A Peanut Allergy Guide – For Parents


photo credit: JoePhilipson via photopin cc
photo credit: JoePhilipson via photopin cc

I dreamed of it only once.

It happened right after Marie’s diagnosis of severe peanut allergy, a horrible dream. Horrible dreams often sound ridiculous when you explain them. This one did. It struck me, though, and I knew the place it came from.

I knew that by day I maintained and handled the news. At night, though …

That’s when fears emerge.

Peanut allergies can be deadly. The horror stories abound. You read reports on allergic children exposed to peanuts without a life-saving epi-pen. You hear stories of kids at school who put peanut butter in an allergic child’s lunchbox.

Fear an accidental exposure to peanuts when you’ve left your epi-pen at home.

When doctors diagnose your otherwise healthy child, with a peanut allergy, what’s a next?

It’s … a nut. It’s just a peanut. Peanut’s a name for a shivering Chihuahua. When life gets crazy? They’re ‘nuts.’ I use “aw, nuts” as an expletive substitute. We consider nuts diminutive, wacky, or just plain inconvenient.

They ought never to be deadly, or even crippling.

Here’s how my family adjusted to no-nut living.

1.     Acknowledge the fear

photo credit: Muffet via photopin cc
photo credit: Muffet via photopin cc

This allergy sucks. Dangers hide, threats lurk. They cook candy corn on equipment that produces items with peanuts and tree nuts. It’s everywhere. Could peanut products be in your kids’ classroom? Under the chair you daughter pulls up to the table at Golden Corral?

Understand the threats with this allergy. Knowledge is most definitely power. Know what is dangerous, and what isn’t.

2.     Stand up to the bully

Respect your adversary. Don’t cower from it. Send your son to camp and school birthday parties. Don’t move to rural Montana and home school. If you turn the allergy into a noose, your child will see it that way, too. Be cautious – don’t miss out on life.

Don’t forget it’s only a sliver of your child.

3.     Learn to read

photo credit: craigemorsels via photopin cc
photo credit: craigemorsels via photopin cc

Marie would ask when we shopped for groceries, “nuts in it, daddy?” We read every label, every time. Find allergy information in bold type on the nutrition label. Not there? Don’t trust it. Not all labels list them. You’ll see these warnings:

This item may contain peanuts or tree nuts.

Produced on equipment that processes peanuts and tree nuts.

Contains trace nuts.

Warnings can make the food prohibitive to your child. Check it, every single time.

4.     Be absolute

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc
photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

“I think it’s OK” isn’t acceptable. It’s difficult to eat in ethnic restaurants. The standards aren’t the same, and language can be a barrier. We will ask a manager, not a server, if there are peanuts on the menu.

We’ve found restaurants that understand exactly what risk they pose to peanut allergy sufferers.

Make sure trip chaperones and teachers realize a zero-tolerance for peanuts. Ask in every single restaurant, on every visit. If a manager can’t assure you … eat somewhere else.

5.     Find ways

photo credit: bjosefowicz via photopin cc
photo credit: bjosefowicz via photopin cc

Marie brings a baggie of brownies to birthday parties, in case the cake isn’t safe. We buy sunbutter when we can. It’s delicious, with no allergy risks. Note which allergy-friendly foods your child loves. Remember which restaurants understand the challenge. Key on what she can eat.

Marie understands that if we’re somewhere she can’t eat, we’ll make it up to her, on the way home. McDonald’s ice cream, a kids’ meal, a Hershey chocolate bar work wonders.

6.     Never back down

photo credit: thekellyscope via photopin cc
photo credit: thekellyscope via photopin cc

People will misunderstand. People will downplay the allergy. It’s inconvenient to some. “My boy loves peanut butter sandwiches. Why should I stop putting them in his lunch?”

My girl loves to breathe. Why should I stop paving a peanut-free path where she goes?

I won’t. I will pester and persist. I will make sure you and those around my daughter understand it’s not just a rash or tummy ache. It’s serious. When we get this right, manage checks and balances, we hardly notice.

