Notes from a Food Allergy Mom

“Don’t touch that!”

“That’s not for you!”

“Not in your mouth!”

These are things that I rather frantically told my very independent and also food-allergic toddler when I brought her to a “Family Fun Night” event at my oldest child’s elementary school this week.  My little one wanted to dance like all the big kids, which was adorable. But, she also wanted to eat like all the big kids. And she can’t. She’s got two food allergies, one of which is severe and requires us to carry an epi-pen just in case. That meant that I spent my evening telling my 1 ½ year old that she couldn’t have the cookies and she couldn’t have the pizza. And, most of all, I tried like crazy to keep her eager little hands from grabbing food people had left behind at empty seats. It made me really nervous.

Courtesy of Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Courtesy of Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

If your kids don’t have allergies, maybe you never thought about food allergies or what a big deal they can be.  But, for a lot of families, they are a huge deal. Especially for families whose kids have severe allergic reactions.  Nationally, 1 in 13 kids has food allergies. At my house, it’s two out of three. I’ve been a mom to kids with food allergies for seven years now. Sometimes, you feel like a crazy person – obsessed with food and how it relates to your child’s comfort and well-being. When shopping for my groceries, I am so careful, going over every ingredient on every label so that I know exactly what’s safe for each of the kids to consume. But, when your child is out in the world of parks, playgrounds, playing at friends’ houses, or school, you don’t have the luxury of your own carefully controlled environment. That’s when the worrying really starts.  What if your toddler picks something random up off the floor at a friend’s house or at the play area in the mall and eats something that’s not safe for them? What if your bigger kid decides they’re tired of not having the food their friends are having and gives it a try anyway?

I know it’s not your responsibility or your job to make the world totally safe for other people’s kids. And, honestly, it’s impossible. But, a lot of moms have asked me what they could do to make things a little easier or how they can be more sensitive to the issue. So, here are my simple thoughts on how to make the world a slightly less scary place for food-allergic kids and their worried parents.

  1. If you’re hosting a playdate, and the child’s mom or dad won’t be there, ask the parents what’s OK for their child to eat. The other day, my son went down the street to a friend’s house to play. I didn’t want food allergies to be an issue while he was there, so I made sure he had a snack before he left and I told him to come home at lunchtime. I wasn’t expecting him to need to eat in the hour and a half that he’d be there, so I didn’t give the other mom the food allergy rundown. But, the kids decided they were hungry and wanted to have a snack. My son told his friend’s mom about his food allergy, so she immediately called me to ask what was OK to give him. I was so grateful that she took the minute to check in with me about it. (Thank you, April!) And, lesson learned for me – I should always give the food allergy rundown, just in case.
  1. Encourage your kids to follow any school rules about not sharing food at school. I’ve heard from a lot of moms that they think the no sharing rules in school cafeterias are ridiculous. Why can’t their kid share a cookie or swap sandwiches with another kid? I’ll tell you why. Because I’ve had to pick up my kid from school when he was in agony after eating just half a cookie that wasn’t safe for him, shared by a friend. I worry about what will happen if my littlest doesn’t outgrow her severe egg allergy. Maybe she’ll swap her sandwich for your kid’s turkey sandwich with a little mayo on it and end up in the emergency room. Kids don’t always understand how dangerous something like that can be and something that seems like a “safe food” might not actually be safe. So, encourage your kids to be respectful of the no sharing rules.
  1. If there are signs about no food or drink in an area, please follow them. It might seem like no big deal to you for your kid to leave a few cheerios or a little bit of peanut butter crackers in their wake at the play area in the mall. But, it can be a really big deal. Very young children don’t understand what they can or can’t have or what’s theirs vs. someone else’s.  Keeping to the rules about no food or drink gives families with food allergies a place they can feel like it’s safe to take their kids.
  1. Encourage your kids not to tease or make fun of kids who do have restrictions on what they can eat. It’s hard enough to always have to sit at the “peanut free table” at school events. Getting teased by classmates makes it worse. My oldest can’t eat wheat. When other kids bring cupcakes to school for birthday parties, he doesn’t always want the wheat-free Rice Krispie treats that I make sure are stocked in his classroom for special occasions. Sometimes he just wants a cupcake. It’s not a huge deal, but it can be a little hard. It can be a lot worse if kids tease about it.
  1. If a kid tells you that they are allergic to something, take them seriously. Even if it sounds odd to you. One time, we had a kid over at our house for a cookout and he told me he was allergic to hot dogs. Sounds weird, but I wasn’t going to take any chances with his health. Maybe he can’t eat pork (yes, you can actually be allergic to meat). Maybe there’s some additive in the hot dogs that his system can’t handle. I could tell he was nervous to tell me – he seemed afraid that I’d give him a hard time about it or that there wouldn’t be something else he could eat. He was so relieved when I told him we’d just make him a sandwich. It’s not always easy for kids to tell adults when there’s a problem, especially if they don’t know you very well, so when they do speak up, we should listen.

