Tips for Food Allergy Families

From grocery shopping to dining out, everyday food choices are a little more involved when you have a kid with food allergies.

By Madelyn Wilson, clinical dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital

If your child suffers from a food allergy it’s important to take a few extra steps when grocery shopping or dining out.

Tips for grocery shopping for food allergic children

If your child is allergic to any of the top eight allergens (cow’s milk, egg, soy, wheat, tree nuts, peanut, fish or shellfish), the product’s nutrition facts label will say in bold if the item contains any of these allergens. It is important to always read the label every time you buy a product, especially if your child’s allergen is not in the top eight. Even if you have purchased the same brand before, the company can change ingredients without alerting the public.

Tips for dining out with food allergic children

Before going out to eat, it can be helpful to ask other families with food allergic children for suggestions on where to go. They may have some great ideas for local restaurants where they had a good dining experience. Additionally, the website Safefare.org is developing a database of restaurants, based on zip codes, that are safe for people with food allergies.

When picking a restaurant that fits your child’s allergy needs, it is best to avoid some of the riskier choices, such as buffets, bakeries, and ice-cream parlors. With a wide variety of foods so close together at buffets, the risk for accidental exposure and cross-contamination is high. Bakeries and ice-cream parlors are also at a high risk for cross-contamination,’ and many items are made with some of the top eight allergens.

If your child has a fish or shellfish allergy, try avoiding seafood restaurants. Peanuts and other nuts are commonly used in Asian cuisines, so it’s a good idea to avoid these types of restaurants if your child is allergic to nuts.

You may consider chain restaurants, especially when traveling. With chain restaurants, each location is likely to use the same ingredients and prepare foods the same way. A growing number of chain restaurants are becoming allergy-aware.

When it comes to meal selection for your child with allergies, it’s best to keep it simple. If you have to ask a lot of complicated questions about items on the menu, it may be safer to order something simple, like broiled or baked chicken with rice and steamed vegetables on the side.

Supplement if you need

If you are eliminating all cow’s milk from your child’s diet, it’s important to supplement with a calcium and vitamin D supplement. If your child suffers from multiple food allergens, it may be a good idea to take a multivitamin. Beware, some vitamin supplements have food allergens in them; make sure you find one that is safe for your child.

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