I love peanut butter. Trail mix is my favorite snack. I add nuts to salads, pastas, and baked goods constantly. We are a nut-loving family and this powerful protein is practically its own food group in our household. However, there is one thing that makes us go cold turkey on the tree-nuts: hearing that someone we know is allergic to them. I’m lucky to have three kids that can eat PB&Js whenever they want, but I do know a few families that do not have this type of luxury. Hearing about the constant worry that surrounds their everyday life has made me take notice and be more empathetic to their struggles.
I know a seven-year-old named Grace who has an anaphylaxis allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. Her mother explained that this is a life-threatening condition. She told me, “We don’t avoid nuts because they make her feel bad – it’s because they literally could kill her.” Grace has had two major scares in connection with her allergy, and one time it came from skin contact alone, not ingestion.
Grace’s family and others in this situation do more than fret, they borderline agonize over keeping their child safe. To quote Grace’s mom again, “We worry all the time. All. The. Time.” Imagine routinely having to re-think what should be a normal activity. Every time you were brave enough to go out to eat, you would be required to locate a restaurant that was accommodating, speak with the kitchen staff, and wipe down tables and chairs as a precaution. I can barely do half these steps at home, let alone somewhere that requires you to pay for the food service.
What about flying with a peanut allergy? Well, it’s an option, but it takes a lot of preparation and precaution. Even with consistent diligence, a person in this situation can never truly relax. My friend says that they have had good success with Delta and Southwest because these airlines allow them to pre-board. The airlines will also make an announcement over the loudspeaker and are very good about sanitizing. Still, you can’t let your guard down and must always carry an expensive but potentially life-saving epi-pen.
Think about all of the headaches parents go through when it comes to taking kids on an airplane. Upgrade that headache to a migraine if you’re flying with a little one that has a food allergy. It would be so difficult to be on constant guard in everyday life, but even worse while catching a flight for vacation because you’re also dealing with issues of squirmy children that don’t want to sit in their seats, potential airport delays, and the possibility of being surrounded by grouchy travelers.
If my child had a severe nut allergy, I would be tempted to lock him up at home so he would always be safe, but that is not realistic. Grace may be allergic to nuts, but she’s also an active third-grader. She enjoys soccer and is a sweetheart with a wonderful smile. Grace is healthy, and only three weeks younger then my oldest daughter. Her allergy is a struggle, but thanks to a strong family and caring community, she is not defined by it.
I am very proud of the fact that my child’s elementary school is 100 percent peanut and tree nut free. Administrators and teachers work diligently to keep the building safe for every single student and inclusive to all of the kids. We get lists of safe foods and constant email reminders to check labels. Basically, our school clearly spells out the specific steps parents need to take if we want to send treats to the classroom. There are plenty of nut-free snack options: fresh fruits and vegetables, Pepperidge Farms Cheddar Goldfish, Gogo Squeeze Applesauce, Doritos, Cheez-It Crackers, Dum-Dum Suckers, Oreos Chocolate Sandwich Cookie, Kraft String Cheese, Florida Natural Fruit Snacks, Plain Chocolate Hershey Bars, Skinny Pop Popcorn…the list goes on and on from there. Even with all of the help, guidance, and foresight, I still hear a grumble or a sigh from other parents and guardians.
I once overheard a group of adults at an extra-curricular activity discussing the topic of food allergies. Some of them were complaining about how unfair it was to make a school be 100 percent peanut-free for just a few kids. I wasn’t a part of the conversation but I was sure I misheard these people, because in my head I was running through a very confrontational dialogue. How could they not want to accommodate kids allergic to tree nuts? And by accommodate, I mean leave the Nutella at home and read ingredient lists for good snack options. It really is easy, just check labels and send safe cold lunches (or be lazy like me and mandate that your kids can only eat hot lunch because moms are not short-order cooks).
I try very hard to not take for granted the fact that my family can eat anything and everything. Fortunately I don’t have to worry that my child may be sent to an ER after accidentally ingesting a pasta sauce with ground-up cashews or a candy bar with hidden hazelnuts. That type of worry would be haunting. I stress enough about my kids crossing the street without looking or riding bikes without helmets. It would be incredibly hard to handle all of the normal parental concerns coupled with having to examine food ingredients on a constant basis.
Children with nut allergies want to be included just like everyone else. My friend on the West Coast has kids that go to a great charter school. The only complaint I’ve ever heard from her is that the school is not peanut free. They have students with food allergies, and so the school provides them with an “allergy table” at lunch. When I heard this, my eyes got watery. Seriously, if you have an allergy you have to sit in one certain spot and can’t be by your friends? Even worse, you’re seated at the “sick table” because some little kids don’t understand allergies or the polite way to label things. The whole situation is heartbreaking.
Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of people suffering from tree nut allergies do not outgrow them. Therefore it’s nice to see more schools, clubs, churches, and public places going nut free. It’s also important to keep in mind that while parents are struggling to keep their allergy-ridden children safeguarded, those kids are also struggling. From a very young age, they must be mindful to keep safe snacks on hand and sanitize their surroundings. As they grow older, they need to counteract bullying and find safe atmospheres.
I will get off my soapbox now, but seriously, the struggle is very real for parents and children when it comes to food allergies. My family does not personally suffer from it, but we do see how it affects others. We can help by listening to their concerns and following some simple instructions. Hmmm…listening and following directions, it sounds like something every parent says and would be glad to do. Plus it will open your eyes and taste-buds to new snack options.
This article was previously published on Familyfootnote.com