That’s it. No major lifestyle changes required – just a little thoughtfulness and empathy. We food allergy families will all be sending you lots of love and gratitude in return.

Laura is a mom of three who works full-time from home as a Development Director for a children’s charity. Laura grew up in Maryland, spent her 20s living in Southern California and South Carolina, and has spent her 30s and now 40s in Iowa, moving to Iowa City in 2010. Laura loves dancing, reading, baking, and music. She and her husband Ryan started dating in college (gasp – over 20 years ago!) and they have been sharing life’s adventures ever since. Their biggest adventure is, of course, parenthood. With three kids, the action is non-stop - which is just the way Laura likes it.


  1. Glad I did the right thing, Laura! Thanks for blogging about it. None of mine have food allergies and knowing how to handle it with their friends is important, but also not something I’ve had to do before.

  2. Hi! Can I ask a question? I am wondering if you nursed your toddler that has food allergies and if so… did she react to these foods in your milk if you consumed them? I have a 4 month old who is reacting to several foods I eat through my breast milk. So far dairy, peanuts, tree nuts and mildly to eggs. I feel like there are other foods as well but we have not tested for everything yet. I am just wondering if there is hope she will out grow this…
    Thanks so much!!

  3. Hi, Joanne! Yes, I nursed both my food allergic kids for a little over a year each. And, yes, they both reacted to the allergens coming through my milk, so while I was nursing I just stopped eating those foods. I used an elimination diet to figure out my son’s allergies. For my daughter, she had such an obvious skin reaction all around her mouth to my milk and anything that we fed her that had eggs in it that we were able to figure that out without me doing the elimination diet. We followed up what we found at home with allergy testing by a doctor.

    For many kids, it does get better! My son used to not be able to have any cow’s milk product, from the little sneaky ingredients like casein to the obvious milk products like yogurt and ice cream. Now he can eat ice cream and it’s no big deal. It looks like he’ll always be sensitive to wheat, though. The allergist has said that my littlest is on the way to outgrowing her milk allergy, though she’s not completely over it yet. I’m hopeful that her egg allergy will improve over time, too. We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, trying to see something positive in it, I’m sure the kids’ allergies have made our family eat way healthier because we pretty much have to cook everything from scratch so we know what ingredients are going into our food.

    Good luck with your little one’s food allergies. I know it’s not easy to have to play detective to figure it all out and it can be so frustrating, especially when they are so little and can’t talk to you about what’s going on in their body. You are a good mom, working so hard to keep your kiddo healthy and safe!

    • Thanks so much!! I think I will have her tested for more foods or do a total elimination diet to try to pin point other foods that may be bothering her. She is still breaking out even with the known allergens being eliminated from my diet :-(. I hope your kiddos get to be allergy free soon!!

  4. Thanks so much for this! As a mom of a two year old with peanut and sesame allergies, I hope this info gets out to everyone!! Good luck on your journey!


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