This is a guest post from Jamie Kabourek. Jamie Kabourek received her BS in Human Resources and Family Science at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln and obtained her Masters in Human Nutrition from the University of Kansas Medical Center. She has worked exclusively with the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP) which takes a comprehensive approach to provide the food industry with credible information, expert opinions, tools and services relating to allergenic foods. For over 13 years she has been providing outreach and education to food industry manufacturers, health professionals and consumers. Over the last five years she has been co-manager of her middle son’s food allergies (IRONY) and is surrounded by her all-boy family: husband Chris, sons Aidan, Sam and Charlie and wonder dog Chipper.
Our son Sam has had food allergies since he was 15 months old. I say HAD because his last blood test found no specific IgE antibodies to egg or peanut. He also passed oral food challenges to both egg and peanut - Oh happy days!! But in reality, our family has another learning curve, albeit a much smaller one than complete allergen avoidance for the past 4½ years. Now we are realizing that we can have “brinner” (breakfast for dinner), real birthday cake, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and Chinese food!
I had to explain to Sam why he no longer needed to identify these foods as something harmful. I did my best kindergarten teaching and told him that his body decided that those foods are no longer a big deal… his immune system got tougher and stronger so that peanuts and eggs no longer make him sick. I told him that, although he had recently learned to spell egg, he no longer has to search for it in ingredient lists. Now a few months after his challenges we still discuss his food allergy resolution. I have tried to:
- Encourage Sam to ask questions.
- Remind him that foods with his ex-allergens no longer make him sick.
- Explain that he no longer needs an Epi-Pen – it does not need to go places with us.
- Encourage trying new foods and restaurants, but without forcing foods with his ex-allergens. (Children that have a former food allergy may just not enjoy eating that food.)
- Encourage Sam to play with food. Kids can help in the kitchen with reckless abandon!
As summer starts up I’m reflecting on the impact that food allergies had on our family and on Sam in particular. Food allergies taught us vigilance out of necessity, to be prepared, and ways to communicate with different types of people. I also realize that we can apply some of these lessons to other areas of life. I hope that having had a food allergy will help my son to be more empathetic and understanding to those perceived differently. I also hope he will be a friend to a child on the playground that someone else made fun of, or understand why a classmate who is allergic to peanuts has to sit at the peanut-free table at lunchtime, and that it’s not a big deal.
Perhaps someday I’ll stop scrutinizing each and every ingredient label at the grocery store. My husband won’t have to re-read the ingredient statement to make sure that something didn’t get overlooked in the harried trip to the grocery store between piano lessons and haircuts. My oldest son will not have to ask the neighbor if the ice cream sandwich she is giving the kids contains eggs or peanuts. Health history forms will need to be edited at the doctor and dentist’s offices, but finally my son will not have to be vigilant in his food allergy management heading into the first grade. Relief, freedom, opportunity – these are some of the things we are feeling. But I still feel the anxiety, fear, and nervousness that accompany a child with food allergies; it is lessening, but it’s still there.
-Jamie Kabourek, MS, RD
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