Our son had been in NICU only a few days when we began to suspect he was allergic to milk. What led to the suspicion? Whenever the breast milk I’d pumped had to be supplemented with formula, his breathing grew wheezy, he ran a fever, and was fussy. The trend continued–not an easy one to resolve during the early months when he was tube fed and my breast milk was a precious commodity–for years.
When he was 1, we found a soy formula he could tolerate so I could stop pumping. (My husband rolled his eyes as I danced around the room saying, “Free at last! I’m free at last!” on that great day.) By age 2, we discovered a formula for toddlers that didn’t upset his digestive system. Eventually, he transitioned to condensed milk, and by the time he started kindergarten, he was able to drink milk from a carton.
Food Allergies and Travel Challenges
Travel in the years before he outgrew the allergy was, to put it mildly, a challenge. We traveled a lot back then, mostly to doctor’s appointments far, far away. (That’s what happens when you live in a remote area more than 120 miles from the nearest regional hospital and 750 miles from the nearest children’s hospital.) Over the years, I learned some tricks to make travel easier. Tricks I resurrected a year and a half ago when I was diagnosed with a dairy allergy. Yup, like son, like mother.
With food allergies becoming increasingly common in kids with special needs, more parents have to travel with kids. Whether the allergy is gluten, casein, dairy, eggs, nuts, or corn, these tricks, which worked for my son in the olden days and for me these days, can make travel easier for other families, too.
10 Food Allergy Travel Tricks
- Advance Research: Use the phone or internet to check out restaurants and grocery stores ahead of time. Inquire about ingredients and allergy-free options for your child. Scope out grocery stores that carry items your child can eat and enjoys eating.
- Pack Your Own: If you’re traveling to places like airports where choice is limited, pack food your child can eat. It saves a lot of hassles, and you’ll save money by not buying overpriced airport fare. The pack-your-own strategy works in other settings where food choices are limited, such as day care, school, church events, potlucks, and even going to other people’s homes for a meal.
- Ask for Information: Before ordering at a restaurant, ask plenty of questions about ingredients even if you did advance research beforehand. Doing so alerts the wait staff of your needs. Many big chains (Olive Garden and Applebee’s for example) have printed charts about allergens in their menu offerings and will provide them upon request.
- Educate Others: Educate people about your child’s allergy. Let them know that lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are two different things, that some kinds of oats contain gluten and some don’t, that your child carries an EpiPen and how to administer it, and so on. Once people know the particulars, they’re much more likely to be extra sets of eyes on your child’s behalf.
- Create Worthy Substitutes: Watching others eat yummy treats they can’t enjoy is hard for kids…and for adults, too. So do all you can to create tasty treat substitutes your child can indulge in, too. Now that I’ve perfected my recipe for dairy-free oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, I don’t mind if a dinner party hostess serves French Silk pie for dessert. I know my dessert is waiting when I got home.
- Change Your Attitude: Instead of looking at your child’s allergy as a limitation, think of it as an opportunity. Having an allergy forced me to taste many delicious, healthy foods I didn’t know existed. Your child’s allergy can be a door into a new, possibly more healthy way of eating for the entire family.
- Offer Your Child Choices: Children need to have a sense of control over their own lives and offering them choices fulfills that need. Instead of telling your child what she can’t have, offer her a couple choices of what she can eat. This strategy also gives kids an opportunity to practice making decisions, a skill they need to learn early.
- Explain to Your Child: Kids, even very young ones, are more capable of understanding than we think they can. They like to know things. So explain to them what allergies are. Tell them about others, children and adults, who have allergies and how they cope. Calmly and matter-of-factly, tell them what will happen if they eat something they shouldn’t. They have the allergies. They deserve to know.
- Assert Your Authority: Remember, you are the parent. Kids need parents to create a secure, safe world for them, so do it…even if they say you’re really, really mean when you won’t let them eat what’s not good for them. Therefore, assert your authority when necessary. Make the boundaries, rules, and consequences about food very clear to your child. Then, be consistent about follow through.
- Pray: Go ahead and ask God to take away your child’s allergy, but don’t stop there. Add to your prayer by asking him to lead you to doctors with expertise about your child’s condition. Ask him to keep your child safe while you travel. Ask him to give you wisdom and creativity to provide healthy, nutritious food your child can eat. And while you’re at it, thank him for making your child just the way he is.
Food Allergies and the Hand of God
Psalm 139 says God knew our inward parts and all our days before we were born. Therefore he knew about your child’s allergies and your family’s travel plans before you did, and he’s got your back. That truth coupled with practicing the travel tricks above can give you confidence to enjoy being out and about with your child who has food allergies.
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