When a family member is diagnosed with food allergies, life at home becomes somewhat more challenging. By changing the way you shop, cook, and clean, you can enjoy meals that are safe for everyone.
Stocking Your Kitchen
Learn how to read food labels and make sure everyone in the family can, too. Visit FoodAllergy.org for a printable “How to Read a Food Label” fact sheet that you can keep pinned up on your refrigerator or pantry door.
Separate safe and unsafe food. Assign specific shelves in the pantry and refrigerator, and store all foods in sealed containers. Label either the problem foods or the safe ones – whichever is easier. Color-coded stickers can help here. Stock up on food essentials and have safe substitutes on hand. Have separate sets of utensils for handling safe and unsafe foods. Some families even use separate dishes (usually designated by different colors).
Cooking and Cleaning
All family members should wash their hands before and after eating to avoid the transfer of food allergens. Scrub down counters and tables after you prepare food and after you eat meals. To effectively remove food protein from surfaces, wash the surfaces with soap and water.
Living around problem foods can help children with food allergies cope as they grow and begin to spend more time away from home.
Practice proper food preparation to avoid cross-contact. Thoroughly clean counters, cutting boards, knives, slicers, spoons, measuring cups, mixing bowls, and other equipment between foods. Beware of airborne allergens during cooking or food preparation. Examples include boiling milk, frying fish or eggs, and using powdered milk or wheat flour. Family members with food allergies may need to keep a safe distance at these times. You might want to allow the air to clear for 30 minutes afterward before re-entering the room.
Adapting Family Rituals
Create allergen-free zones in your home. Consider restricting eating to the kitchen and dining room only. For young children, fixed seating arrangements at the table may be helpful. This will discourage younger siblings from sharing “tastes.”
Assemble an emergency kit with your medications, epinephrine auto-injector, and food allergy and anaphylaxis emergency care plan. You might want to make two kits – one that stays in the house in a convenient, safe place that everyone knows, and one that travels with you.
Should You Ban Problem Foods at Home?
Many important factors affect how you choose to “allergy-proof” your home. Some families decide to allow problem foods at home, but take precautions to keep the family member who has food allergies safe. Others find it easier to completely ban problem foods.
Questions to Ask Your Family
To decide which approach will work best for you, take a look at your family’s needs and lifestyle. Asking yourself a few questions can help:
- What has our experience been so far with allergic reactions and accidental exposure?
- If we were to completely cut out problem foods, how difficult would it be for other family members?
- How many children are at home, and how old are they? How much responsibility do they normally take for managing the food they eat?
- How will our decision affect the overall quality of our home life?
- If we decide it’s best to ban problem foods at home, how do we teach our child who has food allergies to manage outside the home, in the “real world”?
- If we decide to allow allergen-containing foods at home, how will we teach our child with allergies which foods are safe and unsafe?
Factors to Consider
Keep these points in mind as you decide how to manage food allergies at home. You may also wish to adjust your family’s approach as children grow older and you gain more experience.
- Some allergens are easier to ban than others. For example, making your home peanut-free isn’t likely to be a hardship for other family members. But milk, egg, or wheat may be difficult to eliminate altogether. You can take careful measures to create a safe environment, even if you allow these items in your home.
- Living around problem foods can help children with food allergies cope as they grow and begin to spend more time away from home.
- Learning how to avoid allergens and handle a reaction at home can actually calm fears. It provides the skills people with food allergies need to stay safe, no matter where they are.
- Look at your family environment. Do you usually sit down together for meals at set times? Or does everyone come and go, treating the kitchen like an all-night take-out stand? If it’s the latter, it may be more difficult to avoid problem foods.
- How old is your child with food allergies? How old are their siblings? Age and maturity level play a role in children’s readiness to take on the responsibilities of keeping themselves and others safe.
For more tips and information on food allergies, visit the Food Allergy Research & Education website, FoodAllergy.org.
Source: Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), FoodAllergy.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Fall/Winter 2017-2018.