Having children with food allergies can present unique challenges for parents, but if dealt with in a fun and interactive way the whole family can get involved. It may even help shift your children’s attitudes toward their situation.
A problem that often arises as a result of discovering that your child has food allergies is that although they wish to feel better, children often times are concerned with feeling different from their peers. This concern may lead them to stray from their prescribed diet, resulting in further symptoms and discomfort.
The key to minimizing your child’s concerns is to involve them in the process of understanding, finding and preparing food that they can eat. Explaining to them what food allergies are and how avoiding specific foods will make them feel better is an important part of the making them understand why they are not “allowed” to have specific foods.
Teaching children to read food labels is one way to help them understand what specific types of foods are safe for them to eat. This technique may also help them to understand that it is not the parents fault that they are not allowed to eat these foods because it assigns the blame to the food itself rather than the parent telling them “no.” As the child ages, this practice will make it much easier for them to make smart and safe food choices.
Another important step is teaching your child to identify “look-a-like” foods: foods that are similar to the regular version but do not contain allergens. It is important that children understand that their foods are not the same as regular foods. These days “look-a-like” foods have become more and more prevalent, and many of them are almost identical to the more common version of the food.
For example, a child with a gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease may not be able to tell the difference between gluten free mac and cheese and regular mac and cheese just by looking at it. Therefore it is important that they understand the difference between the two, and that although they may look similar, in fact they are quite different. They should also be learning how to explain these differences to others and to ask questions to ensure that the foods they are being served do not contain allergens.
Another way to ensure that your child knows exactly what they should and should not be including in their diet is to involve them in the process of planning and preparing meals. Allowing children to assist in planning family meals and even help decide what items to purchase at the grocery store can help them to gain important skills when they are eventually out on their own. This can also be a fun way of involving your children. For example, you can make a recipe notebook and allow them to decorate it and put it together, or let them be part of the actual cooking by washing the vegetables and gathering ingredients.
The most important thing of course is to maintain a good attitude about the whole thing. This alone will help your children to understand that although they may have to have a different diet from the rest of their friends, that does not limit them from having fun at social events or even change their lives that much.
Image thanks to blog.uptous.com
Dr. Wangen is the founder and medical director of the IBS Treatment Center, the award winning author of two books, and a nationally recognized speaker on digestive disorders. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio, and was named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.