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"Sorry, son, you're allergic"

At an event the other evening, there was pomp and circumstance to celebrate a very worthy mama-owned eco-conscious baby & kid store.  There were treats contributed by local purveyors, including some basil & tomato cheese pizza and chocolate-coated ice cream cones (think: drumsticks).  YUM, right?

Not for all.

A little boy, maybe 4 years old, sat at the toddler table looking longingly at the other kids devouring their snacks (of the cold variety), my son included (though he was wearing more of the ice cream on his face and shirt than he had in the cone).  The boy said to his dad: "I want one of those."

His dad, with a sad and almost upset voice said curtly, "Sorry, son, you can't have that.  You actually can't have anything here.  You're allergic."  He took out a box of rice milk and handed it to the boy.  Droopy-eyed, the boy sipped, still eyeing the treats all around.

It broke my heart.  I know I was adding insult to injury with my own boy licking dairy deliciousness right in front of the boy, who I presume was allergic to dairy.  Still, I do know the pain and I have felt that edge in my voice before.  My boy, allergic to egg-whites and peanuts, has gone to many birthday celebrations where he can't have the cake, cookies or cupcakes.  Even at his school, I have been told in the afternoon: we had a birthday celebration at school today with cupcakes, but we didn't give your boy any.  Once, invited to join friends' for take-out for a quick weekday dinner, I had that curt voice and said, "we can't eat anything here", looking at the smorgasbord of chow mein, egg-foo-young, and stir fry with bits of fried egg.

There are many allergies and there are things that are more common allergies than others (peanuts).  Is is possible to be able to accomodate all allergies all the time?  How do you handle it when your child cannot partake in fun food treats because he is allergic?


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I don't know about public events, but for family events, we try to make sure there's something for everyone. And yes, this can be a big challenge given the dietary needs in my immediate family. Depending on who is attending, we need to have options that are vegetarian, gluten free, egg free, dairy free, diabetic friendly, nut free, turkey free, mustard free, and cantaloup free. Ok, that last one is pretty easy. A vacation with extended family required a color-coded spreadsheet.

So . . . it definitely requires being creative and planning ahead. It definitely takes more work than when I'm cooking for a group when the sky is the limit. Sometimes the person with the restriction (or parent of the kid with the allergy) brings something special for themselves, but usually we try to include them as much as possible even if it means cooking multiple options (or eating a lot of beans and rice).

Food is an important part of how we celebrate, how we build community, and we spend time with each other. I try to make sure we're inclusive.

When I'm part of planning for a larger, more public event, I try to make sure there's some fruit available. I realize some people still may have allergies to grapes, plums, satsumas, etc., but it's less common and means there's more likely to be an option.

Accomodate all allergies all the time? With more than just water?

I know of people allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, gluten, soy, citrus, berries, stone fruits, apples, pears, nightshades (tomato, eggplant, etc), lavender, cumin, cilantro, coriander, curry, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, cinnamon. And then there are those with religious food restrictions. Aaaaah!

and probably more. I'm not even going to try. The majors, perhaps if I know the allergic people are coming. Otherwise, for events with treats most parents know to pack something for their child (or should).

To protect a child from disappointment, it seems better to plan to not eat and then it's a bonus if there's food they can have. If their parent is disappointed (or more than that as the post describes), surely that will be transferred to the kid.

As a former allergic kid myself (I had to bring my own chicken to pizza parties and had two cakes at my own parties), it really wasn't that big of a deal. It was just the way it was, and I don't remember feeling deprived or left out. I do, however, remember fondly the uncle who bought me gummy bears because he knew I couldn't have chocolate! My niece is diabetic and has celiac disease, and my sister stresses so much when there isn't food that her daughter can eat. I've tried to get her to see that if there is only one thing on the menu her child can eat, then that is just the way it is - that if she stresses over it and makes a big deal about it, THEN her daughter will start to feel different and deprived.

Personally I have a son allergic to nuts, and sensitive to eggs and wheat.

I plan ahead. I ask the person throwing the party what there will be, and then ask my son what he might like (on his list that he CAN have), to bring with us. Involving my son helps a lot. Especially in making the treat with me he is going to bring, makes him a little proud :)

This sounds like a very upsetting story. However, perhaps Dad could have brought rice milk "ice cream" with dairy free chocolate chips? I know it exists and in my experience they do get used to the substitute and start to prefer it.

We've become a wheat free household (well pretty much), and my daughter can have wheat, but doesn't actually like "real" pasta because she got used to the brown rice pasta. Also my son when he was young, could also not have milk, and got used to rice milk and hypoallergenic formula added (so gross), but he developed a taste for it.