We can appreciate so many delicious foods together, if we’re careful.

We can bake wonderful dishes and eat at places we can trust. We just have to find them.

Our Marie has a peanut allergy. When we watch and ask and persist, it’s just a detail.

Minimal. Diminutive.

No bigger than a peanut.

peanut quote

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51 thoughts on “A Peanut Allergy Guide – For Parents

  1. Eli, I can’t say enough how amazing you are in general and especially here though with your tips. So far we have been lucky on the food allergy front, but even from attending the Mylan (Epipen) event back in December, I learned that allergies can present themselves at any time, so I have learned not to take anything for granted here.

  2. Very nicely-written. How can something like a peanut cause something really big and risky? But then again you explained it all too well – watch, ask, persist. A previous trainee of mine was allergic to shrimp but she ate a bucket I think that when she came back to work after lunch, I was so scared she would burn – she was red as hell.

    1. Thanks Rea. It’s baffling how deadly something like a peanut can be. You just have to be vigilant, non-apologetic, and yet not too over-the-top when it comes to protecting your kid – like we do with many other situations.

      I would hate to have a shellfish allergy – any allergy, really, to food, but I’d miss shrimp and crab legs.

  3. my school is completely nut-free. keeps it easy for the kids and the parents and the teachers. if someone brings in a treat, we have alternative treats for the allergic kids, provided by their parents. we read virtually everything. things made at home and brought in are never served to these kids as it’s hard to have control over what’s in someone else’s kitchen. the kids take a part in their own care too, and we talk about why they might be eating a different treat. the other kids are extremely supportive and we talk about how everyone’s body reacts to things differently. we don’t dwell on it, just a small but extremely important part of taking care of themselves and each other, as we all should do.

    1. I love the nut-free concept, inconvenient as it might seem for some. Marie had a teacher who declared her classroom nut-free. When parents objected and wanted to know who the allergy kid was (what the hell??) she said, “it’s me. I’m allergic.”

      Kids are great about it. Marie’s classmates have been afraid to eat Butterfinger candy bars at lunch and have given them to the teacher.

      And Marie’s sisters are stellar at remembering to ask about peanut oil in restaurants. That’s another biggie.

      I love your approach. It’s nothing to gloss over, but it also doesn’t mean she’s from another planet.

  4. I feel your pain. Although my wheat allergy or intolerance or whatever-doctors-want-to-call-it isn’t anaphylaxis, it’s very severe. It sucks. I am very limited when eating out. I had to hurt my mother-in-law’s feelings when she made me popcorn but used butter from the same stick she butters her wheat toast with.

    However, it is a very small part if me (and my kids). It doesn’t stop us.

    So glad you have found acceptance. Praying those scary dreams stay away.

    1. It’s a universal pain, isn’t it Jaime? Even in its not-so-severe form, peanut allergy symptoms are no picnic, either.

      I would think eating out in another country would be almost impossible. And people don’t think about cross-contamination usually.

      Although, we’ve gone to ice cream places that will serve Marie out of a new carton with an unused scoop. Little things like this make certain places our favorites.

      I’m glad you see that it’s an important part of you, but a small one.

      Thanks for the prayers – I haven’t had them since she was diagnosed, but it’s a helpless feeling.

      1. My oldest son became suicidal about a year after I let him go back on wheat. He has a history of autism, although behavior-wise he is not on the spectrum whatsoever. He just has the medical/inflammatory stuff going on in his body that caused the subset of autism that he had in the first place.

        So, the undiagnosed celiac disease or whatever it is with gluten is sort of long-term life threatening. I would be lying if I said I don’t have those dreams. He is doing well now, back to normal. I wonder if I will get that devastating call in college or just someday. He knows now how crazy wheat makes him feel (gluten ataxia I believe is what some call it), so hopefully I will show him it’s not so bad. I think he gets it, and I hope if he ever falls off the wagon when I’m not around to control what he eats that he reacts severely. Just so he knows never to do it again.

