How to Cope When Your Child Has Food Allergies



It doesn’t matter how old your kid is when you find out he has food allergies, the first thing that goes through your head is; he’s never going to have a normal life.

I know it sounds melodramatic – to you maybe, if your kid doesn’t have food allergies. But to me, when my son was nine months old and I was told that seven different foods could kill him, I assure you, I did not think I was being overly dramatic.

When the nurse walked in, all matter-of-fact, and handed me these things I’d heard of but never actually seen; epi-pens, I thought “But they’ve always been for other people’s kids.” The panic set in. He could eat something that could kill him, and it’s my responsibility to save his life? ARE YOU CRAZY?! This is scarier than the day you sent me home with him when he was 48 hours old and said, you can do it!

Here’s a no nonsense list of how to get over the fear…

1. Get a grip. It doesn’t matter what you are feeling on the inside, you need to at least appear to be strong for your child. Shake yourself if you need to, yell at yourself in the mirror, whatever you have to do but get over it.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

2. Realize this is not about you. You are responsible for the life of your child, and if it means no more peanut butter in the house, it doesn’t matter how much you love peanut butter. There is no more peanut butter in the house!

3. This is not about your husband either. You are not alone in insuring your child’s safety. It doesn’t matter if your husband’s favorite cereal is Honey Nut Cheerios, and he PROMISES he’ll be really careful. Tell him to keep it at work and if you find it in the house it’s going in the garbage.

4. Your house needs to be the one place you know your child is safe. Unless you want to label every single food item in the house, you need to be able to tell a babysitter/nanny/grandparent everything in this house is safe for my child to eat. You also need to make it clear that babysitter/nanny/grandparent can not bring any food into the house.

5. Do NOT cheat. You MAY NOT buy food that is processed in a facility that also processes (insert allergen here). The problem with that unclear labelling is not that there might be mild contamination in every M&M. The problem is your child might get the one M&M in one million that has a peanut in it. And while you are cleaning the kitchen thinking nothing of it. Your child is in the other room turning purple and going in to anaphylaxis.

6. Get over your shyness. You have to be OK with being the mom who asks what the ingredients are in the cake/pizza/bread at the birthday party. You have to be OK with saying, I will be bringing my son’s own food/cake/snacks.

7. You are your child’s only advocate with play-dates. You are now going to have to train every mom you come in contact with how to use an epi-pen, and you are going to have to do it with a smile and confidence. Do not ambush a mother with this information when you drop your child off. Talk it over when you make the play-date and make sure she feels like she can handle it. The play-date can always be at your house. NEVER let your child have a play-date without leaving Benadryl and epi-pens with the mother. Explain how to use them and what to look for. Let the mother know what your child can and cannot eat. If necessary bring your own snacks.

8. You are your child’s only advocate in school/classes/camp. You must speak out. You must tell the administration, teachers and nurses all about your child’s food allergies. You must push for an allergen free classroom. It is not acceptable that the allergens be allowed in the classroom no matter the occasion and you have to put your foot down. You must be an active part of your child’s life in school to insure his safety.

9. You are your child’s only advocate with doctors. Do NOT let your pediatrician treat your child’s food allergies. Demand a referral to a pediatric allergist. Do your research, ask around, you are not the only mom of a kid with food allergies. Find the very best allergist and even if he’s a little farther than the so-so one, go those extra miles. If you advocate for your child and do the research, it is possible that you may know more than your pediatrician does about food allergies.  Do not be afraid to change doctors. Your doctor works for you, if you are not happy with the treatment or feedback or availability then find a new doctor!

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

10. Use the resources available to you. There are so many resources out there for kids with food allergies now! There is a very large national group, there are smaller local support groups. Use the resources, educate yourself. Get to the point where you feel so confident that you know even if there is a reaction, you can handle it.

You are strong, dammit. You’re a mother for pete’s sake! You can do this. Just remember to leave the drama at home. The chances of your child developing self-esteem issues because of food allergies is relatively high. If you do not do your job, and be the best advocate you can be, the chance that your child will not want to carry epi-pens when he gets older because he is embarrassed is also very high.

Take a deep breath, start now and you will be amazed. In a few years someone will say to you “Isn’t it hard to deal with all of those food allergies?” And you’ll say “Nope, it is what it is, it’s a part of how we live everyday.”


