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 and it is hearing that someone we know is allergic to them. I am lucky to have three kids that can eat PB&J whenever they want. However, I know a few families that do not have this type of luxury. Hearing their stories and listening to the constant worry that surrounds their everyday life has made me take notice and get a lot 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 nut allergy? Well it is an option, but it takes a lot of preparation and precaution. Even with strong due diligence, a person in this situation can never truly relax. My friend says they have had good success with Delta because they allow them to pre-board. This airline will also make an announcement over the loudspeaker and is very good about sanitizing. But still, you can’t let your guard down and must always carry an EpiPen. Think about all of the headaches parents go through when it comes to taking kids on an airplane…and then upgrade that headache to a migraine if you are flying with a food allergy. I think it would be so difficult to be on constant guard in everyday life, but even worse while catching a flight for vacation because you are 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 waiting impatiently to board.
If my child had a severe nut allergy, I would be tempted to lock them up at home so they would always be safe. However, that is not realistic. Grace (who I have already mentioned in this post) may be allergic to nuts, but she is also an active second-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% peanut/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, such as: 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…and the list goes on and on and on from there. However, even with all of the help, guidance, and foresight, I still occasionally hear a grumble or a sigh.
I once overheard a group of adults (not from my school district), 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% nut free for just a few kids. I was not a part of the conversation and 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 simple, 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 never 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 grounded 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 everyday 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 goes to a great charter school. The only complaint I have ever heard her utter is that they are not peanut free. They have students with food allergies, and 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 are seated at the “sick table” because some little kids don’t really understand allergies or the polite way to label things. My friend does an unbelievable job of educating her daughter, and goes to great lengths to explain that the allergy area is not a “sick table”. My friend also thinks it’s very important to explain that food allergies are a growing concern for some, but in no way an illness or inferiority. (Well done friend…that is why we get along in life!)
Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of people suffering from tree nut allergies do not outgrow them. Therefore it is nice to see more schools, clubs, churches, and public places going nut free. It is also important to keep in mind that while parents are struggling to keep their allergy ridden children safeguarded, those kids are also struggling. At 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 healthy atmospheres. If you thankfully took six minutes to read this blog post, take another five minutes to click on the link and read this tearjerker article by Zac Chelini. He is a young man that has suffered a lot due to his peanut allergy, but also found relief through helping others and attending Gonzaga University. (*This college goes to great lengths to accommodate students with severe food allergies…Go Bulldogs!)
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…my latest nut free munchie must-have is: Enjoy Life Mountain Mambo Nut Free Trail Mix.
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