What Do You Do When Your Child Asks, “Can I eat this?”

“Can I eat this?”

At holidays, parties and family and school events, parents will eventually hear “Can I eat this?” from their child with food allergies.  Hopefully, you have taught your child to always ask before taking a bite!  You may not have had time to fully investigate the requested food, which requires not just reading the label, but may require calling the manufacturer of the prepared food. Consulting websites such as www.foodallergy.org or www.glutenfreewatchdog.org may help determine if food ingredients are safe for your child. Ingredients change anytime and without notice, so look for the websites last actualization date. When in doubt, it’s best to ask your little one “How about this food instead?” as you quickly pull out a safe food from your snack bag (that parents should always carry with them) or direct your child to another safe food option that you recognize is allowable.

Here are some considerations when faced with that on-the-spot question:

1.    Home-made food made by someone other than you—is not allowed.  Unless it is made by someone you have directly taught how to prepare foods safe for your child, the answer must be NO.  Even if the food was prepared by a parent of another child with allergies, you can never be sure that others are fully aware of your child’s food allergy restrictions.

Say “NO” to questionable food

Even when the cook tells you the ingredients were used, sometimes a person can forget the little sprinkle of this or that when adding ingredients. Kitchen cleaning practices vary, so cross-contamination may be a huge risk. As a dietitian, I have had people tell me they follow a wheat-free diet because they are avoiding whole wheat even when they are using all sorts of other food products that contain wheat.  If offered a questionable food, refuse it by saying your healthcare team advised against all home-made foods.

2.    Prepared foods from restaurants or grocery store may be safe, but how do you determine this?

The exception is if the chef or manager overseeing the preparation of the desired food can tell you with certainty how the food was prepared and handled so you can judge if allowable or not. You can also review lists of restaurants that participate in training for safe food preparation.

3.    Packaged foods may be safe for your child. 

No matter if it is a new product you are using for the first time or a product you use regularly. Read the label every time to not expose the child to any allergens.  If you have read the label and feel confident in the manufacturer ingredient label, then the product may be suitable for your child with food allergies.  I often suggest parents sign up for food allergy alerts from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

5.    Avoid mixing allowable foods on your child’s plate with non-allowable/questionable foods.

When a non-allowable food interacts with allowable food, we consider it contaminated. for example, A hamburger patty that was briefly in a wheat hamburger bun is considered contaminated.  Try to get into the kitchen to read labels and make your child’s plate safe BEFORE exiting the kitchen.  

Teach your child to ask you if they can add any additional foods to their plate. If your child is on a top 8 food elimination diet (E.g., Avoids milk, wheat, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, and fish and shellfish), all fresh fruits and vegetables are safe. Fruits and vegetables are great choices for snacks and meals but serve them separately from sauces and dips. Bring a bag of apples, pears or tangerines to the party to assure that your child has a healthy and safe choice available. 

When your child asks: Can I eat this? 

Meats are generally okay, as long as the preparation method does not introduce any unwanted ingredients.  Watch out for packaged meats or vegetarian meats as many contain wheat, soy or dairy. for example, Beef jerky has a long shelf life, and you can keep it in your car in case you need a snack. 

“Can I eat this” moments happen all of the time.

No matter how well you plan, these “Can I eat this?” moments may happen. As a best practice, we recommend keeping a snack bag with you or in your car in case of emergencies. Ideas for your snack bag depend on what food allergens your child needs to avoid. For instance, if your child is on an 8 food elimination diet, allowable snack examples include:

  • Individual bags of gluten-free pretzels, top 8-free cookies/crackers or allowable potato chips
  • Freeze-dried fruits or fruit leather
  • Meat jerky sticks
  • Ready to serve Neocate Splash drink boxes in a variety of flavors
  • Suggest making a list of “safe” foods offered at common fast-food restaurants that provides food allergy information on their website.

Have questions? Comment below!

-Patricia Novak MPH RD CLE LD

Today’s guest blog post is by Patricia Novack. Patricia has 30 years experience working with children and adolescents with autism, developmental disabilities, food allergies and chronic illness.  Her work includes clinical practice in both hospital and community based programs, professional training and curriculum development.  The common thread throughout has been addressing feeding issues in children from infancy through adolescence.

Published: 01/26/2017
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