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The Importance of Communication (When Your Child Has Food Allergies)

This is my 100th post! When I first started blogging I imagined it would be tough for me to crank out posts and find topics to share. After 100 posts, apparently, I still have a lot more recipes, thoughts on allergy management and frugal tips I want to share with you.

Those of you who read the byline to my blog know that I have a little man who has a nut (peanut and almond) allergy. Part of the mission of this blog is to share our experience in allergy management.

Texting Versus Calling
I was a late adopter to texting, as I preferred to call someone if I was running late or needed to chat. Soon after I got a smartphone, I preferred texting my friends and family over calling. After all, it's quicker and simpler to text 5 different people carrying on 5 different conversations than trying to call everyone.

Think about it, communication is an important part of our daily life. It is how we share our thoughts, needs, wants and feelings. When your child has food allergies, communication becomes even more critical when you leave the safety and comfort of your home. Play dates, parties and other social gatherings can throw you off your routine and introduce situations you are not familiar or comfortable with.

"PB&J Incident"

Several months ago, my husband and I were invited to a potluck at a friend's house. We see/talk to these friends once a year at their potluck dinner. The last time we saw them, (which was last Fall) our little man had not been diagnosed with any food allergies.

When my husband RSVP'd to the party, I asked my husband to tell the host about our little man's food allergy so that the other guests can refrain from bringing any nut-related items to the potluck. The little man was just shy of a year and half years old at that time but still constantly puts things in his mouth. My husband assured me that he had let the host know via a text message.

Fast forward to the day of the party, we were having a good time until my husband noticed the host's child eating a peanut butter jelly (PB&J) sandwich. He calmly asked the child if it was a PB&J sandwich and the child nodded happily saying it is their favorite. My husband quickly grabbed the little man and left the room; looking in search of the hostess. After the child finished eating the PB&J sandwich, my husband quietly pulled the hostess to the side and explained that our little man has a peanut and almond allergy. He kindly asked if it was possible for the child to wash their hands to which the hostess obliged and apologized profusely for not having known about it as her husband had not passed along the message. I was a little shaken up but things like this happen and I thought we had handled the situation well.

The little man was walking around and out of nowhere, he threw up. This was unusual for him and at that time, I did not think much of it. In hindsight, this could have been one of the signs of an allergic reaction.

Sadly, this story does not end here.

Another guest, whom we've met once before, brought in a Thai salad from Whole Foods, with peanuts. One of our friends, L, said in a low voice to my husband "Hey man, there are peanuts in this salad, just so you know."

I was about to cry.

How on earth did all this happen? All of this could have been prevented had we clearly communicated with the host, hostess and the other guests. We knew almost everyone attending except for the couple who brought the Thai salad. Had we contacted everyone by telephone instead of texting the host, this whole situation could have been prevented.

I felt that my husband did not want to inconvenience his friend by asking for special treatment. In the end, we were very lucky that the worst that happened was our little man had a rash on his chest and vomited. Was it worth putting other's feelings ahead of the safety of our child?

As we drove home that night, we brainstormed ways we can try to avoid this situation again. Here's what we came up with:

RSVP Stage
  • Contact the host and hostess by telephone (and other party guests if it is a potluck) and remind them about food allergies
  • Ask the host if they can avoid serving the allergen at the party or substitute it with an alternate food
  • If the host shrugs off your allergy concerns by making light of the situation, make your own judgement call whether you should attend. Personally, for us, if we cannot guarantee our little man's safety, we will just not attend. After all, I feel it speaks volumes about the kind of friend they are more than about you.

Day Before
  • Contact the host and remind them of your child's food allergies. Ask if there is anything you can bring to the party. Separate out a portion of the safe food for your child to avoid cross contamination.

Day of Party: Before Leaving The House
  • Pack at least two epinephrine injectors and map out the route to the nearest hospital
  • Memorize the address of the party and best ways for an ambulance to get there
  • Pack safe foods and snacks for your child. If they are old enough, remind them that they should ask for your permission before they eat anything.
  • Pack hand wipes and Lysol wipes to wipe down eating areas.
  • Eat a small meal at home so your child can focus on having fun instead of worrying about which foods they can and can't eat.
Arrival at the Party
  • Arrive at the party early and ask what is in certain foods to identify allergens. This would prevent the PB&J incident as hosts have a lot of things on their minds on the day of the party.
  • Help to set up and inquire how they made certain foods and ask to read ingredients (if you are comfortable)

During the Party
  • Designate one parent to watch over the child at all times
  • Ensure your child washes their hands before and after eating
  • Inspect the foods and plates for allergens
  • If at any time you or your child feels unsafe, leave. Be polite and let the host know you are leaving, thank them for the invite.
  • Tell your child not to accept food from anyone except you.
  • Keep your safe food and snacks stored separately; bring your own plates and utensils.

Post Party
  • Discuss with your significant other (or child if they are old enough) what part of your allergy management plan went well and what could be improved.
  • Reward your child for good behaviour for positive reinforcement

We definitely learned our lesson with the "PB&J incident". The following are three social gatherings we attended shortly after.

Lesson Learned - Example 1
At the family Thanksgiving party, we implemented the above action plan. My husband called the day before and asked his sister not to serve anything with peanuts and almonds. This call had proved to be useful as my sister-in-law had planned to serve a salad with almond slices. She volunteered to omit it from her menu because we reminded her. To my sister-in-law's credit, she avoided serving all nuts altogether.

The day of, we packed both epinephrine injectors, hand wipes and safe food and snacks for our little man. When we arrived, we inspected the foods served (hey, it's family!) and caught a Trader Joe's roasted sunflower seed that was toasted in peanut oil. My husband calmly asked his sister if she can serve something else. She was genuinely embarrassed that she missed that. It is hard to hold others to our standard especially when it is not a routine habit.

We also asked family members not to give our little man any foods unless it came from our safe food stash. We designated my mother-in-law as our helper to watch over the little man to make sure he remained safe. It was the first time after the "PB&J incident" where I felt relaxed and had a little fun.

Lesson Learned - Example 2
We went over to a family friend's house for dinner. Our friend L knew about our little man's food allergy from previous two visits with them. I also reminded her that we will be bringing the little man's own food. On the day of, our friend L made sure there was no nuts served in her dinner menu. We had a fabulous time and the little man was thrilled to play with their two adorable kids.

Lesson Learned - Example 3
My husband's friend J, invited us over to her house for a US Thanksgiving feast. Since they see each other every week at volleyball, my husband talked to J about our little man's food allergies. J was extremely accommodating, stating that she will not be serving any dishes containing peanuts or almonds but there will be other nuts there. We really appreciated her telling us that so we can make an informed decision whether to attend.

Since we know the hostess is quite allergy aware, we felt comfortable knowing that peanuts or almonds will not be on the menu. As always, we brought the little man his own drink, food and snacks. On the day of the party, J pulled us aside and told us which dishes had other nuts (pecans and walnuts). I was very impressed she took our concerns seriously.

3 Points to Remember
  1. Communicate (call, in person, video chat) with the host about any food allergies
  2. Bring Epinephrine and know where the closest hospital is
  3. Ask the hosts about allergens in dishes
Don't be afraid to decline party invitations or hurt other's feelings when your child's safety is at risk. Frankly, no friendship is worth sending my little man to the ER. Remember that the difference between a good friend and a great friend is that a great friend takes your allergy concerns seriously and make accommodations. We are clearly very blessed to have great family and friends!

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