How can I protect my child with food allergies?

Parents have long been advised to avoid introducing certain foods—spices, dairy, wheat, for example—before a specific age. There is some merit to this; these foods do seem to cause an allergic response in some children. So it’s wise to be cautious about the timing of new foods, especially if you, your partner or a sibling has ever had an unfavorable reaction.

For families with a history of food allergies, I recommend sticking with nursing/formula and holding off on introducing solids into the child’s diet until she is at least 6 months old. After that, start off with an iron-fortified rice or oat cereal (wait on wheat cereals until age 1). Then, you can add vegetables, but avoid beans, peas and other legumes. Next, add fruits but avoid citrus until she’s at least a year old. Once she’s 8 months old, you can round out her diet with meat and protein foods, but avoid fish, shellfish and nuts until she’s at least three. Also, avoid cow’s milk and dairy products until her first birthday and eggs and berries until she’s two.

For kids without any family history of food allergies or sensitivities, I recommend delaying berries, citrus and whole eggs until age 1 and shellfish and nuts until age 2. However, wheat, soy and dairy products are fine after 6 months.

With all kids I suggest introducing new foods slowly, beginning with single-ingredient foods and spacing the introduction of each new food at least three or four days apart. With this approach, you can watch for any adverse reactions. If none appear, it’s fine to continue on. If your child does have an adverse reaction, eliminate the food and talk with your pediatrician.

From Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children by Jennifer Trachtenberg.

Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, MD
Allergist & Immunologist

It has been recently reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that food allergies are becoming more prevalent in our country with a 20 percent increase over the past 10 years. It is estimated that 6 to 8 percent of children under the age of 18 have a bona fide food allergy. That is why getting the diagnosis correct and confirmed is essential. Having a trifold program of avoidance, patient education and of course, emergency preparedness is firmly in place.

Here is some important advice for parents and caregivers of food-allergic children:

  • Have a plan. After confirmation of the diagnosis, a food allergy action plan should be prepared by the allergist for exact written instructions of how to proceed if a child is having an allergic reaction. Portable injectable epinephrine auto-injectors need to be prescribed and carried by those individuals with a confirmed food allergy.
  • Know the drill. A food-allergic child can be his or her own best advocate—from kindergarten through college. Parents should educate their child early so they are fully aware of what the child is allergic to, and they should also educate teachers, cafeteria staff and friends. In addition, it's important for children to know the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as shortness of breath and hives, and have key people to turn to (including school nurses, teachers, coaches and friends) in an emergency.
  • Be a label detective. Learn how to interpret and "decode" food labels for hidden ingredients that may wreak havoc if a child has a food allergy. Cross-contamination of cooking surfaces, utensils and cookware can pose a danger, especially if it's not communicated to cafeteria and restaurant staff. Preparing a "food allergen ingredient card" for the chef and kitchen staff in order to ensure a safe dining experience can help.
  • Make time to meet. Parents and caregivers should schedule a pre-meeting with school officials to educate them on their child's needs as well as talk to their local allergist. Also, it is helpful to stay up-to-date on the latest in food allergy management by joining organizations like the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, as well as parenting support groups that offer great resources and information.

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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.