It can be really hard, but planning ahead most parents are pretty understanding and will at least tell you what they have planned so you can plan for your little one to be happy ;)

Sometimes planning ahead isn't possible, so having a treat on-hand (in freezer ready to go at moments notice can help). We have run into tears before too. Lots of explanation on the reaction and how he feels when he eats that food often makes him understand, but he's four now.

Takes time to adjust. I wish them the best of luck!

My son has dealt with food sensitivities since he was four years old and while it's never been easy, he's always been a great sport. Artificial food dyes is the biggest culprit for him and the reaction is so horrible, that he doesn't mind saying no to colored treats.

We're almost always prepared with treats or alternatives for him. Or he knows that he can choose treats or something at another time. He's had a wonderful room parent in his class that goes out of her way to bring treats and candy to class events that he can have. It has meant so much to him to have what everyone else in the class does and not have his "own" treat.

Personally, as a parent of a child sensitive to salicylates, I prefer when people do NOT try to accomodate us. The pity, the questions, the food that we ALMOST could have eaten, it's all really OLD and reawakens our own dormant feelings about this health issue. While I sympathize with my son, I also feel like we live in an incredibly self indulgent age and that this will make my son have more discipline than he would have otherwise. I appreciate that people feel for my son, but I'm hoping that instead of wracking their brains to create a delicious dish he can have at their party they'll realize that sugar (among many other things in food) is toxic and stop feeding it to their children. Otherwise their grandchildren are going to end up like my child.

When my daughter was little and allergic to dairy, I never left the house without "safe" snacks for her and always kept a batch of cupcakes in the freezer, so if she was invited to party, I could just thaw one out and bring it with us. That way, no one had to stress out over providing food for her and didn't need to stress out about her eating something dangerous. It's so much easier on everyone if you head to events prepared, rather than expecting other people to make accommodations for you. Safer too. When people serve things that aren't made from scratch, they don't always know that common ingredients found in packaged foods (whey, casein, ghee) are dairy ingredients. Better safe than sorry!

This article brings up a lot of strong emotions for me. My boy can't have gluten, most grains, dairy (except ghee), any sugars including fruit and honey, most nuts and anything high in oxalates. He's used to it and when there is an occasion where other kids will have treats, we bring something or send it with him (we can make things that he considers treats but other kids wouldn't). Sometimes though we are surprised. Like the first day of school when someone brought cupcakes to celebrate their child's birthday. My child and the two or three others in his class that couldn't have them felt very sad and left out. I know they meant well but what were they thinking?!?! In trying to come up with a plan to address this sort of thing in the future, I talked to the school counselor and the teacher. I found out that Portland Public Schools policy is against treats at school. When the teacher realized that and understood the extent of my child's food issues, he sent out a memo to all the parents saying we won't be having food treats in the classroom at all. He and the counselor have committed to coming up with another way to celebrate birthdays with a song, a class card with a compliment from each child, a special birthday crown. I was so grateful I got teary.

I can't help but wonder why we have to be so treat-oriented in our society, especially when it comes to kids. With our obesity and diabetes rates skyrocketing for adults and children, and with so many food allergies, why can't we think of non-food ways to make special occasions fun? Are we really that lacking in creativity? I'm not saying there's not a place for treats and snacks--everyone's gotta eat--but why don't we let parents decide when and where their children should have treats and what it will be?

Getting back to the point, we do take a snack bag with us everywhere, even when we are going out to dinner. Never has any waiter balked at our child eating from his snack bag. For the most part, everyone seems to understand and sympathize.

Our family vacation this year consisted of people who are lactose intolerant, kosher, vegetarian, allergic to nightshades, deathly allergic to potatos (it's amazing, potatoes are in EVERYTHING!) and just plain picky eaters. I have always told people to please not try to accomodate my daughter and myself for a few reasons, some being that I feel that they make too much of an effort, it singles us out, and often they make a special dish and then I am obligated to eat it, even if I don't like it or it came out bad. My mom tries to accommodate everyone, and then we ended up eating the same meal over and over because there is only one meal in the world that fits all of those restrictions! Thank goodness my niece with the migraines wasn't there...then we would have all been on (filtered) water and nothing else!

Our kids (ages 3 and 7) are pleased when there's "something" they can eat, and understanding when there isn't.

They hear a lot of my frustration at home; I'm working on toning it down.

I'm also reframing -- "you/we eat xyz" -- to guide our family to thinking of food (even if just a few things!) as YES.