The Scary Mommy Community is built on support. If your comment doesn't add to the conversation in a positive or constructive way, please rethink submitting it. Basically? Don't be a dick, please.

  1. Frankie Laursen says

    These are great tips. My children do not have any food allergies, but some of their friends do.

    I was so sad to read about the 13-year old Sacramento, CA girl who died recently from eating a small amount of peanuts in a Rice Krispie.

    My son’s school is not peanut-free. I usually pack a PBJ for him. Now I wonder whether I shouldn’t, just in case. What would you recommend?

    Show Replies
    • JenKehl says

      Thank you! We do sunbutter at our house. I’m not going to lie and say it tastes exactly like peanut butter, but it is darn close. You might try it. At the very least, maybe send your son with some wet wipe singles so he can really be sure all of the sticky peanut butter is off of his hands and face.

      Show Replies
    • The Atomic Mom says

      I have a peanut/tree nut allergic son. Our school is also not peanut/treenut free. It scares me to death, but his teachers know, and they have a no sharing policy and he is still young enough that they have a monitor with his class at snack time. As for what to do…does your child have a peanut allergic friend he would like to sit with or play with? Is there a peanut allergic child in the classroom? Those are some of the things you need to consider when sending a PB&J. Because if the answer is yes, I would tell you to stop sending the PB&J. Ask the teacher, ask the nurse, ask the principal and then make the decision if there are peanut./treenut allergic kids in close contact with your child. You can never be too careful. There are plenty of peanut free lunch options that are not expensive or too difficult. Just a few clicks on the google and you will find a wealth of information. My favorite peanut/treenut free lunch box blog is The Keeley McGuire Blog.

      Show Replies
    • Kathleen says

      One thing that many people don’t realize about certain food allergies (and I had no clue about this until my son ended up having an allergy) is that they don’t necessarily have to ingest the food to have a reaction. They don’t even need to touch it. Sometimes, the smell alone can cause a very sensitive person to have a life-threatening reaction. I know this is true of peanut allergies. My son has had reactions simply from walking past a table that had a jar of peanut butter on it. Not every person with a peanut allergy is that sensitive and even my son is not consistently that sensitive.

      Because you don’t know what sort of allergies are present around your son, and your school hasn’t required you to stop sending PBJ, I would keep doing what you’re doing but I did like the comment about including wipes and/or instructing your child to wash his hands after eating. It is the responsibility of the parent of the allergic child to protect that child and if that child is ultra sensitive then special steps should be taken or the child should be sent to a school with an allergen free lunch room. I don’t feel that everyone else should have to change because of my son’s allergy. It’s something he and I will have to deal with. (I do make exceptions to this in closed environments like airplanes where he has nowhere else to go.)

      Show Replies
      • Alison says

        I’m so curious since you mentioned airplanes – I have an allergic kids too, (eggs, peanuts, tree nuts) and I have no idea how to handle air travel. If yours is super sensitive – what kind of advocacy can you do to encourage a safe space in that environment?

        Show Replies
        • Pam says

          To answer the airplane question, when we flew to Florida we called the airline (Southwest) well in advance to let them know. They did not serve any peanuts/nuts on our flight, and they also made an announcement to all passengers that someone on the flight had a severe peanut allergy and to please refrain from eating nuts. We still brought his snacks, but at least this way there weren’t peanuts and peanut wrappers all over the place. I think most airlines would accommodate?

          Show Replies
        • Mary says

          My 12 yr. old DD is allergic to peanuts. Fortunately she hasn’t had anaphylaxis (yet). She flew for the second time last month. Last year we flew Southwest. They let us preboard and I could wipe down the seat, armrest and tray. They announced there was a peanut allergy on the flight and an alternate snack would be served.
          This month we flew Delta. We did not get to preboard but in the announcement they asked that passengers refrain from eating peanut products. We also received both pretzels and cookies.
          We did get a letter from her physician each time authorizing the Epipen on each flight. But no one even mentioned it or asked for it during security.

          Show Replies
        • Kathleen says

          What Pam said. I alert the airline in advance and then they won’t serve peanuts that flight and they do make an announcement as well. The only one I’ve flown with is Southwest also but I’m sure other airlines would do the same. They don’t want someone going into shock at 30k feet any more than you do.

