10 Things to Know About Parenting a Child with Food Allergies


We all know that we parent best when we parent together. So I’m providing the below perspectives on parenting a child with food allergies so all of us can better understand what the collective we is all about and keep all of our kids — your kids and my kids — happy, healthy, supported, loved and safe.

1. As the parent of a child with food allergies, it makes us crazy when people make any sort of assumption about food allergies other than this one assumption — a food allergy is a life-threatening condition that causes children to stop. breathing. immediately. It’s very real… and it’s very scary.

2. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we want you to know that this is not a lifestyle choice. While it’s admirable that some people choose to eat healthy and be aware of the ingredients in their food, we aren’t standing in the grocery store aisle reading the label on everything that goes into our cart as a hobby. We’re studying those ingredients to make sure there’s not an obscure ingredient that could kill our children. (Did you know that caramel coloring can contain dairy? Are you familiar with the difference between sodium lactate and potassium lactate?)

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3. As the parent of a child with food allergies, there is not a playdate or school activity that our child will attend without us having a discussion with the hosting parent, event chaperone or teacher first. Every event my child has ever participated in (ever!) from t-ball to school to summer camps has always been preempted with a medical conversation first. We know we’re perceived as high-maintenance parents. And we feel badly about that because the level of diligence we’re forced to have about the subject of food allergies may not be consistent with the level of diligence our personalities would normally reflect.

4. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we have laid awake at night, wondering if we’ll be able to spot the signs of our child’s throat closing. We’ve been told that anaphylaxis can happen in less than two minutes, so not only do we wonder if we’ll be able to identify this emergency, we wonder if our child’s teacher, babysitter, grandparent, recess monitor, friend or coach will know when our child can’t breathe.

5. As a parent of a child with food allergies, we have laid awake at night, wondering if our child will ever be able to attend a keg party in college or share a random kiss. And if he does, who will carry his epi-pen?

6. Speaking of which, as the parent of a child with food allergies, we leave the house remembering the basics like phone, wallets, keys — and epi-pens. We know not to leave them in a car that is too hot or too cold and we always carry at least two, if not seven. Even with insurance, they are $25 a pop, so we treat them with the utmost respect for the year that we have them before they expire. But that’s all ok, because those little devices carrying a shot of adrenaline could save our child, or at least sustain them, until the ambulance arrives.

7. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we sit outside every birthday party or sports practice while other parents leave.

8. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we balance the emotional impact of being a helicopter parent against the medical threat of having our child go into anaphylaxis when we’re not around. We feel guilty and scared of both.

9. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we have never relaxed, sat back and actually enjoyed or tasted a meal in a restaurant. Never. You see, we spend those meals playing and replaying the emergency plan in our head while quietly observing our child’s breathing as he enjoys his meal.

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10. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we regularly attend medical appointments in big time children’s hospitals where we can’t help but see other patients and deeply suffering families. And upon this realization, we are humbled and grateful and reminded of just how fortunate we are that we are the parents of a child with only food allergies. While our child has a life-threatening medical condition, it is manageable. And as long as we have help from you and others in managing it, our child is alive — and that’s really something!

So yes, living with a constant threat to his life is quite a big weight for my 9-year-old son to carry on his small shoulders. And he carries that weight pretty well. But he will never carry that weight alone. As his mother I carry it, just as his father carries it. His sisters carry it and his grandparents carry it. His aunts, uncles, cousins and friends carry it. And just by reading this, you too have lightened his load. So thank you for reading. Thank you for taking a moment to try to understand.   I hope you’ll keep this article in mind when you’re sitting in the next back-to-school meeting and the topic of food comes up so we can all work together to keep all of our children safe.

About the writer


Carissa is a happy, grateful, sometimes funny and often times tired mother of four (three living) shuttling a minivan around the Chicago suburbs and clinging to just enough irreverence to stay sane. Her work is a part of the upcoming book "Return To Zero" being released in May 2014. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter @CarissaK and her blog, www.carissak.com.


Dana 2 weeks ago

Our 4th child was diagnosed as a baby with peanut allergy and possible tree nuts and just getting to the age of eating anything and everything she finds. So scary and new to us! And fyi, our epi-pens were WAY more expensive!

Amy 2 months ago

Well said! I can relate to every single one of these points.

Val 3 months ago

Thank you for writing this. We just found out that our daughter has food allergies, and you’ve put into concrete words the fears that have been swirling around my head. Also, just by reading this I’ve found out that I’ve been too lax about how to store our epipens – that will change! And carrying more that one at a time is important! Also, no time to get back to the car in the event of a reaction. I need to have them on my person! So thank you for this. It’s really helpful.