@J, re: the spreadhseet. Does it help, or is it just more cumbersome? The matrix of who can eat what is hard to apply to real-life dinners & parties, esp since we're juggling true-blue food allergies, food sensitivities, food intolerances, serious chronic diseases requiring MD-ordered absence of specific foods, and the whole fuzzy category of "having a reaction to *something* in here, but what is it?!"

One of my twin 3 year olds is seriously allergic to many foods. Her fraternal twin and older sister are not. We do several things:

1. Avoid events that are completely centered around allergic foods--ice cream socials--unless it's a very meaningful experience.

2. Pack safe snacks (non-dairy cupcakes for instance) and I never eat the allergic foods in front of her. I feel strongly about providing solidarity for her. I'm in it with her. Always. She and her twin are so unfamiliar with dairy that they don't feel like they are missing out usually.

3. We only cook safe foods at home. We're a family and eat all the same foods at home. Mush less stressful.

4. Talk about her allergy like a medical condition--not a sad, deprived state. She can't eat something because it's not good for her body and we're lucky to have such great options and grocery stores.

5. As she gets older, birthday parties and school will be challenging. But I prefer to bring her own food and be responsible for reading ingredients, etc. She has reactions to foods that are cross-contaminated in non-vegan kitchens, so it's difficult for people to try and meet our needs. I know where to buy stuff, how to make foods that she's happy with, and I like being less trouble for the host.

I am so appreciative of people being sensitive to food allergies. Thanks for the discussion!

This was a public event, so I really don't think there should be any requirement to accomodate everyone and everyone's allergies. If anything, the dad should've planned ahead and brought treats and snacks for his son.

Neither my daughter nor myself are allergic, but we're super picky (no eggs, except in baked goods and we both hate poultry)---because of this we accept we might sometimes attend such an event and not eat, or need to bring something or need to alert the planner ahead of time. Trust me as a former catering director, it's verrrrry common to receive requests for events for someone's specific dietary needs.

Back when they served in flight meals or for hospital stays, I just checked the vegetarian box and was usually perfectly happy.

For family events, we do generally seek accomodate others---because we are so fussy. What I find entertaining is my Lacto/Ovo/Pesco vegetarian irritation when my daughter and I won't eat eggs, after we've gone out of our way to exclude meat or meat products in a meal. Or make a separate dish for them.

My brother was allegic to chocolate in his childhood. He has outgrown it since, but I vividly remember how unfair it felt to me that I couldn't have any chocolate around him. But I am sure it was harder on him than on me. Especially that he knew what chocolate was. The allergy developed (or maybe it was pinpointed) years after he started eating solids.

it broke my heard picturing the little 4-year old. my son (7) is also allergic to many foods and i'd like to believe he knows and understands what he can and can't have.

My brother is allergic to corn. There is corn (sweetner) in practically everything. My mother brought treats for him when we went out or to parties and to this day he has an extremely limited diet

This is such an interesting discussion to me. My son has a pretty significant health condition that was recently diagnosed. (Any mama's dealing with nephrotic syndrome I would love to connect with you!) We have had to go low sodium which was pretty easy for us but there is some indication that gluten and dairy free might be in order. We are scheduled for some food allergy testing to explore this. I am so caught up right now in keeping him able to just have a normal life again that the idea of him not being able to enjoy a birthday party cupcake makes me sad. I appreciate the insight into handling it.


The spreadsheet does help me because my approach for these events or short vacations is to try to ensure that there is something safe/appropriate for everyone at every meal. That way I didn't overlook any of the requirements since they changed throughout the vacation--people arriving, leaving, having made plans elsewhere for lunch, etc. I went to the spreadsheet approach when I realized how complicated it was getting a needed a way to visualize what I was planning.

I appreciate that for many people dealing with serious allergies or conditions like celiac, it's sometimes better for the host NOT to try because then the person with the issue feels obligated to eat the special dish or because then it can be difficult to verify whether the dish is actually safe. Every person with these kinds of food restrictions has stories about being presented with something they know is unsafe--spelt offered to a celiac, a product with casein to someone with a dairy allergy, etc. Again, I'm dealing with close family and they've educated me about what to be careful of. I save labels and offer them up so they can verify things are safe, talk over recipes, etc. I'm very conscious that in those situations I'm dealing with someone's health, not just trying to come up with something that my picky kids will eat.

And again, with family or close friends, I would think that parents who prefer the host NOT to prepare something special would just say so. I guess I got somewhat off topic from the original question, which was more about public events.

I am fortunate enough to have children without any food allergies, but I do want to make three comments:

1. I agree that we are WAY too treat-oriented as a culture, and I know that it has contributed to my obesity and to my children's unhealthy attitude toward sugar.

