Allowing independence with food choices – The Food Sensitive Shopper
One of the big responsibilities of being a parent is educating our children on how to be independent. This can be a frightening lesson for parents of children who can become ill from eating foods. We have detailed below some age appropriate ideas for you to help your child gain food independence:
Tips to teach independence
1. Keep medication handy. This lesson can begin in early childhood. Conversation is a great way to introduce and enforce the need for the medication. Telling a toddler ‘let’s pack our Epi-Pen’ when leaving the house is a great start. Our eleven year old has to pack the ‘Epi Phone’ which means the Epi Pens and the cell phone. It is a fun way to remind him…’Did you pack epi-phone?’ before he leaves the house. Teens who are new to food related disease (or not) will need reminders but be gentle and post reminder messages near the door to avoid too much teen anxiety.
2. Practice how to use an auto-injector using the trainers. When our boys were young we placed one of the trainers in their ‘doctor’ kit. Trainers can be used for play and placed in their play med kit, play kitchen, or play room. Play doctor and patient with the trainers as long as your child is not too sensitive or frightened by this type of play. This style of play can be very educational for your youngster. Older children and teens can practice on a parent or with friends using a trainer. You can even create skits and perform them with your children to teach others. The point is the more people who know how to respond to this type of emergency the safer the food allergic person will feel.
3. Go food shopping. All ages can go to the grocery store. Young children can help by being given a task such as choosing fruits and vegetables from the produce shelves then placing in the cart. Be sure to ask children to handle only safe foods. Discussing safety rules sometime before you leave home is a good reminder of expectations while shopping. Some ideas are: a. Have wipes handy b. Wipe down cart handles c. Don’t eat any food off the shelves and before purchase d. Only touch foods that are safe and e. Ask lots and lots of questions regarding cross contact and preparation. Tweens and teens can help by roaming the aisles with a short list. Give them the opportunity to read labels and ask questions. All ages can be reminded of areas around the store that are unsafe. For example: Avoid the fish counter if you have a fish allergy and for nut allergies avoid open bins of nuts, seeds, trail mix and other foods.
4. Cook together: This activity can be very empowering. Younger children can benefit by arranging cut fruits and vegetables on a tray or dish, placing safe breads in the bread basket, and mixing by hand using a spoon or whisk. Older children can learn how to follow a recipe with supervision. Teens can be in charge of making certain recipes. We wouldn’t advise allowing your child to use the oven, stove top, blender, mixer or microwave without supervision, expectations, and education on proper usage. Be sure to be present in the house when a teen is cooking food. Allergen and gluten free recipes gives you much freedom to experiment in the kitchen. We have even allowed our sons to ‘create’ their favorite drink. Our son with food allergies, at age 5, decided rice milk and orange juice was quite tasty. Now our sons whip up safe pancakes, scramble eggs, make cakes, pies and cookies, help with chopping vegetables, grating, and more… They have their own cook books and often want to cook. I think they will make great husbands one day!
These are our four tips for raising an independent food allergic child. We are sure you have many more. We wish you and your loved one with food allergies, celiac disease, or other food related disease much independence and freedom to choose to eat safely and nutritiously.