JOOLZ: Diagnosed with the whole shebang!
Our waitress hands back our food allergy list with a smile confirming the steak, frites and French beans contain none of the allergens nor are they prepared using any of them. Great. My husband has also chosen his food so I just need to decide now. I'm really hungry so a decision is hard with such a good choice of food on the menu. Right I've decided - linguini with prawns, garlic and chilli. Our son will of course remind me that prawns are high in cholesterol and that I shouldn't eat too many of them. He's right. He certainly knows a lot about food.
Our son is called Hari and he is seven years old.
At six months of age he had a blood test which indicated he was allergic to egg, wheat, milk, all dairy, soya, nuts and sesame seeds and were advised that exposure to these foods or their derivatives would result in severe eczema, breathing difficulties and in the worst case scenario, anaphylactic shock. This result was initially daunting but on a positive note we now knew the cause of Hari's acute eczema and could do something to alleviate it.
Regular appointments were scheduled for him at the hospital with the dermatology and nutrition teams and his growth monitored regularly. We educated our friends and family early on about the foods he could not eat, explaining the effect the wrong foods would have on him. This education was extended to his school and indeed to anyone who will be responsible for him in our absence. When Hari was old enough to understand we also started educating him and continue to do so.
Hari and I put a medical box together which is kept at school and contains his medication, directions for their use, guidelines for when they should be used and a list of emergency contact numbers. Hari chose the box which is a sturdy, brightly coloured lunch box and perfect for this use. There is a photograph of Hari stuck to the front so it's easily identified and there is a copy of the same photo and medical information up in his classroom and in the school's kitchen. Hari keeps the box with him at all times and takes it with him when he is away from his classroom; at assembly, whilst working in other classrooms and also when the children are away from the school on trips, swimming or at the sports field.
The teachers at Hari's school are EpiPen trained but at the beginning of a new school year I take in our dummy pen, and in addition to talking through his medication with his new teacher, I go through the EpiPen procedure with them so they feel confident.
Children with food allergies should never feel alienated. I have heard some awful stories whereby children with allergies have been seated on a separate table to other children when eating. At school, Hari sits on the same table as his classmates but at the end. The lunch supervisors are aware of his allergies, as are his classmates who are unbelievably careful with these foods around him.
Birthday parties needn't be a stressful time. We ask what food will be served at the party so we can replicate it so Hari doesn't feel left out, but if we find a safe alternative food item we ensure he knows it is different from what his friends are eating. For example, Hari cannot eat ice cream but can have some sorbets. We always pack a special treat for Hari in the event there is something at the party he would really like to eat but can't, especially where the party bags are concerned!
We ask the parents hosting the party if they would prefer us to stay at the party or if they are happy for us to leave. If they are happy to be responsible for Hari, we leave a backpack with them which contains the same medicines and information as his school kit.
Holidays, particularly abroad, need a little forward planning. If travelling by air, we contact the relevant airline and ask if they can provide meals for people with food allergies. Many airlines do and I remember when flying to Cyprus that the meals Hari had were better than both the adult's and children's options. If the airline cannot provide a meal, or say they cannot ensure it is 100% allergen free, we ask if we can take a chilled or frozen meal for the cabin crew to heat up on board which invariably they are happy to do.
We contact the relevant airport authorities and advise them of Hari's medication and any food and drinks we will need to carry on board in our hand luggage. We carry a signed GPs letter confirming that Hari is allergic to dairy and that we need to carry rice milk with us for him. We also carry a copy of Hari's prescription in the event he needs something we do not have with us whilst we are away from home. It's much easier to show a chemist an item on a prescription rather than trying to remember the technical term for a medicine or cream! We also ensure we have easy access to some food, for example a dried vegetable sauce and some rice pasta which we can cook up for Hari within minutes of reaching our destination.
Self-catering is our choice of accommodation as we like the flexibility of being able to cook when we want to. On holiday in Spain last year we stayed in a lovely villa which had a communal pool which Hari spent hours in a day with friends he had met on holiday. It was easy enough to get him out of the pool - we simply mentioned food! The villa had a barbeque on its terrace and we often stayed in and cooked on this. Hari loved going to the butchers with his Dad to choose the fish and meats to cook. The butcher made up fresh kebabs for us so all we had to do was fire up the barbeque, prepare some salad and open the wine for us and sparkling water for Hari.
Before we travelled we translated our food allergy list into Spanish by using an on line internet tool and also took an English/Spanish dictionary and highlighted the foods we needed to avoid for ease of reference whilst food shopping in the local supermarkets.
Villa holidays provide a perfect break for us and we have stayed in various locations in Spain, Italy and Cyprus. We have also stayed in aparthotels (where you have a kitchenette in your room), cabins, tents and a static caravan; the latter was on the Isle of Wight and was one of Hari's favourite holidays!
Don't look at what your child cannot eat - look at all the foods they can. Be positive. Make your child confident around food. This confidence must come from you and your attitude to allergies will shape their relationship with food forever. Hari likes to be involved in food preparation so we encourage this and make it fun. His first attempt of cooking was a rice cake he decorated with icing with raisins for the eyes and a glacé cherry for the nose. So cute.
Do not give your child anything to eat that you wouldn't eat yourself. Food must look appetising and attractive when plated up. Eating should never be a chore. Make your meals into an occasion whenever you can. We eat together as a family as often as we can and we all eat the same food.
Food glorious food! And so say all of us!