2. I was very impressed when Chapman Elementary offered fruit popsicles as an alternative to the ice cream sandwiches at their Ice Cream Social this past August. While it may not have accommodated every conceivable allergy, it allowed those with sensitivities to dairy, soy, and gluten to still partake.

3. I just want to convey my strong respect for all the mamas (and papas!) out there who have to read labels and Google nutrition facts every day in order to protect and maintain the health of their children. I had a taste of that for three months when my daughter, as a breastfeeding newborn, had severe MSPI. Knowing that one wrong morsel in my mouth could put my daughter in horrible pain was a huge burden and responsibility, though, in its own way, it also made me feel closer to her. I guess what I'm saying is, from what little I have experienced, I know that what you do is very hard, though rewarding, and your children are so lucky to have parents like you, who are willing to weed out their allergies and accommodate them rather than just label them as "sickly" and fill their little bodies with medications.

Here's to all of you!

It is not the responsibility of other to accommodate my child. Luckily birthdays are food free at Rieke. My child had a party this weekend and I knew their were cupcakes so I made him a nut free cupcake. It's an easy fix.

This is a little off-thread, but I wanted to add to the birthdays-at-school-discussion:
My children's school got around this whole issue by making birthdays party- and treat-free (much to many parents' relief). Instead, the birthday child can choose to have a "birthday book" celebration. He or she brings a book from home to share with the class. After the book is read, the child can either take the book home or donate it to the classroom library. My older son has always chosen to skip the celebration. I'm curious what my younger son will choose.

We have birthdays at school with treats. I wasn't aware that some schools had done away with it.

I usually bring organic fruit leathers as treats. True, there might be someone that can't have one but the odds are lower than with other things. You can buy a variety pack so there's different fruits (in case someone is allergic to strawberries or something). My son can't have any food dyes unless they're made from things likes beets, so that eliminates most party foods, candy, etc. He's OK with it--especially because he can always substitute chocolate :). He's also very good at explaining to people that they need to check for dyes, explaining why, etc. I realized later that when he was little he thought that food dye meant food DIE. So he never was upset about not having something with food dye LOL.

I am so sad for that little guy. His dad should have been prepared with a snack for him.

My daughter has severe food allergies. We bring her own food. Always have, always will. It wouldn't be fair for us to expect everyone to accommodate her. And frankly, it wouldn't be safe anyway because even with the best of intentions, no one who doesn't live allergies on a daily basis really understands the risk of minute exposures from minor ingredients, or cross contamination. From time to time, we find things that are safe for her at public events, but that's always a bonus from our perspective. We never count on that and always come prepared.

Also, we've always tried to keep a happy face on when dealing with her allergies. There are much worse things, and we don't want her to be feel pitied or be pitied for what she can't eat. She's healthy, she's happy, she has a rich life full of fun activities and friends. Who cares about food, really!

As for schools being birthday treat free... our old school had a school wide policy of no treats. Our new school allows teachers to make the choice. Thankfully for us, there are several kids in her class with allergies, so they have decided not to have birthday treats.

Honest question here: Why are SO MANY kids allergic to things these days?

in response to m... no one knows.

There is a hygiene theory that says that our environment is too clean. By too clean, they mean that over the past 50-100 years, we have wiped out so many diseases with vaccines, and overuse of antibiotics, etc. Also though, "clean" with this theory also includes the fact that we live in a first world country with clean water, etc. This theory came about when researchers found a much lower rate of allergies in kids in third world countries. They also have more intestinal worms though, so eh... ???? Anyway, the theory goes that when your immune system doesn't have anything to fight, it finds other things to fight, like food.

Note that the hygiene theory is not about how a specific household is run. So, don't go blaming the parents of food allergic kids for being clean freaks. This is a much broader theory - vaccines, antibiotics, water purification, etc.

ANother theory has to do with how food is grown and prepared. Genetically modified foods... etc. The way we cook peanuts makes them more allergenic then peanuts in some asian countries...

The bottom line is that no one really knows. What I will say is this - food allergies are a pain in the butt. No one wants their kids to have them. Trust me, living each day with the fear that a drop of milk could kill my kid sucks. If I could find out why she has food allergies and how to make them go away, I would.

"They" say that breastfeeding babies have fewer allergies.
"They" say that kids with pets have fewer allergies.
"they" say that feeding organic foods = fewer allergies.

