Food allergies are EVERYWHERE these days. If you are the mom of a child who doesn’t have these to deal with, you’re likely still aware of them and might have even felt a twinge of annoyance when those notes come home from school. There are the warnings before school starts, the ones that come with birthday treat recommendations, school lunch guides, etc. I know it’s an extra step in your morning, a list of things you can’t send in your child’s lunch, maybe even the one and only food they like right now, but I promise you, the parents of children managing these allergies on a daily basis have even more to deal with.
I do not have a child with allergies, but I cared for one for many years and I can tell you it’s no picnic. I was with him when he had his first big reaction, to peanuts, at around 20 months, and even though he was fine (not completely okay, but fine enough for the poor child to have to endure a three hour wait in the ER…), it was absolutely terrifying. We had been suspicious that he was sensitive and were avoiding peanuts at all costs, but all it took was another nanny leaving behind one PB cracker sandwich and as any toddler would do, he just stuck it in his mouth. It was horrible to watch him react physically and emotionally – something you’d never want your child to go through, but so many moms have and chances are, your child has a friend who has some sort of food allergy.
If you think it’s annoying not to be able to send peanut butter and jelly to school for lunch, think of these parents. Imagine being in their shoes – nuts might as well be poison for their kids. Epi-pens and allergy medication are a MUST when leaving the house to go anywhere, it’s not even a question. We once drove from Uptown to the Zoo in Apple Valley only to realize on arrival that we’d forgotten his bag full of meds. Can’t risk it, you have to leave and go home. I took them to a Twins game once, not knowing it was the second of a double-header – there were peanut shells everywhere. I honestly felt like I was having a heart attack the entire time and we left after four innings, because it was just too scary plus the kids weren’t having any fun while I made them sit still in their seat the whole time.
Besides all of the potential hazards, there’s the child who, at some point, will realize that he just doesn’t get to do things other kids do, like having to sit at the nut-safe table during school lunch rather than just sit down by his friends, or eventually gets annoyed at dealing with remembering to ask what’s in his food all the time before eating it.
The most common childhood food allergies are milk, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts (cashews, walnuts, almonds, etc.), fish, shellfish, eggs and soy (in no particular order). Though not quite as common as dairy, you may hear of nut allergies most because they’re often something a child can react to topically (by touch) or inhalation, as well as ingestion.
So, what if your child is best buddies with a little guy managing a peanut allergy? People often take two routes when thinking about allergies – they either view them as something that child’s parents are making too big a deal of or they get overwhelmed thinking of how to keep that child safe in their home. Neither is the right approach. Yes, you should be a bit concerned about how to approach hosting someone with an allergy in your home, but not so fearful that you avoid it altogether. And, honestly, if a parent says their child has an allergy, they have an allergy. No questions asked. For some, it’s a matter of life and death, don’t be the one responsible for a reaction.
Five Tips for Hosting a Nut-Allergy Friendly Playdate
**I am by no means an expert or a doctor, this is all simply from experience, and you should definitely consult the parents(as noted in Tip 5) to be sure these are steps that will help their child. Some children have allergies so severe, the parents may probably prefer their child never play in your home. Don’t be offended! They’re just doing their best to keep their child safe.
1. No nuts for the day. If you know your child’s friend is coming over later that day, do not serve peanut butter, or any other nut products, to anyone in your home at all that day. If your kid has PB on his hand and touches his friend, there’s the possibility of a reaction. Limiting it that day is a huge help. If it’s a last minute playdate and you had PB toast for breakfast, have your child head into the bathroom and wash his hands and face.
2. Clean up. If you regularly eat nuts, wipe down your counters and table surfaces. If your children take snacks that might be unsafe into play areas, double check that they haven’t left anything behind. Speaking of foods that are unsafe…
3. Check labels. Food labels are required to have allergy warnings on them. You’ll see a few different ways of labeling/noting these ingredients, but you should always find them underneath the list of ingredients.
You may see a warning that specifically notes nut ingredients (as the one above notes milk), but you’ll also see “made in a facility that processes nut ingredients.” These are unsafe for kids with nut allergies as well and they can be in foods you would never have expected, like bread. Just remember, the most random foods can have allergy warnings so don’t assume anything is safe unless you’ve actually checked.
4. Put your pet away. Check your pet’s food labels. Sounds crazy, but a LOT of dog foods have nut ingredients. If the food contains nut ingredients, stash your pet in a cozy bedroom or send them outside to play so they won’t lick your guest. It can be just as bad a reaction as if they’d touched the nuts themselves.
