Real Life Advice – Food Allergies

I have had this question waiting in my inbox for awhile. Considering the focus that has been on this issue for the last week or so, I thought it was a good time to share my real life advice for dealing with our kids, food allergies, and school.

The week my real life advice column addresses a mom frustrated with food allergies.

Dear Frustrated,

I’m taking you by the hand, and I’m looking you in the eye when I tell you…

I know you love your son. I know you want to give him some of the same joys that you had when you were a child. I know that making delicious treats that he enjoys fills you with almost as much happiness as one of his hugs. I know that look he gets on his face when you tell him you’ve made something special for his class, the bright-eyed, crooked smile look of amazement. I know that look sends you over the moon. I know that our kids are only little for such a short time, and that we are limited in how long we will be able to do special things for them. And I know that someone telling us we can’t do these things for our kids can grate.

But here’s what I also know. I know that there is another mother out there who loves her child as much as we love ours. I know that every day she sends him out into the world scared to death. I know that every time her little boy or girl walks into a classroom or a birthday party or plays team soccer she worries that her child may ingest something that could make him very ill or worse. No one likes to think about the possibility of a child dying, but that is something that mother has to consider every time her child leaves the house.

And she does not only have to worry about her child’s health. She also has to worry about whether he will be pushed to the side or made to feel different all because he can’t eat the same things his friends can eat. Will they even want to be friends with him? Or will they think that he’s odd and different and not want to play with him? Will other mothers not invite him places because of the extra attention that has to be placed on what he eats? Will he be left out? No one wants that for her child, or any child.

My advice to you is to see this as an opportunity to teach your child compassion and acceptance of others. Explain to him that you want all the kids in the class to be included for his special day, and instead of being upset that your child can’t take the treat you would normally fix, contact the teacher or the mother of the child with the food allergy and see what you can bring. I’m positive that she will be grateful, and that she would be happy to share ideas with you.

This year is the first time either of my kids have been faced with having a classmate with a food allergy. At the beginning of the year, the teacher sent home a note with a list of acceptable treats that can be brought to class. I took the time then to explain to James that a little girl in his class could get very sick if she ate anything with nuts. I told him that to be a good friend we needed to be sure not to take anything to school that could potentially make her sick. Guess what? He hasn’t complained about it one time, and he has enjoyed taking treats that all of his classmates can enjoy.

Sometimes the frustration of not being able to do what we would like can blind us to the fact that we can do something even better. It is our job to protect ALL the children, not just our own. It is our job to treat them with compassion and love, and in doing so, teach our kids to do the same. As my friend Kristin says, “The only place cake should come before compassion is in the dictionary.”

Real life advice from Kristin Shaw, "The only place cake could come before compassion is in the dictionary."

Hope this helps,

For additional resources and information on mothering a child with food allergies, see these posts:
The Time I Almost Killed My Child
How to Cope When Your Child Has Food Allergies
Stop Complaining about Food Allergies
A Response to Carina Hoskisson

More Real Life Advice:
Our Children’s Friends
How to Stop a Child from Biting
Teaching Kids about Racism
Just One More Baby

Have you got a question, problem, or situation where you’d like a little guidance or an independent opinion? Leave me a comment or send me an email. All questions will be kept anonymous unless you specify otherwise. Don’t want me to know that it’s YOU asking the question. Set up a generic email address with Yahoo or Gmail and ask away.

Disclaimer: Advise This is a real life advice column that I started at the encouragement of a few friends. Read more to find out what it is all about. I am not a licensed therapist or professional advice giver. All thoughts and opinions are my own and should only be considered anecdotal. Any physical or mental harm that comes from taking my advice is on you.


  1. says

    I agree with you, Jennifer. Some food allergies are a matter of life and death, and we should treat them seriously and with respect. Things get a little more annoying in very health-minded suburbs (like mine) where it seems that 1 in every 4 kids is gluten-free, or dairy-free or nothing pre-packaged or some other restriction. Luckily, we don’t have to bring snacks for the classroom–I think I’d go nuts.
    Thekitchwitch recently posted…Return of Le RegimeMy Profile

    • says

      I think what had the biggest impact on me about this is that I have a friend whose son had a lot of food allergy problems when he was little. He has grown out of them, thankfully, but I remember watching her pain as she tried to figure out what was wrong and get him help, and then the subsequent daycare and school struggles. No mom should have to go through that.
      Jennifer recently posted…Ask Away AngelaMy Profile