Guess what - I breastfed exclusively for 6 months and she was sick the entire time. In an act of desperation to try and get her to sleep, I tried feeding her baby formula. It was the can I received in the hospital. She had less than an ounce, and then went into full blow anaphylaxis and almost died. it was the protein in the formula. Why was she so allergic? dunno. I had done all the "right" things.

We have a dog. A hairy, smelly, dirty dog who is her bestest friend in the world. So no, our house was not and still is not spotless.

I made all of her food from organic fresh food, some of it I grew myself. yeah, it wasn't that.

She still has allergies. I have two other kids. They have NO allergies. None. Why? dunno. Genetic misfortune. on the first one, I guess.

It does hurt though when people who don't live this day in and day out suggest "cures" or insinuate that it was something I did or didn't do to cause her allergies. I know you aren't doing that, but this question of "why" often leads down that path. Guess what - I followed the recommendations. They didn't work. I did the opposite with my other babies. I was afraid to breastfeed them after what happened allergy wise with the first. So, I went straight to hypoallergenic formula. They have no allergies. Was it that? Dunno. go figure.

At this point, we just manage it (really well, actually), and alook forward to the day they'll have a treatment.

My brother was born in the very early 1960's and had life threatening allergies that were misdiagnosed as countless things including Neutropenia. They experimented on him and tortured him and finally, when they explained to my mother that they were going to remove his spleen she quietly carried him out of a university research hospital within no clothes, wrapped in a blanket and literally got onto the first bus she saw. My father picked her up miles from home at a bus stop where she sat weeping and cradling my brother. She ultimately found a different doctor who diagnosed him with a corn allergy (after an unbelievable process of not letting him eat anything and then adding one food a week) and once corn was removed he was completely fine. He still is fine, a father of two and healthy but touches no corn. In the early 1960s this was crazy talk. I have no allergies at all and never have even though we are 18 months apart and I am the eldest. It is a mystery.

I am the the one with all the food allergies and sensitivities in my family: allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, and shellfish; sensitive to milk dairy; no caffeine; grass and tree allergies. Note the food allergies were adult/post kid onset. Due to that my son was tree nut and peanut free for 7 years until he could be tested. Just grass allergies for him. Anyway, we used to just let people know "no nuts"; he knew to say no nuts, and we always had our own snacks. I never assume I will be able to eat anything at social (especially public) events. So I eat before, bring food, have some fruit or veggies, or if going out with friends check menus and options prior. Our school seems to have a teacher choose option for birthdays. Kinder was special book, 1st could do treats (I brought cheddar bunnies and fruit snacks); 2nd no treats and joint celebrations throughout the year. I agree with posters above - there is so much emphasis on treats and food as it relates to celebrations. Not just hard for kids and adults with allergies; but also those wanting to lose (or maintain lost) weight. (I am in that category too!)

m, the theory that makes the most sense to me is that the massive increase in allergies and sensitivities, among other things, is due to the cumulative effects of processed food over generations. I heard this theory, posited simply as a theory, from a nutritionist I know, and it really made all the pieces come together for me.

My daughter has a very restricted diet (no gluten, dairy, eggs, sugar and several fruit and veg allergies) and I would just like to share that I think it's so important when communicating about this with my kiddo that I not focus on her, but on the situation. I never, ever tell her she can't have a food because she's allergic. (She is 3 and I'm sure that conversation will be productive someday, but not now.) I don't want her to ever think that she can't have a food because of something that is her fault. We talk a lot about how "everybody eats different foods to make them healthy." For example, eggs make daddy healthy, but they don't make us healthy, etc. That way the focus is outside of her - not something that is or isn't her fault - it's just something that is.

Also, bringing our own food (APPEALING food!) to events is second-nature to me now.

So does anyone have ideas for how to accomodate the family/food issues when one child can't have gluten, soy, corn, dairy, and a frequently rotating list of other ingredients, and is under a strict no-snacking rule, while the other child is underweight and needs extremely regular snacks and meals, and has his own strong likes and dislikes (with the likes including whole grains, breads, whole milk products, tofu)? The kids - both over the age of six - want to have the "same" meals but it isn't possible, and every gathering ends up with adult frustration and constant attempts at diplomatically explaining why the plates look different and the eating schedules are different. Not to mention, I am fine with my son having an occasional treat, Iike a pastry, while my brother is wildly opposed to sugar in any form. I dread family gatherings. The kids want to ride in the same car, but if its a long drive or timing requires it, we have car snacks for our kid - and have to deny the nephew, to the annoyed deep sighs of his parents. We can't even use the same kitchen appliances, for their fear of contamination. And restaurants are out. What can we do to set up for less discomfort, and what responsibility do they hold in communicating and planning?

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