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How does having a child with allergies affect family mealtime?

Dr. Paul M. Ehrlich, MD
Allergist & Immunologist

One silver lining in the cloud of food allergy is that it may actually encourage families to rely more heavily on fresh ingredients and home cooking. If you can't trust food labels and the ingredients listed on them, you have to go back to basics to control your child's diet. It may be time-consuming but it's a safer bet than relying on canned goods, junk food or takeout. Besides, cooking can be fun. Cooking together and eating together are good ways to further cement the cooperative spirit of food allergy families. Even the youngest children can do their part safely, like mixing ingredients and tossing salads. Older kids can chop and cook.

Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

More About this Book

Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

Asthma and allergies are at epidemic proportions. It doesn't have to be that way. Two experienced pediatric allergists tell everything a conscientious parent needs to know about these conditions,...
Ms. Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Having a child with allergies does not have to negatively affect family mealtime. In fact, it can be a learning experience for all. Depending upon the specific foods that your child is allergic to, it might make sense to make the same food for everyone to enjoy to avoid being a short-order cook. Explore safe and alternative food choices, new recipes and be creative. Consider meeting with a registered dietitian specializing in food allergies to guide you through this process.

To find a dietitian near you, visit eatright.org.

Dr. Lawrence T. Chiaramonte, MD
Allergist & Immunologist

As families are eating fewer meals together, the ones they do share become more important. Yet, if anything, meals at home can pose even greater logistical challenges. Do you cook separately for the allergic child? If so, the afflicted child will be tempted by the forbidden food. Do you cook the same things? If the allergen being avoided is a staple of the "average" family diet like wheat, soy, eggs, milk or peanut butter, it can be quite difficult on the nonallergic family members. It also depends at what age the family members are started on the low-allergy diet. If it is early enough they might not notice the difference. Children who have such allergies are taught rightly to be wary of unfamiliar foods and food from strangers. But do you convey that wariness to everyone in your family? In general, children are picky-enough eaters. You don't want to convey that sense of pickiness to your nonallergic children.

The dietary strictures are just one aspect of what happens within the family. Emotional walls go up along with the dietary limitations. Foods are not eaten and feelings are left unexpressed. These emotional limitations do real damage.

Here are some ideas for making mealtime a positive experience for the whole family if you're dealing with a child who has allergies:

  • Teach everyone to read labels—not just the child with allergies.
  • Take everyone shopping. Armed with their new vocabulary, a shopping trip can be almost like a treasure hunt.
  • Cook together. Small children can learn their way around a kitchen starting with simple tasks like tearing up lettuce for salads. It can be a lot of fun.
Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

More About this Book

Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

Asthma and allergies are at epidemic proportions. It doesn't have to be that way. Two experienced pediatric allergists tell everything a conscientious parent needs to know about these conditions,...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.