It isn’t always easy or straightforward to figure out what foods cause reactions, especially in a child. Even in the doctor’s office, there is no single definitive test that can tell you your child is absolutely allergic to a particular food. The best way to diagnose a food allergy is a multi-pronged effort. Part of that involves keeping track of what your child eats and how it affects her. Together you can keep a kid’s food journal that, along with a visit to the doctor, can give you the clearest picture of what foods are causing problems for your child.
Food Allergy Diagnosis and the Role of a Kid’s Food Journal
A skin prick test is a typical way that your pediatrician or allergist might test for food allergies. This involves placing a tiny amount of a food on the skin and then pricking it with a needle. A raised bump or other reaction may indicate an allergy, but it is not a definitive answer. A positive reaction does not confirm a food allergy; it is just one piece of the puzzle.
In addition to a test in the doctor’s office, you may be asked to keep a kid’s food journal to describe everything your child eats and how it makes her feel. As a part of this exercise, you may also need to try elimination diets (cutting out certain foods suspected of causing allergic reactions) and record the results. Together with examinations by your doctor, this can help you pin down just what allergies your child has.
How to Create and Use a Kid’s Food Journal
Depending on the age of your child, you may have to complete the journal yourself, or you can do it together. If your child is old enough to help, encourage her to participate or even to create her own kid’s food journal. Teaching her now to be proactive about diet and health is a powerful lesson in taking responsibility for her own body and well-being. It’s also a great way to spend time together.
Your journal can be as basic as a notebook in which you record everything your child eats and how she feels after eating. You can also find templates online with a quick search if you want more guidance in how to create and map out your journal. A good basic outline for a kid’s food journal is to divide each page into columns. In the first, record what your child has eaten and how much she ate. Be specific here and include details like the brand of the food product and ingredients in both packaged and homemade dishes and any beverages. An easy way to get all the ingredients from packaged foods is to save the nutrition label and glue it into the journal.
In the next column, record the time at which she ate the meal or snack and the time at which any symptoms you observe began. Include a final column that includes a description of those symptoms and any important notes, such as how long the symptoms lasted, if she took any medications at the time or anything else that may have contributed to the symptoms she experienced.
Be vigilant about this journal and make sure your child understands that she needs to record everything she eats, even if it is only a quick piece of candy from a dish or a glass of orange juice. If you are including an elimination plan in your journal, indicate which food is being eliminated and note it in each entry from which it is absent.
Your doctor or allergist will tell you how long you need to keep using the journal, but be prepared to do this for several weeks. The longer you can keep track of what your child eats and how she feels, the clearer the picture will become. Along with your doctor, you will be looking for consistencies. If you can show, for example, that every time your child eats something with egg in it she feels bad, it is a strong indication that she is allergic to eggs. The same is true for eliminating certain foods. Keeping a kid’s food journal takes time and effort, but the results really pay off in the end.