Mike Brook, the father and blogger behind family and food allergy blog Daddy Freckle, shares his family's experience of learning to live with food allergies after their oldest daughter was diagnosed with a dairy and egg allergy when she was six months old.
Before our eldest came along, food allergies were not something I thought about. I never had to. It never entered my mind that this would be something that we, as a family, would have to worry about. But at about six months old, and at the very beginning of our weaning journey, a simple mouthful of porridge that contained milk changed all that. After this we went on to find out that she had dairy and egg anaphylaxis and a soya intolerance. We were handed some leaflets, an epi-pen, a book on how to administer an epi-pen and DVD in a lovely colourful box, antihistamines and inhalers, and off we went.
Learning to live with food allergies
At the time, the Free From aisle in the supermarket was the size of a bookcase. Restaurant allergy information - if there was any - was minimal What's more, practically everything in our house contained at least one ingredient that could lead to our eldest having a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. For the first time, we really had to look at what was in our food - and it was a massive eye opener.
Initially, my wife and I were very overwhelmed. We felt as if we were starting from scratch when it came to the meals we made and what we ate. Our usual go-to’s had to change. We had to cook from scratch almost always - but once we got a list of easy, delicious meals together and knew what to avoid in the supermarket it became easier. We soon became accustomed to flipping all foods over to check the ingredients list. It became second nature.
Handing over the reigns
One of the hardest things is learning to feel comfortable and confident when allowing others to share the responsibility of cooking for your child. Grandparents, other family members, friends and school have all taken on the role of chef at some point.
It's an anxiety-provoking situation for everyone involved. In my experience, the best way to make everyone feel as relaxed as possible is communication. If you are preparing food for a child with an allergy and have any questions, ask the child’s parents. They will be able to provide you with ideas, recipes and reassurance. In turn, your questions will put the child's parents at ease, knowing that you are being considerate of their child’s dietary requirements and taking special care.
Spreading the word
Educating people about allergies is an ongoing challenge - and reminding people that an allergy isn’t a life choice but a health condition is paramount. Educating people around the importance of respecting and being considerate towards a person’s dietary requirements is also important, as this can go a long way to making some feel included and valued.
We need to move away from the language used to describe allergies and intolerances. Avoid phrases like ‘the normal food is over there’ or singling the person with the allergy out when it comes to advising others. Remember communication is the key. If you have a question, ask.
I'm overjoyed to be involved in Asda’s Inclusivity Campaign which aims to change the dialogue around allergies and intolerances, educate people, and ultimately, remove exclusion. I want to help children with allergies, parents of children with allergies, and parents whose child is in a class with a child with an allergy feel more comfortable and confident when it comes to managing allergies. School can be a difficult and anxiety-provoking time for all these people. I want to help improve the school experience of all involved and do it in a way that is non-judgemental, fun and inclusive.
Check out our Inclusivity campaign here.