The very first question my three-year-old daughter asks when she sees any food—whether it be on a grocery shelf or my plate—is not “what does that taste like?” or “what is that?” but “Mommy, is that food safe for me?”
I cannot describe how happy this makes me, as I know she is developing the skills she needs to be a strong, independent young woman someday who can keep herself safe—and who just happens to have food allergies.
I also cannot describe how sad this makes me, because I hate that she has to be afraid of the food around her—even in her own home. As the years have gone by since she was diagnosed with severe food allergies, her allergen list has grown longer, her blood test numbers have climbed … and we’ve allowed fewer and fewer of her allergens in the house.
I do want her to be on guard, and always asking, “is this safe” (and I definitely understand why other parents keep allergens in the house in a carefully supervised way). And maybe when she’s older, we’ll reevaluate the situation. But right now the stress of worrying about cross-contaminated dishes or sponges or counters has just gotten to be too much, especially since her recent anaphylactic reaction and trip to the ER.
And when I read recently that allergens can stay in your saliva for hours and even a peck on the cheek can lead to a (admittedly local) reaction, well… I’d much rather restrict my own diet at home than worry that I’m going to give my young daughter hives if I cover her adorable chubby cheeks in kisses.
So last week, we kicked the last few allergens out of the house. We had already banned eggs and nuts and sesame years ago based on the severity of past reactions, but dairy and mustard were the last holdouts (and maybe I just felt a bit MEAN before taking the ice cream away). So into the trash went the last jar of mustard and last package of mozzarella, and we informed family and friends that no more outright allergens would be consumed in the house while our daughter was awake–no mustard and no cow/goat/sheep cheese, milk, yogurt or ice cream. (We stocked up on So Delicious coconut creamer for guests who don’t like black coffee and so far it’s been a hit).
Our compromise is that we still allow cross-contaminated—or potentially cross-contaminated—items in the house for the adults to eat. Our daughter eats only “green light” items we have confirmed within reasonable assurance to be free of contamination from her allergens. But any items we’re unsure about, or that have “made in a facility with” or “may contain traces” warnings get a “red light label.”
The Red Light, Green Light Food Allergy Label System
Here is a quick tip that I hope will help some of you with young children—label your food like traffic lights! We got this great idea from the Kids With Food Allergies Foundation — it’s especially useful for starting to teach young children who can’t read yet about the concept of allergies, ingredients, warnings and label reading.
- The supplies: We bought a large pack of red and a large pack of green round color coding labels.
- The process: Each time we unpack our groceries, we make a big show of carefully double-checking and reading all labels in front of our daughter. I often will read the ingredient list out loud, and reassure her that I’ve also called the company. Then I will tell her: “Green light: this one is safe!” and let her put the green label on it. Or “Nope, this one has allergies. Red light, stop, don’t eat me!” (I’d rather label the red items myself—just in case). I swear she actually finds this to be fun.
- The outcome: Our daughter feels reassured and secure (she once spontaneously declared “Oh, thank you my Mommy dear for making things so safe for me!). And she knows there are some things in the house other people eat that “have allergies”, but she’s not in as much danger as when we had outright allergenic ingredients around. And we don’t have to get quite as freaked out over cross-contamination and cleaning and sterilizing everything as when we had splatters of milk or yogurt on the counters or ice cream drips or mustard dots or…
- A caution: Even with the label system, our daughter is not yet old enough that we allow her to just rummage at will through the fridge or pantry—the risks are just too risky. But we do let her pull “green light” items out if we are standing right behind her and supervising her—she likes making her own Sunbutter and jam sandwiches, for example.
What allergens do and don’t you allow in your house—and why? Do you use a label system? How do you manage cross contamination? Has your approach changed over the years?
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