk factor for fatalities. (FARE Fact) EpiPens are stashed in a few different drawers inside the house, my purse, gym bag, grandparents house, and Tanner’s special backpack. …Tanner’s special backpack?…
Yes, We have a special backpack for Tanner to keep EpiPens in. Right now, we use it when we go to the library, gym childcare, and gymnastics class — his special events. It’s his backpack and I will ask before we walk out the door if he made sure his medicine is in it (“Yes, Momma”). He then is responsible for bringing it, wearing it, putting it away, and bringing it home. It stays hanging in the same place at home also for consistency. He actually loves this. It makes him feel like such a big kid.
Here is something hard for me to admit, but I have come to realize is actually a very common question.
I didn’t know what exactly was a tree nut when we found out about Tanner’s food allergy.
I didn’t know if tree nuts and peanuts were the same? I knew pecans, walnuts, cashews and a handful of other nuts grew on trees. However, I didn’t realize how many different tree nuts there are. I didn’t know about the oil of tree nuts being used in beauty products. Still today I am surprised by some of the things we will find tree nuts in, things you never would expect. This is very common with all food allergies. Did you know egg protein is used in some vaccines? Or that peanut hulls are often found in compost that landscaping contractors may use? How about that milk protein is used in some medications?
Education is key.
Currently, we use flash cards and fun question games to aid in Tanner’s food allergy awareness. The flash cards are huge in helping him identify the different types of tree nuts visually. Goodness, I didn’t know what half of them looked like. I wanted to share this for others to use also, it’s a great tool. I created flash cards for each of the Top 8 Food Allergens. The flash cards have a picture on one side of a food that contains, or is likely to contain, that specific food allergen. The back side has the name of the food, and a quick fact associated with that food allergen. I used the Facts and Statistics found on the FARE website. For younger children, you can just do the picture/name association. For older children, you could do the picture/name association and then ask a question regarding the fact.
Here is each PDF printable by allergen:
I cut each card out and then laminated them.
A fun game for toddlers is to put them in a box or bin, reach your hand in and pull out each card to identify.
You could also punch a hole in the corner of each and place them on a key ring for easy access.
We also play question games. I will say something like, “Can Tanner eat yogurt?” (Yes!). “Can Tanner eat cashews?” (No!). “Can Tanner eat Gummy Bears?” (No!). Simple enough for a little guy, but it is a fun sing song game all about him. I make sure to switch up my questions and the order I ask them in each time. Just to be sure he isn’t answering out of memorization.
Food Allergy Support
I believe it’s beyond beneficial to reach out for support if you, or someone in your family, has a food allergy. Many of these ideas came from other parents in my local FARE support group here in East Tennessee. We tweaked them to work for our family, but the inspiration and education we get from our support group in immeasurable. Many support groups also hold events that make for a great place to interact with other families and kids managing the same issues you are.
- You can use Google to find local support groups that usually hold in person meetings.
- You can also use this search tool from FARE to find support groups.
- Even online, we use Kids With Food Allergies as a support tool. In fact, it was one of the first places we were referred to in the aftermath of finding out about Tanner’s allergy.
Another area of support is within your own family. Notice how throughout this post I use words like “we” “our” “us”. We may have one person in our house that has a life threatening food allergy, but it takes us as a team to support him and each other.
This seems like so much going on and intimidating reading it all in one sitting. Yet, food allergies don’t manage my son’s life. We manage them daily and it’s not a big issue. He has to learn his awareness for food allergies, and that is something not all children have to do. However, there are other families out there that have SO much more to manage daily and is overwhelming. This is our journey, and how we handle it. I pray that one day food allergies won’t be a factor for my son, but while a single nut could take his life right now, we will continue with our awareness and advocacy.
*This is NOT a sponsored or affiliated post in any way. I do mention many resources here, but have in no way been compensated to do so. As always, I only promote resources/tools/services and products to my readers that I use myself, or truly feel are of value.