  2. says

    This is such excellent advice, Jennifer. I love how you put it, too. We all love our children. We sometimes have to know that we have to love other children as well.
    Andrea recently posted…Math WhizMy Profile

  3. says

    I love how you wrote this from the point of view of BOTH mothers Jennifer. It shows your own compassionate and Christ like side of you. You are a great example of what the pure love of Christ is all about. Having an open heart and mind and thinking of others around you as much as yourself. Bless your heart for writing this very important topic.
    All though I don’t have children with food allergies, I can’t imagine what it must be like to send your child out into the world wondering if they’ll make it home…every..single…day.
    Compassion is truly a gift we need to instill in all our children, perhaps we would have less bullies and more friends if we did.
    Tonia L. Clark recently posted…The Best Gift Ever is a MOMS NIGHT OUT! #MNOMovieMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you so much Tonia. I really appreciate your comment. I’m one of those people that jumps to conclusions a lot, and I’ve had to learn to always try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. I guess that has finally paid off. :)
      Jennifer recently posted…Ask Away AngelaMy Profile

  4. says

    I just felt so compelled to share this on twitter and Facebook!
    No food allergies in my family, but definitely in my life. And that’s ok for us because it has to be. Preschool is peanut butter free. It used to be peanut butter free only on certain days but that got too confusing. Preschool is ALWAYS peanut butter free because someone’s well-being depends on it.
    My daughter has never questioned this and she does realize how lucky she is that she DOES get to eat peanut butter, in the safety of her own home.
    Tamara recently posted…The Funny Words & Phrases That Have Had Me Laughing For Years!My Profile

  5. says

    I see both sides in the situation…and love your take on it. I think it is a great opportunity to teach our child compassion for other children and explain why. Thanks for sharing!
    Natalie recently posted…Finally Friday!My Profile

  6. says

    I can see your side of it, and do realise that is is indeed a good opportunity to teach our kids not to discriminate and at the same time to have compassion.

    But, then, there is the other side too.

    As I was growing up, many many years ago, there was not a quarter of today’s information about Diabetes. I was born with it and ever since I started to walk, I was taught that despite being around the house, all that was sweet was not for me as, then it was believed, it could kill me (type 1 with insulin). I have lived all my childhood surrounded by cakes and sweet treats without EVER sneaking one into my mouth. And I was not discriminated, did not have any psychological issues or ever needed to be under permanent watch. Instead, I grew up and learnt what responsibility is. Mind you, that nowadays with the newer types of insulin, I can eat small quantities of sweet stuff if I so feel like, adjusting my insulin accordingly without causing any issues. But then again, I always knew that my classmates had sweets in their lunch boxes and at class parties and I would just have my doctor approved meals and never felt or was treated any less for it.

    A good friend’s boy, cannot take to school (on his everyday meal) anything containing nuts, lactose, chocolate, soy and a few others I cannot remember now. He cannot take any fruits that require preparation (on the mess account). This little boy does not do well with eating bread, or even like it much. Guess what is the only thing his parents can prepare for his lunch box – yeah, sandwiches! So, on the account of all the kids that may have ‘set’ allergies, he spends the whole school year with bloating and rashes caused by the permitted sandwiches, despite all his parents attempts to get the school to make an exception for him, even if it means him being secluded for lunch.

    Now, how fair is that???

    On this point, also, what is the purpose of the schools personnel keeping an eye on our kids if stopping them from eating something that hurts them is too much to ask for?

    And why are said allergy kids’ parents not responsible for teaching them to stay away from dangerous foods?

    And why are we so afraid to actually understand that our kids are not porcelain dolls but instead intelligent human being that DO NOT NEED overprotection?

    I truly believe that if we stay on this path we are only contributing for the decline of society as we get young adults allowed to do what they want as they are of age but not knowing what it right to do because of us making it so easy on them.

    Food for thought?!

