Playdates with the Food Allergic Child
Doesn’t it seem as if EVERYONE has food allergies these days? Between the peanut-free table in the school lunchroom, the gluten-free snacks you need to bring for the team after soccer, and the kid down the street who can’t eat cheese, it’s getting harder and harder to feed other people’s children. When once we could casually invite a friend to stay for dinner and know that if he didn’t like mac ‘n cheese, we could throw on a hot dog and everyone would be happy, now it’s almost too dangerous to try to be hospitable.
So what CAN you do when you are entertaining a food-allergic child in your home? The first thing you want to determine is whether your little friend has anaphylactic allergies or food sensitivities. The well-known peanut allergy is the type that can cause a severe reaction after a very minor exposure to the food. If a child could possibly get hives, have trouble breathing, or feel his throat close up if he comes near a certain food, his mom will very likely be right on top of that, and probably won’t feel comfortable with you feeding him. She will also probably leave you an Epi-Pen in case of an emergency, along with her cell phone number, her beeper number, directions to the nearest hospital and probably the keys to her car (just kidding… trying to make the point that with severe allergies, you won’t be at a loss for what to do…not trying to minimize the severity of anaphylactic reactions in any way).
If your child’s friend has less severe allergies, however, the scenario is likely to be different. Many times parents are loathe to be seen as high-maintenance, and try not to “be a bother” by giving you too much information about their child’s food sensitivities. If ingesting a small amount of an allergenic food will “only” give their child a stomachache, a rash, or a headache, they may not tell you all the gory details. Many parents also hate to see their children excluded from “normal” activities with everyone else, and may rationalize to themselves that one exception won’t be too bad.
It is in these cases that you will make a friend for life of that parent if you proactively offer non-allergenic food choices for snacks. The most common food allergens are wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, nuts and shellfish. If you take a quick look at the labels on the snacks currently in your pantry, it will take you about a minute and a half to realize that 99% of pre-made foods from the store contain at least one, if not several of these ingredients.
Rather than start baking early on the morning of your playdate, just plan a quick trip to the grocery store to stock up on allergy-friendly food items. Find out if your child’s friend has more than one allergy, then pick up a few items that cover all the bases. Some easy snack items include:
· Rice cakes and SunButter (a peanut-like spread made of sunflower seeds)
· Potato chips made with canola oil (not soy or corn oil)
· Nature’s Path chewy granola bars (we like Chococonut)
· Raw veggies with hummus
· Apple slices dipped in honey
· Gluten-free tortillas toasted with olive oil and salt and cut into triangles
Of course, not every allergic child can eat every one of these suggestions (mine are allergic to apples, grapes and carrots, for example), so it pays to press the parents for details to make sure they’ve mentioned all of their child’s trigger foods. I tend to forget the apple part and just tell other parents about the “big three,” dairy, eggs and corn. Then I whack myself on the forehead when the parent offers my kids juice, which 9 times out of 10 contains apples.
Communication is the key! And don’t be afraid to try new foods… non-allergenic snacks tend to be much healthier for everyone J
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