This article is written by Erica Fand (MS, RD, CDN). Erica is the CEO and Founder of Jeweled Nutrition, a concierge nutrition private practice assisting families with food allergies and intolerances. Catch up with Erica on Instagram.
A food allergy diagnosis is not only frightening due to the potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, but it can also be emotionally overwhelming. Food is more than just a way to nourish your body. It can be a way to connect, to show love, to represent culture, and most importantly, to enjoy! Therefore, once you discover your child has a food allergy, there are many questions that come to mind.
- What should I feed my child?
- Which foods may cause an allergic reaction and which foods are safe?
- What can I feed my child that will still ensure they are receiving a well-balanced and nutrient-dense diet?
- How can the relationship with food still be enjoyable and fun despite this diagnosis?
Having someone to guide you and your family through this process is important and that’s where a food allergy dietitian can play a crucial role.
How can a dietitian help me navigate a food allergy diagnosis?
A food allergy diagnosis will have a significant influence on daily food choices. The nutrients in many foods contribute to proper growth and development, as well as overall body performance. Therefore, when removing even one food or food group from a diet, you are also removing certain nutrients resulting in the potential for your child’s nutritional status to be at risk.
As a parent, it can be extremely overwhelming and, at times, can create a sense of isolation to have a child diagnosed with a food allergy. This is where a dietitian can provide support and a helping hand through what can be an emotional journey. A food allergy dietitian can review your child’s typical dietary intake to first assess their current eating patterns. During that time, discussing any symptoms that have previously occurred when consuming allergy-inducing or allergy-suspected foods can also help inform the dietitian to better assist your family when suggesting food and meal alternatives. A dietitian is also well equipped to discern which nutrients are being removed when avoiding certain food groups, and how to appropriately replace these nutrients with safe food alternatives to provide a well-balanced diet.
How do I find a dietitian to help with my loved one’s food allergy diagnosis?
There are a few ways to find a dietitian. You can inquire with your pediatrician or allergist to see if they have any referral dietitians that they work with and feel confident can help. You can also search The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to find a dietitian that specializes in food allergies.
It is important to feel comfortable with your dietitian, similar to any other health care practitioner that advises you on your food allergy journey. Feel free to ask them questions about their dietetic education, training, and counseling with other food allergy clients to have a better understanding of how you would work together.
What are some tips for coping with a food allergy diagnosis?
Product label reading becomes an essential task when diagnosed with a food allergy. Understanding what ingredients are in your child’s food takes on a more significant meaning when someone with a food allergy is diagnosed. Allergens can show up in unexpected places such as sauces, marinades, marshmallows, cereal, and even beauty and cosmetic products, so becoming a bit of a detective is necessary. Label reading should become routine every time you pick up a product, even if it is a familiar, safe one. Some manufacturers change product ingredients, which may now contain an allergen unbeknownst to you or your child. Therefore, continued diligence in reviewing labels cannot be stressed enough.
Focus on the Positive
With a food allergy, it is easy to focus on the many foods you or your child are unable to consume. Instead, try to focus on all of the delicious foods that you or your child CAN eat. Create a list for your home of each meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks). Within each meal “category” list all the yummy foods that your child can still consume to place emphasis on abundance rather than lack. You can also create a game out of “taste-testing” allergy-friendly products to see which ones you like best! Try blindfolding family members and have them taste-test various allergen-free products to vote on your family’s favorites. This will create normalcy in the home around these new foods and focus more on introducing options, rather than removing!
Watch for Cross-Contact
Lastly, cross-contact is something that is always a concern for someone with a food allergy. Be cognizant of the fact that allergens can exist not only in non- allergy friendly food sources, but also on surfaces where allergens have been prepared or placed. Carrying safe alternatives for your child when out of the home is a great idea. At Jeweled Nutrition, we’re currently loving Enjoy Life Foods’ Breakfast Ovals. These disposable placemats also come in handy when dining out for younger children to avoid any potential allergen remnants left on surfaces.
COVID-19 & Safe Food Options
The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is forcing many of us to review and change our typical eating behaviors, especially for those with food allergies. While challenges such as attending school, social outings like birthday parties, or dining out at restaurants are less problematic for those with food allergies at this time, there can be a different set of issues that arise.
Access to reliable, safe, allergy-friendly food may be even more limited with empty grocery store shelves and freezers, which can be anxiety-provoking. Creating a plan is imperative. Try purchasing your favorite allergy-friendly brands like Enjoy Life Foods directly from their website and stocking up to ensure you have enough for a few weeks. If possible, try to contact some of your local grocery stores to see if they carry allergy-friendly brands to ensure you have a sufficient supply of options during this time. Maintaining product label-reading guidelines by either checking nutrition labels online or in person, particularly if trying new products, is also critical to avoid any allergic reactions. With more loved ones at home and eating around each other constantly, make sure you are being extra diligent in cleaning surfaces and dishes more frequently to avoid any cross- contact with potential allergens.
While there are obstacles during this time for food allergy families, try to look at this time as an opportunity. Your family can use this time at home to explore some fun activities!
Once we are able to dine out in restaurants again, allergy cards are always a great way to communicate your child’s specific allergies. Allergy cards are small cards that clearly state the allergies that your child has, as well the ingredients that may contain these allergens or trigger an allergic reaction. These cards can help improve communication, allow chefs to have all the necessary information needed to prepare a substitute meal or dish safely for your child, and help alleviate stress for you. Take this time to have your child create their very own allergy card! You can encourage them to write their own card and/or decorate it with stickers, crayons, or bedazzle it! These are some great examples.
Creating new recipes during this time can also be a great activity for your kids and empower them to take responsibility of their own food allergies in the kitchen. Try watching an episode of Chopped Junior or Disney Be Our Chef and then encourage your kids to have an “allergy-friendly” edition of your family’s very own cooking competition using the ingredients you currently have in your home (with adult supervision of course)! This can be a creative way to spend time together, while hopefully making a tasty treat.