1) EDUCATE YOURSELF
It was very overwhelming at first to realize that Colin was not going to be able to enjoy your typical infant/toddler staples- like Cheerios! I began to do research- I found blogs, checked out books at the library, etc. And learned a lot by trial and error. You have to learn a lot in the trenches!
A blog that I sometimes follow has a lot of great allergy-free recipes and introduces new allergy-free products as they come on the market is a blog by Cybele Pascal. She is also a mom of a brood with allergies. Her latest posting is all about allergy-free Thanksgiving ideas! Great source. She has also written a WONDERFUL cookbook called The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook. Check it out!
My profession allows me to have to access to any allergist in town any day of the week! Lucky for me, I am able to get as much as advice as I need. Not so lucky for them, they ALL have heard about Colin's allergies at least once and have shared advice with me a time or two. Dr. Ann Ghory was the first to recommend that I test Colin. Another doctor has suggested books and share advice from his long-time allergy mentor. And yet another has advised me to seek out a nutritionist, which I did do and it is very helpful. Your allergist is FULL of information- ask for it!
2) READ, READ, READ LABELS!
Grocery shopping can be daunting with food allergies. The first few times I went it took me forever to check each and every label- twice- just to be sure it would be okay for Colin. But it gets easier, I promise! Now I can go to the grocery and grab items quickly because I know what he can and cannot have.
Reading labels is very important. There are a lot of surprising ingredients in foods- and one of those surprises may be an allergen. For instance, some yogurts can have gluten in the mix. If we ever switch brands of yogurt, we need to check the label first. Also, Tostitos makes a tortilla chip that Colin can have but some their tortilla chips are made with soybean oil, which we avoid. So if we are unsure, we always check the label.
3) AVOID PROCESSED FOODS
As I've already mentioned, a lot of foods can have surprising ingredients- especially processed foods. I remember working with a guy who's family owned a hog farm. Their biggest custom was Tyson because they would put the pork in their frozen 'chicken' nuggets! If you don't read labels, you would never even know. We have found that it is usually easier (and less expensive) to just make things FRESH. And it has made us healthier as well!
There are allergy-free brands that make chicken nuggets and fish sticks but Colin is not the biggest fan. Like I said, it's easier just to make a substitute for him.
4) TELL OTHERS
For months, we were watching what Colin was eating like a hawk and he was still have a slight reaction. One Sunday when we dropped him off at nursery, we realized that they had been giving him snacks! Animal crackers, goldfish- all things that shouldn't have. Every Sunday when we drop him off at nursery, this is what we sound like:
"Hi! This is Colin. He is allergic to this, this, this and this. He cannot have any of the snacks you are serving- not even the pink lemonade. We have snacks and juice for him in his bag."
Every time. At school we do the same thing, except we leave notes in his lunch box for his teachers. We still have to tell family members. Friends. Babysitters. Everyone and anyone that comes in contact with Colin around mealtime or offers him a snack must know about his allergies!
5) HAVE A BACK-UP
Of course, we have an epinephrine-injector on hand and we keep one at school. We have never had to use it, gratefully, but it will save Colin's life in case of an emergency. What we use on a regular basis is an antihistamine. We keep a bottle at home, a bottle at school, at my parent's and one in his diaper bag. We just had to pull the bottle from his diaper bag last night. We go through A LOT. No matter how diligent we are there are times when Colin still comes in contact and has a reaction. So we are always prepared!
*It is important to note that I am NOT a doctor or a nurse. I am just a mom who has built a home around her child's food allergies. This is just what works for us!