Please welcome guest author Linda Marienhoff Coss, a popular author on the topic of food allergies.
Raising a child with life-threatening food allergies means living with near-constant stress. Everything you do, everywhere you go, and everything you eat needs to be analyzed and scrutinized and planned out from the perspective of your child’s safety.
It’s enough to drive a parent crazy.
When it comes down to it, the only place where you really have any control is your own home. The rest of the world might be a frightening place, filled with potentially lethal food and food residue, but your home can be a warm and welcoming refuge.
To combine food allergy management with sanity management, I highly recommend that you take the necessary steps to make your home a “safe haven,” a place where everyone can let their guard down and relax a little. No worries about allergens on the dinner plate or allergenic residue in the toy box. No need to keep your toddler within an arm’s distance reach. A “safe” place for you and your family.
How Can You Do It?
The easiest and surest way to make your home a safe haven is to banish all allergens from the house. Yes, this means that the entire family will need to go on the allergic family member’s diet. Yes, this can be difficult. But – depending on the number of allergens involved – many families find that the benefits far outweigh the dietary inconvenience. And if your child reacts to airborne particles of allergens or the smell of allergens (luckily most do not), keeping allergens in your home is really not an option anyway.
Besides doing the obvious – not bringing allergenic food into the house – maintaining an allergen-free home entails a few other steps as well. The ingredients of pet foods, cosmetics, personal care products, cleaning products, art supplies (such as play dough) and other items in which allergens could be hiding need to be checked. Family members who eat allergens outside of the home need to wash thoroughly before returning home. Visitors need to be asked to wash their hands when they arrive. In fact, it’s a good idea to have everyone (especially children) wash their hands when they enter the house, because you never know what they might have touched when they were out in public.
But What If You Aren’t Willing to Banish the Allergens?
For various reasons, some families choose not to eliminate allergens from their home entirely. If this is the route you choose, it’s still possible to create a safe haven, but it’s a lot harder to do. Your entire household must be completely committed to following some very strict precautions when handling or eating allergenic food. This can be quite a bit more difficult than simply removing all allergens from your home, and can create a certain amount of stress in and of itself (which, of course, diminishes the positive benefits of making your home a safe haven). But if this is your choice, you need to consider the following:
– Label foods in your home as “safe” or “not safe.” Every time you come home from the grocery store, put a color-coded sticker on every item before you put it away. Label your leftovers this way, too.
– Don’t buy foods with hidden allergens. If you must keep allergens in the house, see if you can just keep them in their “pure” form (such as a carton of eggs), rather than buying packaged products (such as bread and crackers) that contain allergens as ingredients. Otherwise trying to keep track of which is safe and which is not can be a nightmare.
– Avoid mix-ups. Consider designated particular shelves in the pantry and refrigerator for the safe foods.
– Avoid contaminating your home and your food supply. Teach all members of your household to always wash their hands before touching the non-allergenic food. Make sure everyone washes their hands immediately after eating or touching something allergenic, before they touch any of the surfaces in your home. Consider confining all food consumption to your kitchen and dining areas. Rinse off dirty dishes and utensils before loading them into your dishwasher, to avoid having stray bits of dried allergens stick to your “clean” dishes.
– Avoid cross-contamination while cooking. Don’t even try to cook allergenic and non-allergenic foods at once. Something is bound to go wrong.
– Don’t let other people eat allergens in your home. Chances are high they won’t remember to act as though they’re dealing with “poison.”
– Have the food-allergic child use a special drinking cup. Having a special cup that is always used ensures that your child doesn’t grab the wrong cup by mistake. Even now, my 20-year-old son drinks out of striped glasses while the rest of the household uses the clear ones.
Like I said, although this is all doable, simply banishing the allergens is probably the easiest and least stressful approach.
Now Let’s Take Things One Step Further
Regardless of how you choose to accomplish it, I think that making your home a safe haven is an absolute must.
But I strongly suggest that you take this “safe haven” concept a step further. Make your home an emotional “safe haven” as well. After all, your home is not much of a “food allergy haven” if your food-allergic child is made to feel as though his food allergies are a source of problems and misery for the people he loves.
First, keep in mind that your child’s feelings about his food allergies will be heavily influenced by his perception of yours. You’re the parent. You set the tone and you teach by example.
Start by taking a close look at your attitude. Whether you like it or not, your attitude will have a significant impact on your child’s attitude and self-esteem. Yes, managing a child’s life-threatening food allergies is a constant challenge. But there’s a big attitude difference between “rising to meet the challenge” and “feeling overwhelmed by the burden.”
Next teach all of your children that in your family you treat each other with love, respect, kindness and acceptance – and then model this behavior yourself. For example, make sure your other children realize that teasing their brother about his food allergies or whining and complaining about how his food allergies affect the entire family is just not acceptable.
Of course, treating each other with love, respect and kindness applies to everything, not just food allergies!
So make your home a safe haven. Safe physically and safe emotionally.
Known as one of the pioneers in the food allergy world, Linda Coss is the author of three popular food allergy books: “How to Manage Your Child’s Life-Threatening Food Allergies,” “What’s to Eat? The Milk-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free Food Allergy Cookbook,” and “What Else is to Eat? The Dairy-, Egg-, and Nut-Free Food Allergy Cookbook.” All three books are available at www.FoodAllergyBooks.com.
A former food allergy support group leader with over 13 years of experience, Linda is the mother of a son, now in his Junior year of college, who has multiple life-threatening food allergies. Just like the Marketing Mama, Linda also works in the marketing field. You can learn more about her freelance marketing writing at www.PlumtreeMarketingInc.com.
You can find more of Missy’s food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama facebook page and twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.
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