“Ask Kwynn” Food Allergy Advice: Explaining Food Restrictions to a Preschooler

Dear Kwynn,

My partner and I have a 4-year-old son, Nate, who has a nut allergy. It hasn’t been too difficult to manage yet because we’ve made all of his food and sent it with him to daycare for years. Now, he’s entering preschool, where he will likely see peers eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other snacks that may or may not have peanuts in them. As he becomes more aware of this, how can we explain to him why he can’t have the all same meals and snacks as other kids his age?

Julie H.
Chicago, IL

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Hi Julie,

Thank you for reaching out! As kids head back to the classroom for another school year, I’m sure this is something that’s on a lot of parents’ minds. With young kids like your son, Nate, the issue may not be that he is really craving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but that he wants to feel “normal” like his peers instead of feeling like an outsider. Let Nate know what to expect when he goes to preschool. Explain to him that kids will be able eat certain foods that he cannot have because they can make him sick. He probably understands this, but expect an adjustment period when he sees it in action at first. It’s important to reinforce this on a regular basis, as each classroom celebration or holiday (Halloween, anyone?) will create another opportunity where Nate will find himself in situations where kids may be enjoying snacks he cannot have.

Something that may be helpful for both you and Nate is to anticipate his needs and prepare foods that are similar to the snacks he has to avoid. If you think he will feel left out by not being able to enjoy a PB&J, make him a no-nut PB&J. Nut allergies are growing increasingly common in the United States, and as a result, there are many creative alternatives to common childhood snacks, like using an alternative PB&J spread like ricotta and honey or hummus, which has the texture and color of peanut butter.

Coordinate with Nate’s teachers too, as they are your eyes when Nate is in school, and are important members of your support team. His teachers can give you advanced notice as to when celebrations will be held in the classroom and what foods will be served, giving you time to prepare a nut-free, but similar option for Nate. His teacher can also support him and remind Nate why it’s important for him to stick to his “safe” foods, so he’s not just hearing it from his parents.

The first few weeks at school may be an adjustment, but as you work with Nate and build up his alternative snack options, he will find other things to focus on instead, like recess.

Best,
Kwynn


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About Kwynn

Kwynn is currently pursuing a PhD in Social Work at the University of Utah. She comes from a public health background, having earned both a Master of Public Health degree with a focus on community health and a Graduate Certificate in Lifestyle Health.

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