          Show Replies
        • Theresa says

          Sadly, the number of airlines who accommodate passengers with nut allergy (Southwest, Jetblue, Delta) are way less than the number of airlines who do not. Furthermore, airline policies vary widely on how to handle passengers with nut allergy.

          My 6-year old son has severe nut/tree nut allergy (in addition to dairy and seafood). We usually travel 3 to 4 times a year, usually out-of-country, so the longest leg of our flights can be anywhere from 6 to as much as 15 hours. Unfortunately, although the airline we use often don’t serve peanuts they don’t create a buffer-zone for nut-allergic passengers. Here are my suggestions based on my experience:

          1) Try to pre-board so you can wipe the space (especially the tray) around your child’s seat. If it’s a short flight, try to get on the first flight out because planes don’t usually get vacuumed until after its last flight of the day.

          2) If the carpets cleanliness is questionable and the airline happens to provide a blanket use that to cover the floor and the space under the seat in front you. I do that regardless of the condition of the carpet since that’s where I stow my son’s carry-on luggage (where we keep his snacks and activity books).

          3) Bring enough food/snack to last the duration of your flight. Flights attendants won’t be able to tell you with absolute certainty whether the food they’re serving has no nuts (or dairy) since they don’t have the ingredients information on-board.

          4) BRING AS MUCH EPI-PEN AS YOU CAN. I always have at least 6 on my carry-on, in addition to Benadryl. Make sure you also have your child’s Anaphylaxis Action Plan with you.

          5) Bring a mask (the type they hand out at the doctor’s office for people to wear if they have a cough). If you explain your child’s condition most people won’t mind waiting until after they deplane to enjoy the peanut snack that they brought on-board. However, some people might feel that their “rights” are more important that the well-being of a fellow passenger so they might politely refuse your request. This is of course an extreme scenario but if you happen to read the discussion boards or comments posted on some articles online you’ll be surprised at how insensitive/uncaring some people can be. Thankfully we’ve never had an issue like this and have never found the need for my son to use a mask during a flight.

          6) If you’re trying to decide which airline to book for a flight this link might help. It has a list of major airlines and their policy regarding food allergies :

          Show Replies
      • Jen says

        Kathleen, there’s something else. When I fly with my son I bring 8 epi-pens. I know that sounds excessive, but, one epi-pen injection only buys you 15 minutes for a severe reaction. It would take much longer than that for a plane to make an emergency landing. I say better safe than sorry.

        Show Replies
      • says

        I was shocked when I found out what is causing all these food allergies. A friend’s daughter has a serious fish allergy. If she smells fish cooking, it means a hospital trip. The epi pen will help get her there maybe. You can read the regulations for yourself. Pharmaceutical companies can “self-affirm” GRAS (generally recognized as safe) ingredients. Basically, they decide something like refined GMO soy oil should be GRAS. They do one study, have some experts review it, then they are free to use it without submitting anything to the government and it becomes a protected trade secret. How can the FDA protect the public when even they don’t know what is in pharmaceutical products?

        Show Replies
    • Ann says

      As much as I sympathize with the plight of food-allergic people and their parents, I ABSOLUTELY OBJECT to #8: “You must push for an allergen free classroom. It is not acceptable that the allergens be allowed in the classroom no matter the occasion and you have to put your foot down.” NO WAY. Sorry, Parents of Allergic Kids, it is YOUR job to teach your kids not to eat stuff they are allergic to. I don’t know where the concept of personal responsibility disappeared to in our culture, but it’s time for it to come back.

      Certainly make the admins/nurses/teachers aware of their allergies, of course. But to expect everyone else to adjust their entire lives and their kids’ diets around YOUR kids’ allergies? I don’t support that. I have and will always follow the diet that is right for my family including in my childrens’ school lunches and snacks.

      It is way overstepping your boundaries to expect me to accommodate the needs of a minority of schoolchildren, who may or may not even come into contact with my kid. And even if they did, it is your responsibility and theirs to protect them from their own allergies. Even if an entire school did keep these foods away from your child, the rest of the world isn’t going to.

      In the articles’ own words, “You must be an active part of your child’s life in school to insure his safety.” Meaning, YOU. NOT me. Not my kids. YOU.