        That’s a nice, positive, mommy thought, huh? 🙂 I squelch them down with plenty of chocolate and wine.

      2. Parenting is a rough life, isn’t it? People have to understand we have to be champions for our children.

        It’s not because the allergy will give them a tummy ache. It’s life and death.

        (Said it before, I’ll say it again: You’re one awesome mama).

  5. I know several families who live with peanut allergies, and I think they would love this post! I used to be more of a label reader when I would shop with my mom. She was allergic to gums, which are in everything!

    1. Especially for newbies, it can be a tough lot! You find that you can’t take anything for granted. A fast-food place we’d eaten in before changed to peanut oil, and only by asking every time we eat did we learn about it.

  6. I think having her take part in learning how to manage the allergy is key. I am very fortunate not to have to deal with this but have heard in cases where the nut-free rule wasn’t supported by all teachers and staff, things would start to slip. You have to always be diligent.

    M’s elementary school went nut-free after he left and the vegetarian/vegan families threw a fit. I didn’t get it, as someone who was veggie for a very long time. There are alternatives for us, just maybe not as “easy” as PBJ; there aren’t any alternatives for y’all having to live with this risk.

    1. She definitely takes ownership. Teachers and administration are so crucial to keeping school safe for everyone.

      Isn’t it amazing how people lose sight of the difference between inconvenience and life and death.

  7. AMEN to #6 my friend’s son is allergic to just about everything. Severely allergic where it is a crisis if he inadvertently gets frosting on his face because his grandmother thought it was “no big deal” for him to do a gingerbread house because they were not eating it. But the frosting had egg in it, which he then touched and boom to the ER she went.

    I think no matter what parents have to be their child’s champion. In the case of something life threatening you are just more out there with it. So battle on my friend!

    1. I know how much more complex multiple allergies become. I think it’s a generational thing, too – our parents and grandparents didn’t have to raise us under these conditions as much.

      I love how you put that, Kerri, about being our child’s champion. We can’t leave it up to chance or community.

      We shall battle on …

  8. Eli, I’m so jealous that Marie can go to restaurants and ICE CREAM?!? X isn’t even allowed to walk into an ice cream parlor. Sigh. And I’m homeschooling. But! There is hope in medical advances. His allergist told me that by the time he’s in his 50s they should have things that will allow him to at least walk into an ice cream parlor, go to a baseball game, etc. He still won’t be able to eat but at least he can go with us. At first I was thinking, “that’s so wonderful!” I was about halfway home before i said, “in his fifties?!?!” Damn. Oh well deligence is key and I no longer care if I hurt feelings. My sons heart stops, deal with it! Love you and Marie!

    1. We realize how fortunate we are! We have one allergy to navigate. We can do this. I’m going to wager that the allergist’s projection happens way sooner. It has to.

      I will concern myself with today. Feelings are so much less concerning than vitals. As Kerri said, let’s continue to champion for our kids. It’s out of love.

  9. This is such a great post!! That last one especially – I’ve heard many people complain about not being to send a PB&J with their kid but when what they should be is grateful!!! One of Jordan’s good friends has a severe nut allergy – Jordan is always very cautious when this friend is at our house – good thing he reminds me to think about everything I make!!!

    1. Thanks so much Kim! I’d gladly skip PB&J if my kid wasn’t allergic, for the sake of others. I love that Jordan advocates too, and looks out for his friend.

      I think their generation will grow up taking it more seriously.

  10. This is perfect, Eli, and applicable to many things. My Mom has a severe shellfish allergy (you’d be surprised where that lurks) and Kidzilla can’t have food dyes. We ask a lot of questions and read a lot of labels. Thankfully, our girl is a quick study and understand how lousy she feels when she gets some of that nasty stuff in her. Makes the effort so much easier. She’s learning to advocate for herself (she watches out for my Mom, too) and observes us when we ask questions and make choices at restaurants. That all adds up to feeling a bit more comfortable when she has to be out in the world without us because we know she can handle it.
    Your tips about doing BYO for birthday parties or school parties are spot-on – that’s exactly how we handle it, too. By this point, many of the parents are aware and give us a heads-up about ingredients. Zilla’s classmates even keep an eye on her, too. Knowledge is power and full disclosure to others can be a lifesaver.

