If you grew up on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the more recent explosion of childhood food allergies may have created unexpected challenges to providing safe and nutrition lunches to your own little ones.
“Allergies to peanuts, which are legumes like beans and peas, and tree nuts like walnuts, pecans and almonds, can be triggered by contact with as little as a trace of the allergen,” Tracy Rife, RN, BSN, AE-C, asthma and easy breathing program coordinator at Akron Children’s Hospital. “However, with a little vigilance and a lot of label reading, you can be sure your children will be healthy enough to drive you nuts in lots of other ways.”
- Read labels. In addition to avoiding whole nuts, be sure your child stays away from any food containing peanuts or tree nuts as ingredients. Read food labels. Manufacturers in the United States must state whether their products contain nuts.
- Look for hidden nuts. Even if they aren’t listed on the label, foods may contain traces of nuts that could stimulate an allergic reaction in sensitive people. So look for phrases like “produced on shared equipment with nuts or peanuts” or “may contain nuts”. These advisory labels are voluntary but the Food and Drug Administration is working to ensure these statements are clear and consistent. Be wary of high-risk foods, such as:
- Baked goods and cookies. Cross-contamination can occur during the manufacturing process.
- Ice cream. Scoops dipped into different tubs of ice cream, gelato or frozen yogurt could lead to cross contamination. Frozen treats with nut-free labels from the grocery store are a better bet.
- Candy. Small candy manufacturers are more likely to have issues with cross contamination.
- Sauces. Chili and other sauces are often thickened with nuts. Pesto sauce is made with pine nuts.
- Certain ethnic cuisine. The risk of cross-contamination with nuts is high with African, Mexican, Mediterranean and Asian foods – especially Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisines.
- Practice safe cooking. Everything from cutting boards and knives to the toaster needs to be thoroughly cleaned after coming in contact with nut products.
- Introduce foods cautiously. Start your child with a taste to see how he does, including foods they haven’t eaten in a while. Changes in the manufacturing process could lead to concerns with foods that used to be safe.
- Be careful when dining out. Talk with the wait staff about ingredients in various dishes. If needed, have a discussion with the restaurant manager.
- Watch out for certain nonfood products. If your child’s allergy is severe, she may be impacted by nuts included in some soaps, lotions and hair care products. People who are allergic to cashews may also be allergic to pink peppercorn.
- Prepare school lunches. This is the best way to provide a safe lunch for your child. Remind him not to trade lunch items with other students.
- Inform your child’s school. Work with school staff to have an action plan in place for your child. All staff should be trained in using an epinephrine injector and have access to it.
- Have your child carry epinephrine. Rather than placing it in their school locker, the medication should be in your child’s pocket, purse or backpack.
- Involve other caregivers. Teach relatives, babysitters and other caregivers how to recognize signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction and how to take immediate action. Provide them with written copies of your child’s care plan, including the order and doses of all medications needed.
- Have your child wear identification. A medical alert bracelet or necklace should include your child’s name and type of food allergy. If there is room, you may also list brief emergency instructions.