      I am so over being expected to adjust my family’s life around every minority in the entire world. If you are the minority you adjust to the majority, that’s how this shit works- or you take care of your special needs on your own. I am not screwing with my kids’ diet over yours any more than I will support a boy who “gender identifies” as a girl in my daughters’ locker room.

      Show Replies
      • RED_JOHN says

        Do you have any idea how absolutely ignorant and hateful you sound? Since when are people with life threatening allergies a minority? Where does it say in the Constitution that your kid has the right to eat peanut butter? How do you process the fact that killing someone is less important than your kid eating a snickers? Where do such self absorbed people like you come from, must be New York, or the people’s republic of California.

        Show Replies
      • Caroline says

        Ann, since when your shallow need of peanut butter is more mportant than a child’s life? Your freedom ends where other’s begin. I certainly do not with you or your kids to have a life threatening allegy, but at the same time I wish because you would THEN understand how stupid, shallow and mostly ignorant you sound.

        Show Replies
      • Allergy Mom says

        I have a son with a contact milk/nut allergy, but I agree with most of what this person is saying. I don’t believe that someone should push for allergen free classrooms unless the allergy is contact or airborne. I just teach my kid to deal with his allergies, because that is what he will have to do for the rest of his life.

        My son was diagnosed at 6 months, and it hasn’t been easy. Playgrounds are tough, because you never know what the kid who used the monkey bars before my son ate for breakfast, or school events where they serve ice cream as a treat for the kids. He has learned to go to birthday parties and sit at the end of the table after I discreetly wipe it down for him. He always tries to put a bit of space between himself and the people eating around him at lunch at school. He is very conscious of his body and cautious to alert an adult if he starts to feel like an attack might come on. It is not easy training an toddler to do these things, but it is my responsibility to teach him how to live.

        Now that he is in school, I have a whole new set of issues to deal with, but we try to make it as easy as we can for the other parents and kids. I attend every celebration in class. He has been trained to never take food from anyone other than his parents. Every shirt he has is tagged with my cell number and and what his allergies are.

        He can’t go to drop off play dates until I feel that he is mature enough to epi pen himself in an emergency situation.
        By the way I think it is ridiculous to drop off your child who has a severe allergy to some random parent and expect them to epi pen your child in an emergency situation.
        If you have a child with a severe allergy, suck it up and teach your child how to deal with it, and take the responsibility of having to be with your child until they can deal with it. Don’t inconvenience other parents unless it is absolutely necessary.
        I cannot tell you how many times I have dealt with parents whose kids have minor allergies and they blow it up into a cause because they don’t want their kid to feel “left out”.
        Even worse are those parents that don’t tell their child about their allergy, but want everyone else in the classroom to accommodate their kids allergy like some messed up secret.
        It is those parents that make it so hard for the parents whose kids have severe allergies to deal with the general public.
        Every year I have to stand up during “parent night” at school and explain to the other parents about my son’s allergies. The teacher requests this of me, but I feel like it is fruitless, because a lot of parents feel the same way that this one does, but doesn’t want to say it.
        I’m fine with that, but all I can say is that when your kid kills another kid because you packed them a peanut butter sandwich, don’t complain about the therapy bills and the fact that you’ll have to move because your kid will never bounce back from killing a kid. Trust me your community is going to villianize you and your kid for being the jerks who would rather kill a kid than give up their right to eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch.

        Show Replies
  2. MILF Runner says

    We face this regularly at our school, though my own kids don’t have life-threatening allergies. What I would have loved (and asked for from the parents but never got!) would be a list of the allergic kids’ favorite snacks and how the parents have successfully worked around stuff like birthday cakes, etc. Yes, we could all do the research, but the experienced parents know specifically (and generally) what works for their kid. I have a whole lot of food intolerances…which sucks but they aren’t deadly…the research I have to do to eat ‘safely’ is huge and I am always happy to share it.

    This is a great post.

    Show Replies
    • JenKehl says

      Thanks! And I completely agree. I do think it’s the school’s job to ask the parents of allergic kids to provide that information. I’m sure if asked, they’d be happy too.