5. Check in with the child’s parents. Especially the first time you’re hosting their child. Ask them specifically about the allergy and what to avoid. It’s unlikely you’d need it, but make sure you have all the medication you might need, just in case. Each time they return, ask if anything has changed.
Should you have to do all of this for a child that isn’t yours? Remember that whole “It takes a village” thing? What if your child had the allergy? Wouldn’t you hope parents would take every precaution – especially because if you look back at that list above, it’s really not that hard at all. You probably needed to check the play room for old food anyway (you KNOW they snuck a treat from the kitchen last night), and your counters might need a wipe down, playdate or not. Super easy stuff and think of the comfort and gratitude those parents will feel because of the few extra steps you took so your kids could play together.
Check out the list below for some great snack ideas that are safe for a child with a nut allergy (keep in mind they may not be safe for other allergies). Just be sure to always check the labels every time as many brands change their processing frequently.
Safe Food Suggestions
Keep in mind: I don’t promise that these are the healthiest options, but sometimes, if you use nuts in your home, store-bought is just safer because you can guarantee what’s in it. Ironically, some of the organic/natural brands can be pretty unsafe since nut ingredients are considered such a healthy food. It’s always good to recheck labels each time – sometimes a safe brand will change it’s manufacturing set-up and may no longer be safe.
- Annie’s Mac and Cheese
- Homemade quesadillas (check the tortilla label!)
- Grilled cheese (with safe bread)
- Deli lunch – meat and cheese with fruit
- Pizza with Boboli pizza crust
- Pirate’s Booty
- Angie’s Kettle Korn & Boom Chicka Pop
- Teddy Grahams
- Fresh fruit and veggies (washed!)
- Craisins/dried fruit
- String Cheese
- Graham Crackers
- Fruit Strips
- Store bought cookies – Oreos are safe!
- Home-made Chocolate Chip Cookies: If you feel like baking, go for Hershey’s or Target’s Market Pantry brand – both have traditionally been clear of nuts. You’ll have to avoid the classes Tollhouse and Ghiardelli Brands – Not safe.
- Peanut and Tree-Nut Free Candy List – this is an awesome list of safe candies for nut allergy kiddos! (Thank you, Emily, for sharing!)
If you’re looking to treat the kids with lunch or dinner out, plenty of places are safe (like with any playdate, you should ask the child’s mom if she’s okay with your restaurant choice – they may even suggest a spot that they know is safe).
Here are a few safe spots:
- Noodles is great and because they have an allergy policy, it can be safe even though they use peanut sauce (again, with the parent’s permission). Always note that you have a child with an allergy with you and you need them to use freshly cleaned dishes in a safe area – they’re always accommodating!
- I generally would recommend avoiding ice cream shops, but Sebastian Joe’s is always really great about using a freshly washed (not newly rinsed) scoop and often will open a fresh container of ice cream to go the extra mile. Just avoid milkshakes, as the machine isn’t cleaned each time.
- McDonalds: The golden arches are safe, if you can stand it, just avoid their sundaes and McFlurry’s.
- Chipotle – Yum! I’d go every day if I could and knowing they’re totally nut free makes me love them even more. Click HERE for their complete allergy information.
- Punch Pizza is safe, not to mention not kid food, so you’ll enjoy your meal as well!
- Yo Yo Donuts in Minnetonka – Peanut and Tree-Nut free!
- Pizza Luce – you should be eating this at this place anyway, but give them a high five for being safe!
- Snuffy’s Malt Shop – SO fun, great spot, but since the focus is malts, it might be disappointing to miss out on the ice cream. Ask them if they can scoop from a new container and you might end up with a win!
- Convention Grill is great – but again, no milkshakes, so be safe and avoid ice cream all together.
- Wherever you go, just mention that you have a child with an allergy and you’ll need their food prepared separately.
- For some nicer spots, Lettuce Entertain You restaurants (think Tucci Bennuch, Magiannos, Big Bowl, etc.), has allergy information readily available and a great protocol for handling patrons with allergies.
Restaurants to Avoid:
- Five Guys burger shop – this place is literally laced with peanuts – they have cases of peanut oil as part of their decor and peanut shells on the floor, so steer clear!
- Pizza Hut – They may or may not have changed their recipe, but their sauce used to contain trace amounts of peanuts.
- Chick-FilA – they use peanut oil for frying.
- Dairy Queen and, as you likely noticed above, ice cream shops should generally just be avoided to be safe.
- Generally avoid Chinese food, just to be safe. Peanut sauce abounds!