An important part of managing your child’s food allergy is teaching them how to choose safe foods for themselves. This helps prepare them for times when you won’t be available to help them read labels or decide if a food is safe to eat. It also gives them a solid foundation for managing their allergy as they grow into adulthood.
Start by teaching them how to manage their food allergy at home. They can learn how to choose their own snacks during the day, such as on the weekends and in between virtual learning sessions. This will also foster independence and confidence – important skills your child will need when it comes to making food choices on their own.
Teach Your Child to Read Food Labels
The only way to prevent allergic reactions is to make sure your child avoids the foods they are allergic to. To do so, you need to know how to identify those foods. And you need to know how foods are labeled. Once you know how to read labels, you can start teaching your child once they are old enough to read.
Here are some important label-reading basics to teach your child:
- Tell them to read every label every time. Food makers can change ingredients and the way the food is made at any time.
- If it doesn’t have a label, don’t eat it, even if it looks like something they’ve eaten before.
- Food makers are only required to label the eight most common allergens in plain language: milk, soy, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, fish, and shellfish. (A bill is in Congress right now that may add sesame to this list.) This rule does not apply to certain types of foods like foods prepared in a restaurant or deli.
- Because there are some cases where foods (or products) do not have to label allergens in plain language, be aware of your allergen’s other or “hidden” names. For example, milk might be labeled as “casein.” Use our Allergen Avoidance Lists to see the list of alternate names for top food allergens.
- Different size packages of the same foods may have different ingredients.
- Allergy warning statements like “may contain” or “processed in a facility with...” may not be correct or helpful. They are not always a good way to tell if a food contains your child’s allergen. Talk with your allergist to decide if you need to avoid foods with these statements.
- If a package says, “allergy free” or “allergy safe,” it doesn’t mean it’s safe. It might contain your child’s allergen.
Review these tips with your child using labels from foods in your home. Or take them grocery shopping with you so they can practice picking out foods with your help.
Even though young readers won’t be able to read full ingredient lists yet, they can still get into the habit of looking at labels before they eat a food. They can also learn to identify top allergens in bold in or under the ingredients list (although some labels may not bold the names of allergens).
Place Snacks Within Reach
Put your child’s safe snacks in an area they can reach. You can even let them decorate a box or small container so they know those snacks are just for them. This will allow them to easily and quickly grab a snack on their own time between virtual classes or breaks. (Just remind them to read the label!)
Prepare Allergy-Friendly Snacks Together
Kids with food allergies also need to learn basic food prep skills so they can learn to make their own safe foods. Set aside time for you and your child to make some allergy-friendly snacks for the week. They can learn age-appropriate food skills while helping you prepare for the week ahead.
You can find many snack recipes on our Safe Eats® Allergy-Friendly Recipe Collection. You can also search our Allergy-Friendly Foods Collection for snacks you can buy. You can search for snacks free from the allergens you are avoiding.
Teach Your Child How to Choose Healthy Snacks
Not all snacks are created equal. While teaching your child how to choose their own snacks, teach them how to pick healthy foods too. Good nutrition is important for a child’s growth and general health. And if your child has multiple food allergies, you’ll want to make sure they are getting a balanced diet.
High nutrition foods – like fruits and vegetables – come with another benefit. They tend to be more allergy friendly since they don’t contain multiple ingredients.
These steps are great ways to start your child on the path to independence when it comes to managing their food allergy. Expand on these skills as your child grows to help them successfully manage their food allergy as teenagers and into adulthood.
You don’t have to manage your child’s food allergies alone. KFA provides educational information, food allergy news, a collection of more than 1,500 Safe Eats® recipes and new allergy-friendly foods alerts. We also have a free online community where you can talk with other parents and caregivers managing food allergies in a safe, encouraging environment.