Emma 1 year ago

Thanks for this great article, I will be sharing it with friends and family. My son has multiple allergies and had his first anaphylactic reaction earlier this year. Your article is exactly how I feel all the time and you’ve captured it perfectly.

Franki 2 years ago

This is just perfect!!!!!

Sandy 2 years ago

If I am told that a child has food allergies I assume they are severe and life threatening, because that is the only course that makes sense.

However, as the parent of a child who has severe tree allergies, I want to alert parents that birch pollen allergies can cause a false positive for peanut butter on allergy tests. My daughter ate peanut butter without problems before she tested allergic to it, so I knew something was up, but many children are diagnosed so early in life they’ve never eaten peanut butter, and once they have the diagnosis they’re never exposed to it. Obviously safety comes first, but additional testing might be worthwhile if your child also has severe tree allergies.

sam chamblin 2 years ago

Your article hits how I feel everyday. My family can’t even be bothered to care and try to cure me and even try to poison me with it. I wish people could feel how for fell for one day. As an adult I feel so alone I can’t imagine how a child feels.

Jamie Riley 2 years ago

Well written! I wish I could carry this around with me & hand it out to everyone who comes in contact with my daughter!I feel like we live the same life! My husband & I feel all alone in this battle of allergies sometimes. My 2 year old daughter is allergic to whey, casein & beef. No one in either family have allergies to food so when it happened I was a wreck. My family is wonderful about it & they try so hard, but others just don’t get it. The only way I can explain it to people anymore (b/c I am so tired of telling the same people the same thing) is that if you give her something to eat with that ingredient she could die, plain & simple. It sounds horrible, but it is the truth. I already had to give her an epi-pen shot & rush her to the ER & I NEVER EVER want to do that again or feel like I was about to lose my daughter. We have to watch her every move when she is at a party or just out in general. She is at that stage where she will eat something off the floor. UGH! It is exhausting

Erica Kestenbaum Rosenfeld 2 years ago

So many of my Facebook friends (who have zero connection to you!) have shared this – I love when that happens!

Jen Mooney Dimler 2 years ago

I get the focus on food allergies, but why can’t we just say, “allergies?” There are some pretty serious allergies out there that have nothing to do with food!

    achemgee 2 years ago

    It’s Food Allergy Awareness Week. This post is about food allergies. Why would she be talking about other allergies? And of course she knows there are other allergies but you’d be hard pressed to find allergies other than food allergies that could kill a person within 2 minutes just by ingesting a tiny bit of food protein. Food is everywhere. Peanuts, tree nuts, dairy etc-they are all around and often invisible-hidden in a granola bar or a cookie, for instance. No one is denying there are other deadly allergies but c’mon-a penicillin allergy isn’t like a peanut allergy. You don’t mistakenly eat penicillin and die at a children’s birthday party. I grew up with a lot of non-food allergies (a deadly penicillin allergy being one of them) and my life was nowhere near as difficult as my daughter’s will be. I know because I’m in charge of her life right now. I can compare the two. The peanut allergy is much, much worse. I’d rather she have one of those other ones you’re talking about any day.

Kate Rawstron 2 years ago

Thank you for this!!

Katrina Goodwin 2 years ago

Thank you for this Xx Reminds us allergy Mums that there are others out there feeling the same way and dealing with the same constant stresses of keeping our babies safe.

Katie Ní Dhubhcháin 2 years ago

Spot on!

Julie St Jean Herning 2 years ago

Thank you.

Kristy Lowe 2 years ago

Portrays life with food allergies so perfectly. Thanks for posting.

Naomi N Albert 2 years ago

Thankfully my daughters outgrew their food allergies. It’s scary how many people have food allergies now days. It feels like it keeps increasing.

Lisa 2 years ago

You hit it right on the button. Great article!

In NZ epipens cost around $175 each. Some families struggle with this cost and may not be able to afford more than one. It’s a huge cost when they last up to one year. I’ve had a couple that only had 6 months left on them but had no other choice at the time.

We’re currently petitioning our government to support a subsidy so all families and individuals with allergies can afford at least one single epipen.

Advocates each and every one of us eh.

Mairead Walpole 2 years ago

My sons have no allergies but many of their friends do – some mild and some severe. I am stunned by what the kids’ parents go through. And am touched by the heartfelt gratitude when I arrange to have allergen free food or drink at my kid’s birthday parties so that their children feel included. And when the occasional mom gets offended that I would presume to try to make accommodations for her child with an allergy (it has happened) I let it go and don’t get upset. I’ve seen a friend’s struggle to switch her whole families eating habits because of a life-threatening allergy. In that mom’s shoes, I’d be just as fierce.

Vikki Love 2 years ago

I thankfully outgrew my food allergies. I am being very cautious introducing foods to my son. I only wish I had the support of others, rather than them sneaking him food behind my back. I guess since they didn’t live it, they don’t understand the dangers and extra effort to avoid trigger foods. Very frustrating.

