Food allergies and sensitivities are increasing dramatically in our society. I’m not aware of any family that does not have a child who goes to school with another child who has a, sometimes life threatening, food sensitivity. Peanut and tree nut allergies appear to be among the worst and the incidence is growing. In her book The Peanut Allergy Epidemic: What’s Causing It and How To Stop It author Heather Fraser looks at the growing challenge of this issue and why it seems to be so strongly tied to our Western culture.
This article by Ned Newton shares his experience as a parent who has had to learn to deal with the issues of food allergy, his young child’s health and safety, and how it has changed the nutritional plan in their home.
It seems pretty ridiculous now, but I have always remembered the one kid in my elementary school class who was allergic to chocolate. Me? I liked chocolate. A lot. But this one allergic reaction meant that any cupcakes that were brought in for birthday parties were always, to my disappointment, chocolate free. When my four year old son was diagnosed with peanut allergies, my first thought was about Joey from middle school. I was afraid that my son would be stigmatized, even if it was not in an overt way, for being different. Then I learned about EPI-pens and anaphylactic shock, and I had a new set of almost overwhelming concerns.
My wife and I spent a great deal of time discussing how to explain the do’s and don’ts of eating to our four-year old. We didn’t want him to be scared or to feel a difference. Luckily for us he is a trooper and was unfazed. Now he asks us about new foods and, if they have been in contact with peanuts, he understands that he can’t eat that item.
This has however also has presented a great opportunity for us to learn about, discuss, and get involved in nutrition. We have gotten into the habit of preparing snacks to have on hand and my son always gets excited about helping to prepare those items that require baking. He enjoys cracking eggs and stirring the flour. He has learned about our ‘secret ingredients’ like wheat germ and flax seed. And this enthusiasm spreads to other cooking adventures. While dinnertime can sometimes present a challenge when we are presenting him with new healthy foods, on those days when he has helped to cook, there is never an issue.
The process of encouraging him in the kitchen began with baking and making pancakes. This has over time slowly progressed to more complicated dishes such as soups. In most cases, he is simply an observer (he is after all still very young). But the process of cutting, chopping and mixing are as good as any television show to him at this point, and food is something that has become an enjoyable, meaningful part of his life.
A peanut allergy is something that I worry about very often – parties or gatherings at friend’s homes are always uncharted and uncontrolled territory. On the positive side this has allowed us to have conversations at home about what is the right thing to eat and why nutrition is important. Because he is allowed to participate in cooking all kinds of food, nutrition isn’t science nor is it a mystery to him. It is simply fun, and that, in the end, is all that matters to a four year-old.
Ned Newton is a dad learning about food allergy issues and a contributor at Zenoobi. The photo above was taken by Ned when his son was tested for allergies.