9 Exhausting Things About Parenting Kids With Food Allergies

by Katie Baran
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Having kids with food allergies adds a layer of stress to daily life. After my daughter had her first reaction, I went from being a helicopter mom (the kind that hovers pleasantly over a scenic landscape) to a Black Hawk. Danger lurks around every corner and this chopper is ready for it. But the anxiety takes its toll, both on me and those around me. Here are a few things that keep food allergy moms up at night:

1. Food is as dangerous as a Tide pod.

Yep, food is toxic to our kids. One bite of the wrong thing can kill them. But food doesn’t come with bright warning labels, thoughtful PSA’s, or child-proof containers. I’ve considered buying “poison” stickers for the hummus but didn’t want the babysitter to think I was a freak.

2. Food is everywhere.

I can control what’s in my kitchen but that’s about it. Since I want my kids to be part of society, I’m the mom poring over food labels at friends’ houses, calling bakeries at birthday parties, and wiping down airplane trays and arm rests. A rogue sesame seed or trace of peanut dust could mean a trip to the ER.

3. Birthday parties can be lonely.

Despite my best attempts to remember an allergy-safe treat from home, we often run out the door late and empty-handed (except for a gift, of course). If there’s a hint of doubt about the cake’s safety, my daughter watches her friends eat while I serve myself a plate of mom guilt and promise her a treat on the way home.

4. Ice cream shops are landmines.

A carefree trip to the ice cream parlor is a childhood rite of passage. For kids with food allergies, it’s risky if not completely off-limits. Some places are better than others at handling allergies, but safety comes down to the person doing the scooping. Are you sure you sanitized the spoon, random high-schooler? Were the sprinkles definitely from a new box? No cones please.

5. Going out to eat is like skydiving.

Ordering food at a restaurant requires a huge leap of faith. It means putting my children’s lives in the hands of the staff and hoping nobody drops the ball. “Will this dish hurt my kid? Can you double-check? Ok, we’ll try it. Here’s a list of their allergies, please tell everyone within 2 blocks of the kitchen.” Annnd jump.

6. Halloween is a mindf**k.

Halloween is the one day of the year when my kids go door-to-door collecting the things I spend the other 364 days keeping them away from. Since my kids are little, I covertly swap out their loot for nut-free alternatives and everyone’s happy (and safe). But one day they’ll realize that, unlike their friends, they can’t mindlessly eat their candy along the way.

7. School snacks are scary.

Now that many schools are nut-free, there’s more room for error when parents send in classroom snacks. Whether homemade birthday cupcakes or store-bought pretzels, the ingredients aren’t always scrutinized (or read?) before the food makes it into the classroom. Attention mom from my daughter’s preschool class: our school is nut-free, but the almond crackers you sent in are not because an almond is a nut.

8. Travel is tricky.

Taking kids on airplanes is never easy, but throw in the possibility of an allergic reaction and you have a new fear of flying. Southwest’s recent decision to ban peanuts may be controversial but it will save lives. I’ve been on flights (ahem, United) where the flight attendants refused to mention my daughter’s nut allergy to nearby passengers. If nothing else, it’s nice to know that the guy in 12C is dead set on eating his Cracker Jacks so we can move far away from him.

9. Dinner invites make us bonkers.

It’s sooo nice of you to make us dinner, really! But you don’t have to. My kids have allergies, so this won’t be a normal or relaxing experience for either of us because you could accidentally kill my kid. I’ll be hovering over you, reading labels and checking to make sure you washed your hands and countertops. It’s worse if this is a holiday and you did the cooking before I got there. Then I’ll be digging through your trash looking for the packaging. We’ll probably show up with our own food anyway so please don’t be offended. But thanks! I’ll bring the wine.