Jennifer Wilkerson Lamb 2 years ago

My son has EE which affects his esophagus and is caused by food allergies. It causes his esophagus to swell and food gets stuck. He had a pork, dairy, fruit and beef allergy and we get looked at like we are nuts! Some of his allergies might be “odd” but very real and scary especially when we had an emergency food removal surgery!

Kari Burns 2 years ago

One of my twins has a few food allergies. She is not even 14 months so hoping she will grow out of them but thinking about what we both will have to deal with if she doesn’t is scary. Peanuts and egg whites are two big ones for her. Hard to stay away from those all together.

Roshni 2 years ago

As a mom to 2 children without allergies, I can only empathize and promise not to make silly and potentially dangerous assumptions. One of my son’s friends has severe peanut allergy and my son scolded me for packing him a granola bar one day – one which said that it may contain peanuts and almonds. Luckily, he didn’t open it and I was truly humbled that day.

Heather McAuslan 2 years ago


Tracy Hartman Darmofal 2 years ago

Nicely said thank you….we are into year one w peanut and nut allergy and explaining the severity of it to family members is no fun

Annie Morais Boudreau 2 years ago

as an adult parent with a food allergy, i agree 100% with everything you just said! my wish is that the guilt trip would stop… at 42, they still affect me emotionnally… imagine a child :(

Erin Weston 2 years ago


Angie 2 years ago

I cried while reading your article. You took the words right out of my mouth. It is a terrifying feeling knowing they can be exposed at anytime! Thank you for sharing

Kim White 2 years ago

Very well written! Thank you!

Ainsley Kootchin 2 years ago

I love that lunchbox. And we are fortunate that our daughter has no allergies.

Sandra Hurdis Finigan 2 years ago

Wonderfully written. I was just talking today with the mother of my sons friend. Her son has a severe peanut allergy. I told her that we have talked about the epi pen and what to do if there is an emergency on the playground or wherever with her son. There is a new tv ad out that explains the epi pen in basic terms “blue to the sky, orange to the thigh”. If anything happens to my sons friend at least one kid will know what to do. She was very grateful that we have taken that time. These boys are 5 but it is never too early to learn just in case. And a child’s life is way more important than being able to send peanut butter to the school.

Laura Freeman Myers 2 years ago

I don’t have a kid with food allergies but I always ask before I offer anything.

Karen Hollenbach Veo 2 years ago


Ashley Crtalic 2 years ago

So, so good.

Tiffany Sears 2 years ago

These are great.

Toni 2 years ago

Yes to all of the above. However, my oldest peanut-allergic child is almost 17, and my vigilance has served him well. He monitors his own food and health independently now. But I will never forget standing in the pre-school hallway, arguing with the mom who was insistent that YES, my son could have the plain M&Ms. Grrrrrr.

Stephanie Meyer James 2 years ago


Mom Off Meth 2 years ago

Amen. My son has an extremely severe peanut allergy. He’s in middle-school now and blessed with a very picky palate. So I don’t worry about what he is going to eat, because he is so picky. He breaks out in hives just from breathing in the fumes of peanuts. But when he was in elementary school, people were pissed that they weren’t going to sell PB&J in the bag lunch. I asked if they would like me to put asbestos in the rooms? Because peanuts are poison to us. Anyway, thanks for this post.

Aundrea 2 years ago

You have so eloquently taken the words right out of my mouth! My daughter, who has had multiple life threatening food allergies, but is now down to peanuts and tree nuts (still scary as heck!), is almost 8 years old. I feel like I have walked in your shoes and probably spoken the exact same words as you have to teachers, parents and coaches. It seems like you really have to drive home the point that your child’s allergies are SERIOUS. Over the years I have noticed that most parents, teachers and coaches have taken to heart my words of warning. I am glad to say that most parents now even show me the labels to all foods that they will be having at a birthday party before I have to ask. I have felt a bit neurotic these past almost 8 years, but I feel like I have had to be. I will definitely share your post in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week.

Kari 2 years ago

I think you did a great job. I do think you should change your figure about the cost of epi pen – I know tons of people who pay way more then $25 – we have to pay the whole $280 and have to have about 4 sets! Still cheaper than an ambulance!

Dana 2 years ago

This is a great and very important post. As a mom to a child with celiac (not an allergy but an autoimmune disorder) we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy monitoring our daughter’s food (she can’t eat gluten), thinking about food, worrying about food. But since my child’s ailment is not life threatening I don’t have the intense pressure of food allergy families – but I’m friends with people who do, and I witness their vigilance and see how hard it can be. Every parent and teacher and person can help those families simply by having compassion and an awareness of the seriousness involved. Articles like these help do just that.


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