      Show Replies
  3. Leslie Marin - The Pioneer Mom says

    Wonderful info! The number one thing is to keep your child safe. It’s amazing how many of our sacrifices that are necessary for the safety of our little ones. Think of how they feel about not having something most others can have. And you are 100% Spot on about being the best advocate you can for your child! Nicely done!

    Show Replies
  4. CaffeineJunkie says

    Great article and I can totally relate to this cause if you just substitute food alergies for Type 1 Diabetes, it’s basically the same thing. All of it applies. Nearly 4 years into this now, I am still that helicopter parent at social outings, checking everything he eats, monitoring him for signs of low blood sugar etc, and absolutely I insist on having the nutritional info on everything. I apologize for none of it cause it’s my job as a Mom to keep him alive and well, first and foremost. Kuddos to all you moms who do deal with food allergies. I get it. I so get it.

    Show Replies
  5. therobynnest says

    I’ve read that cross-contamination from foods processed on the same equipment is as high as 15-20%. Definitely not one in a million, unfortunately. And still, I was guilty of allowing it.

    This is all great advice. My pediatrician (as well as the first allergist we saw) was incompetent when it came to helping us.

    My advice would be to only go to the best doctor in a 50 mile radius of your home. Research it, ask everyone. There are a lot of quacks out there.

    Show Replies
  6. Paula Hafner says

    I just want to add that if your child has a less common allergy, be prepared to be met with disbelief even from doctors. My daughter is highly allergic to red food dyes (she has to carry epi-pens) and has a milder allergy to several of the blue and yellow dyes. It was proven through allergy testing. We had to see a different allergist after she turned 18. This one didn’t believe anyone could be “that allergic to a food dye” until they saw the testing paperwork. Needless to say, we never went to them again.

    Show Replies
    • Christina says

      I had to go to the ER last year for an allergic reaction to Red Dye #3, and my mother told me that when I was a child I had an allergy to Red Dye #1. I followed up with an allergist and he told me they could not test for red dye allergies! I guess I should be following up with another allergist!

      Show Replies
      • Paula Hafner says

        Our family doctor wrote up a special request to the allergist to have her tested for a food dye allergy. She ate some cinnamon candy at 14 and had a bad reaction. I finally narrowed it down to it being the dye. It’s not commonly tested without a doctor’s orders.

        Show Replies
    • The Atomic Mom says

      I have a friend who is Red Dye #40 allergic…so I believe you. I also have another friend with a son who is allergic to carrots. Yes, plain old carrots. Which is why I always say, if you can put it in your mouth, you can be allergic to it.

      Show Replies
    • JenKehl says

      And all of this is why I say, if you don’t like what you hear from your doctor. GO FIND A NEW ONE!
      I didn’t write about this, but my son is also allergic to extreme heat and extreme cold, we live in the midwest so we have both. Our pediatrician poo pooed it. Needless to say, we moved on and found out they are both real conditions!

      Show Replies
    • JOanna Bateman says

      I need to know who to take my kid to to be tested for food dye allergys!!! I know she is allergic just not confirmed!! who did you go to how did you find out?

      Show Replies
  7. Debbie says

    These are great points you make. I have one that can’t have many dairy products. She has out grown some of it. She was very small when she was born and that first year they kept telling me that her digestive system was in-mature.
    When she was 10 months old she got very sick, went from 18 pounds to 13 pounds in less than 24 hours do to vomiting and diarrhea. Was in the hospital for 10 days.

    Know body could tell me what was really wrong with her. Finally I came upon an article about food allergies. Took her to allergy doctor and finally at a year and half got her on the right track.
    When she was in school I always left treats with her teach for when there was birthdays etc.
    You are right you have to be strong and stick up for your child.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Show Replies
  8. Dietcokeaddict says

    Even common food allergies can be disbelieved by people, my son is allergic to soy and dairy and while dr believe this family and friends do not. And if they believe soy and dairy can cause issues they feel that he only gets an upset stomach not breathing issue, wich has happened.

    Show Replies
  9. Janine Huldie says

    This is a great post Jen and I don’t have a child with a food allergy per say, but I do completely agree that for most things (doctors and schools included), we are our child’s advocate and it is so important to remember this for whatever issues they may have or need us to convey. Thank you so much for sharing and seriously this is helpful on so many levels to many, if not all parents!

    Show Replies

Load More Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>