    1. You have to read and question, right? It’s the only way. Self-advocacy is crucial. If the kid doesn’t care, that’s scary.

      Sometimes, her brownies look better than the birthday cake. Our bad! We have parents call us all the time about what they’ll serve and have on hand when Marie visits. Love that.

      Gotta get everyone on board, that’s all.

  11. Great post! As a fellow peanut-allergy parent, I agreed with all your tips, and the emphasis on what your daughter CAN have, versus what she can’t. Mine was diagnosed when she was 2 and is now approaching 15. Fortunately, aside from the initial reaction, nothing since, and she has taken ownership of her health and safety. I also grew up with a sibling who had several tree-nut allergies, so finding out my kiddo had an allergy wasn’t the end of the world. It is manageable, and it sounds like you’re doing a great job!

    1. Thanks Kathy! Framing the good stuff is important, right? As a diabetic, I know I hate when people say “you CAN’T have that!” Well, yes I can. I can have anything, in moderation.

      It’s different with allergies. It’s zero tolerance. Some people don’t get that.

      It is manageable … we do the best we can, don’t we? Sounds like you’re on the right track, too.

  12. The fact that so many people misunderstand or get snarky about this, is disgusting. Scarlet has a friend at school with an allergy and another girl on the playground CHASED this kid with a peanut butter cracker. Seriously. The mother is my good friend and she was visibly shaken and made sure to tell the kid’s grandmother. Luckily the grandmother was horrified. Rightly so.
    Scarlet gets it. Big. One day she had peanut butter with breakfast and as we stood on line to school, she tugged at my arm. “Mom, what if it’s on my hands? What if it’s on my head?” So I told the teacher in charge. She whispered to her co-teacher (who has the life-threatening allergy, actually) and that teacher knew to steer clear for a bit while they washed Scarlet’s face and hands with soap and water, just in case.
    And I never gave it to her in the morning again. Not before school. She has it on weekends or at night.

    1. I really don’t know what to attribute it to, Tamara, other than ignorance. A kid at Marie’s table once had a PB&J sandwich, and when Marie reminded her about the peanut ban, the kid sneered and said, “just hold your breath.”

      Scarlet’s so sweet! I’ve found more kids like her than the sandwich girl. They’re aware and compassionate.

      I love your peanut butter approach, by the way.

  13. Bravo daddy!! My kiddos don’t have any food allergies and I can’t imagine how stressful it must be sometimes. That said, I’m an old hospital dietitian and I had to protect my patients…sometimes it meant defending them to “helpful” family members and even staff who didn’t take the allergy seriously.
    On another note, we walked into a Five Guys hamburger joint a few weeks where we were met with boxes of peanuts for snacking while waiting in line. I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness! What if somebody with an allergy didn’t know these were here? They would be in the door and it would be too late.”
    I love your approach, Eli…you rock!

    1. If you make your own path, it takes away much of the stress. We don’t go into risky situations. We don’t trust those who don’t take the allergy seriously.

      I think some Five Guys restaurants have a sign on the window that warns of peanuts, but you’re right, if you go in, airborne peanut dust can be deadly.

      Thanks Michelle!

  14. What a helpful post. It should be an entry in the parent manual – you know the one we should get issued but never seems to arrive along with the kids. Here’s to peanut-free paths and easy navigating.

  15. “Don’t miss out on life” – Great attitude, E!

    I actually know of families who home school because they can’t or don’t want to trust teachers and caregivers. Love that you make it up to Marie by treating her to some McD or nut-free chocolate. Does she feel like she misses out when she’s with friends?

