Getting a diagnosis of a food allergy can bring on a feeling of panic and a sudden sense of being overwhelmed. As a parent, you want your child to be safe and happy, but you’re also thinking about how you’re going to feed him. What will he eat? How much will it cost? Where will I find the extra time I don’t have to make special lunches? This can be a stressful time, but you can get started with some helpful tips from parents who have been there before:
- Post lists of allergens everywhere. One time-consuming thing you will be doing from now on is reading food labels. Expect to scrutinize them like you never have before. Unfortunately, there are a lot of words for allergens like wheat, milk, soy and others. Post a list of all the ingredients that contain your allergens—next to the refrigerator, on your phone, in your purse and anywhere else you may need it as a quick reference.
- Prepare now, not later. Preparation with food allergies is so important. It takes time now but will save you stress later. For example, get epinephrine injectors now and place them where they need to be so you won’t have to panic later if the worst happens. Plan ahead to make dining out, kids’ parties and other activities less stressful.
- Keep meals simple. If you start searching for allergen-free recipes, you will get overwhelmed by the abundance of options, the complexity and the fancy ingredients. For now, keep it simple to save money, time and stress. Use simple, basic ingredients to create meals and focus on three main components: a protein, a carbohydrate and some type of produce, fruit or vegetable. There’s nothing wrong with a simple meal of chicken, rice and broccoli.
- Get your specialty foods online. When you do feel ready to venture into allergen substitutes and harder-to-find ingredients like almond flour, flax seeds, wheat-free pasta and so on, shop online. You can find better deals online buying in bulk, and it will save you the time of searching for the items you need in local grocery stores.
- Cook in bulk and freeze. When preparing meals that are allergen free, you can save a lot of time by doubling or tripling recipes and freezing the extra. Later in the week or month you can have stress-free nights where you simply take out the premade meal, heat it up and serve dinner. Another time-saving option is to cook a little extra for dinner and use the leftovers for the next day’s lunch.
- Get your kid involved. Save yourself some time and stress by letting your food-allergic child do some of the work, age appropriately of course. For example, he can start helping to read labels, preparing food and planning for eating outside of the house. Helping him learn how to help himself prepares him to be more independent, but also helps take the weight off your shoulders to a small degree.
Living with a food allergy in the family is going to be stressful; there is no question about that. And, at least to begin with it is bound to cost you extra time and money. Rest assured, though, that many parents have been where you are, and they eventually learned how to live with food allergies. Start with these tips as you begin to learn how your family will live with a food allergy.