    • says

      The school’s personnel is there to teach and guide our children. They are not there to make sure that no one ingests an allergen that may have been errantly placed in a lunchbox. I have 3 kids and feel grossly outnumbered a lot of days. Teachers have 20+ students in a room. There are maybe 3-4 cafeteria monitors in the lunch room with 5 kindergarten classes. I would not leave that responsibility in their hands. Not that they are not capable, but it’s just not realistic. No, they are nor porcelain dolls. But we’re not talking about falling off the slide. We’re talking about life threatening allergies and acceptance.
      Leigh Ann recently posted…let’s talk about sciaticaMy Profile

      • says

        I have been a teacher overseas and know that it is not easy for one person to keep a close eye on 35+ kids (like I had to). However, if the responsibility is taught to our children, then the school personnel would only need to be paying attention to exceptional cases.
        Please understand, I want nothing more than problems being avoided, just do not believe that because of a minority all should suffer. Feel it is much more productive to teach children to not discriminate anyone than restricting them of what they can or cannot eat on other people’s account. Specially when it is proven than nuts and milk (for example) are super foods for our kids.

        So, what if one’s cultural background would only allow them to eat certain foods which are allergens to others? Should we make them starve?

        We should all feel free (at least on what we chose to eat), no restrictions. Just because I have a nut bar for my own nutrition does not mean the allergic person sitting next to me is going to eat it too. Otherwise where is this going to stop?

        • says

          I don’t feel that doing a without a cupcake at school is suffering. I think it is great that you were a resilient kid and that it didn’t bother you to have different dietary needs than the other kids, but not all people are alike. I know several families that have children with allergies, and the mother’s are beyond diligent about teaching their children to be careful. So instead of giving them one more thing they can’t do, how about we give them the chance to be the same as the rest of the kids. Instead of letting them be worried about being sick or worse, how about we help them feel safe. The only other side I see here is one that endangers children, and that is never a side that I will take. I guess some people just can’t see that life is more important than treats.
          Jennifer recently posted…Ask Away AngelaMy Profile

          • says

            I’ll agree to disagree. Just because my next door neighbours can afford to spend 4 overseas holidays every year I do not feel less because of it, do not envy them. Instead, by the values I were taught, I smile and feel happy for them because they can. It does not cause any frustration but it serves to make me want to work harder and do more so, maybe, one day I can afford to do the same.
            Life is radically the most important fact – we agree on that!
            Treats, on the big scale of things, not important at all!
            But if my kid does not eat apples and instead likes strawberries, schools should NEVER be allowed to mess with that as fruit is good for every human being.
            If a child does not eat bread, by taste or health related choices, then should NEVER be forced to only take sandwiches to school and either be sick or hungry, to account to food allergies, as that is not the right way to bring up children.
            You can spin it any way you want, but at the end of the day if all were to just bother to really pay attention to their own actions instead of envying what other have or do, than this world would be sooooooooo much of a better place!
            C’mon people, be glad for what you have and stop bothering with what you cannot have. And, along the way, teach your kids the same!!!

          • says

            Not being able to take as many vacations as your neighbor is not at all similar to risking someone’s life for a treat. I find it appalling when people don’t recognize the fact that a CHILD COULD DIE because of some of these foods. You might as well drive your car into their classroom. There’s a chance you’ll hit a kid and kill him, but maybe not … and hey, why shouldn’t you be able to drive your car wherever you feel like?!

            Since my daughter chooses not to eat sandwiches (because gluten free bread doesn’t generally taste good like that), she takes things in a thermos–soup, chili, spaghetti and meatballs, stirfry … all kinds of dinner leftovers–salad, yogurt, fruit and veggies (with dip sometimes) lunchmeat rollups, cheese sticks … there are plenty of options. Sometimes when we get caught up in what we can’t have, that’s all we see. I’ll bet if you put a question out on facebook asking people for lunch suggestions that don’t include bread or whatever allergens aren’t safe for your friend’s kid to pack, there would be a long list that people would think of.
            Real Life Parenting recently posted…You Might Be an Asshat if You Think People With Food Allergies Are Ruining Your LifeMy Profile

  7. says

    I love the way you did this, Jennifer. It is about the love we feel for our children. But you are so right – that love and compassion need to be bigger and extend to other children.
    Kim recently posted…The Traffic WhispererMy Profile

  8. says

    What a lovely post highlighting the importance of being compassionate. It’s not hard–at all, really–to spend the small amount of time it takes to consider others.

    I am SO over people saying “What about the majority who don’t HAVE to eat like this? Why are they being punished?” Maybe it would be nice to take this as an opportunity to realize that some families deal with this for every single meal, snack and outing.

    Nicely done!!
    Real Life Parenting recently posted…You Might Be an Asshat if You Think People With Food Allergies Are Ruining Your LifeMy Profile