To all my parents of kids with food allergies, we know this time of year can be particularly challenging. With all of the holiday parties, visiting family and friends, and searching for alternative options, you may find yourself a bit stressed and asking Santa for a trip to the spa for a massage (tip: for sanity reasons I recommend going for a massage during the chaos, not after).
Let’s talk about 5 things you can do to help keep your child on track and avoid any pitfalls.
- Visit your integrative medical provider. Yes; before any upcoming changes, whether it’s a move, travel plans, a new school, or anything else that might require dietary planning, go ahead and book an appointment. Why? Your medical provider will review your child’s allergy labs, and help you develop a plan on what you can be flexible with and what your child absolutely needs to avoid. They will also offer guidance on supplements and gut support that may help decrease any symptoms. For example, some kids who are gluten sensitive may do ok having a food with gluten once in a while with a digestive enzyme that specifically works to help digest gluten proteins. You can also have a prescription on hand for an epi-pen should you need it.
- Call your people! Go ahead and call that cousin who is having the kid’s Christmas party. Let her know that little Sally or Jimmy cannot decorate their gingerbread house with the frosting with yellow #5 or red #40. Most of the time, other parents are happy to help and encourage each other to bring anything special that they may need. Do not feel like a party pooper! This is ok, and you will find that many parents are in the same boat. It helps to have others on board. If the school is planning a party, ask if they accommodate with options for children with allergies. Many of them do. If you would like, make your own gluten or dairy-free cupcakes, or call a bakery or friend who can help out with this since you may be drowning in holiday madness. Also, be sure your child’s school has updated copies of special dietary needs accommodations and/or an emergency action plan for more severe allergies.
- Don’t get bogged down with recipes! In a world where we have access to a million different allergen-friendly recipes on Pinterest or social media, it can sometimes be overwhelming and clutter our mental space. Which recipe will taste best? Which will be most similar to the original cake? Which will my family and friends enjoy? I personally have found it helpful to choose between 1-3 favorite food bloggers or books and stick to those. Simplifying this one thing around an already busy season can make a huge difference in your stress levels, and the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree they say.
- Keep your child in the know! It is important to help your child understand why they may not be able to eat certain foods. If they have symptoms, explain to them what their “reaction” might look like or how they may feel, and inform them to immediately tell an adult. Teach them not to share food with others, and to wash their hands before and after meals. Also, focus on the positives! Having an allergy can sometimes mean we have to choose more whole, natural, healthy foods. We can remind our children that these are the best choices for their growing bodies, that there are many options, and people everywhere eat differently. Remind them that they are not the only kids who have to monitor what they eat, and praise them for their efforts always.
- Promote “Rest and Digest”. Keeping your child’s parasympathetic nervous system activated is critical here! This response helps our bodies to make digestive enzymes to break down our food and allow for proper movement of food through the bowels. It can be stressful on children when they have food allergies. Fear over what may happen to their body, feelings of being left out, or dealing with peers who may bully them about their allergies or food choices are a few things that may be on their mental plates (always teach them to report any bullying to an adult). Hanging out with peers, laughing, playing fun games, rest; these are all things that will turn on their parasympathetic nervous system. Helping them navigate through these challenges may require the help of an experienced psychotherapist who can teach them skills to improve their ability to relax around mealtime. Keeping stress off of their digestive tract will serve to prevent illness, and will go a long way toward healing a variety of conditions.
While it can be a challenge having a child with food allergies or sensitivities, as long as you are prepared and don’t overcomplicate things like recipes, it’ll be smooth sailing! If you think your child might have a food allergy but aren’t sure where to begin, bring them in to see us and we can set you up for success with a customized treatment plan. You’re not in this alone!
|Stephanie Finn is a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Registered Nurse at the CentreSpring MD. She is dedicated to providing compassionate and holistic healthcare and promoting pediatric wellness.|
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a visit with Stephanie Finn.