    In Colin’s class there’s a girl who’s not only lactose intolerant but also suffers from celiac disease. When I asked her mom what to bake for her daughter on Colin’s birthday she said “to be perfectly honest, I’d prefer if she just ate the cookies the teacher stashes for her – no offense.” I tried not to take it personally, but for a minutes I was like doesn’t she trust me to use a clean bowl and the appropriate ingredients? Well, better be safe than sorry, right?

    1. It’s the only way to be, T!

      I would hate for homeschooling to be the choice primarily because of distrust. I know there are many better reasons.

      I don’t think she seems to feel she misses out. I think she gets frustrated when we just don’t know, and can’t take a chance.

      I think that mom from Colin’s class is just playing it safe. I know we tend to immediately trust others who have a peanut allergy in the family.

      Whatever you thought to bake for her, you can send to us, though.

  16. Like the masses, I thought a peanut allergy was just an irritation until… second year University. A friend of mine all of a sudden was scrambling for something. It freaked me out because I had absolutely no idea what was going on. She was trying to find her epipen. Someone in the room had peanuts. They were no where near her, the peanuts had not touched her. After that I became very aware of other peoples allergies and the servery of them.

    I had to use an epipen on another friend because she is allergic to tomatoes.

    People think allergies are a joke, but they very much are not.

    1. Seeing it first hand changes things, doesn’t it? And a little detail like forgetting an epi-pen can have dire results. We’ve never had to use one, but are relieved when people in whose care we put Marie know how to.

      It’s a sneaky thing, too, as you found out.

      You definitely qualify to chaperone one of Marie’s field trips.

  17. Very good post. There are no allergies in my daughter’s class, but if there were, I’d do away with the nuts. I would feel awful if a kid got sick because of something we brought in.

    1. Thanks Amber. Moms like you are easy on my heart. I will always look out for the kids in class when I’m in charge, and I want to know other parents feel the same way, too.

  18. I say we levy an especially cumbersome tax on South America for having the audacity to allow their delicious, but poisonous little legume to escape their continent and find its way to our shores. But I suppose that’s impractical, and not terribly neighborly. Forget I said anything.
    But here’s something I’m wholly confident is a great idea: Marie’s teacher should be cloned and put in charge of a large swath of the Earth. That woman is pure gold.
    Let’s clone her.

    1. I wish we could levy that especially cumbersome tax on the cat whose bright idea it was to make peanuts an allergen!

      (Plus, coffee lovers won’t want to run the risk of severing the java pipeline in the process.)

      Mrs. Sizemore ought at least to have a bronze likeness erected on the school’s playground. We love her still.

  19. I was watching a show on TV the other day and they were talking about a new treatment for peanut allergies, it works in about 60% of cases. Naturally it’s in early stages and involves exposing the patient to peanuts over a long period of time, so the body can adapt. I can’t imagine the level of awareness you’d need with your shopping and eating out Mate.

    1. It’s nuts, mate. They have studies ongoing at Duke University, with the same premise as you described. The initiative took a huge blow when a child died, even with medical aid at the ready.

      In the meantime, I’ll be a bulldog for my girl.

      1. I can well imagine your bulldog stance Mate. I can’t remember any mention of peanut allergies growing up. Is there something different about peanuts in the last 20 years?

      2. It is Mate. As to autism I think it’s been around forever, it’s probably easier to diagnose now. With it’s huge spectrum, I think kids in the old days would have been classed as slow learners, or bad kids and the system left them behind.

  20. This is really well written Eli. Having a child with food allergies can be a scary reality. I have friends whose children have peanut allergies and they are ever vigilant. Thanks so much for sharing this with us at the Let’s Get Real Link Party. I’ve pinned your article to our group group and selected you as one of my featured bloggers this week. Please stop by and grab a party button. This’ week’s party will go live Thursday at 5pm EST.

    1. Thanks Nicky. Over time, the food allergy becomes a way of life and a diligence, and less a scary reality – although the threat always must be taken seriously.

      I was happy to link up in Let’s Get Real. Thanks so much for the pin, and it’s an honor to be a featured blogger!

      I’ll definitely be by for the party. Thanks again, and thank you for helping to promote awareness, too.

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