After my daughter was first diagnosed with food allergies, my husband and I grieved. But what we didn’t expect was that it would also greatly impact my parents emotionally.
I think they cried and researched information as much as we were for the first few months. For all of us, it reactivated medical trauma we experienced when my daughter was born and spent time in the NICU.
To read more about that experience, click HERE.
Between my husband and I, we juggle three extended family units. There are so many people with differing experiences, opinions, and backgrounds.
With that comes varying levels of support. Especially when it comes to visiting people in different homes for events or holidays. However, it is a huge blessing to us that my parents have been BEYOND supportive of our family’s food allergy journey.
My mother and I are really close. In fact, I think she could be my twin sometimes. We are very similar in many ways, and that was helpful when we started realizing all the drastic measures our family would have to undergo to keep our children safe.
Without me even having to ask or make suggestions, my mom hopped on board with everything and started taking action in prepping their home to be a safe haven for our children when they came to visit.
Finding Your People
As much as I love and respect my parents, I know it is not realistic to ask all of our other family members or friends to be just like them or take the same steps in their own homes. Many people do not understand food allergies.
There are also those family members that do not want to do the in-depth research of food allergies symptoms, food labels, or manufacturing. Really, there is just so much that goes into it.
And that is okay.
Not everyone needs to be on our team or in our corner. I don’t expect everyone to take action to make their homes safe for us although, it does mean that I expect their understanding in why I might not feel comfortable going there to hang out.
Sadly, there will be people that brush off the seriousness of food allergies. Some people try to steamroll over our boundaries and might even attempt to feed our children their allergens to “toughen” them up.
They might even poke fun of food safety rules or tell you that you are too uptight about it all.
I want to tell you to let their hurtful words fall right off of you. Their actions will make it easy for you to discern whether they can be trusted to come alongside you in your family’s journey.
Traits of Supportive People
I can usually tell fairly quickly which people are open to learning. They typically approach me humbly, asking questions gently and without underlying accusations or judgements.
It is clear that they are trying to educate themselves. Those are the people I choose to invest in. I know they will listen and follow our food safety rules.
My sister-in-law is another person in our lives that shows that she cares about my children’s food allergies. She asks questions kindly and inquires what she can do to keep the kids safe at her house. Truly, she has a beautiful heart.
She once even made a Thanksgiving meal completely allergen free for us! She spent weeks planning, sending us label pictures, and walking us through the foods being served.
Yeah, I 100% cried. That type of support and communication is amazing.
However, Lauren and I know firsthand that not everyone will do that for us. We have to go out and find the ones that do.
Do you have people in your life that would be supportive and willing to learn from you? Those are the people you want to start investing in.
Sometimes people really do want to support us, they just don’t know how to go about it. That is why we wrote this post!
We hope it provides some good tips in which extended family (or close friends) can help support a food allergy family while spending time together.
We also hope it provides you with some ideas of how to ask your family to support you and your child.
7 Practical Food Allergy Safety Tips for Extended Family Members
Maybe that is you! Perhaps you don’t personally have food allergies, but your grandchildren do or other extended family members are walking this journey.
There are many ways to be supportive and safe when interacting with these families, especially if they are coming over to your home often.
If you are the mom of the child with food allergies, this is intended to help you think about what would be helpful for your extended family to do to support your family as you navigate life with food allergies.
My mom got to work on reorganizing her kitchen in order to make this happen for our children when they came to spend time with them.
Here are several things she did to make their home safer for our kids:
1. Ask Questions
My parents are constantly asking how they can support us and what they can do to make their house safe when we come over to visit or when we get together.
They don’t stop asking just because they think they already know what to do or have it all figured out.
That is key for us.
My parents check in with us before each visit to make sure purchased snacks are still safe. My mom also continues to send me food labels to ensure I feel comfortable with the children eating them.
Additionally, she goes over these safety steps with me and asks me if she is ever missing anything. Honestly, it is such a comfort to me to know how prepared she is to keep my children safe.
Their willingness to ask questions has opened the lines of clear communication between us. I feel safe being honest about what would truly make me feel comfortable because I feel they genuinely are working to create an environment that I feel safe having my kids be in.
Food allergies also change. What worked before may not work or what didn’t work may now work. Kids outgrow allergies and new food allergies can develop. I so appreciate my parents’ willingness to ask questions so that I can keep them up to date with what is working for us.
Look for the people who gently ask questions. If you are looking to support a food allergy family, be a person who asks questions free of judgment but with the true intention of learning and wanting to help.
2. Respect the Parent’s Comfort Levels
This. Is. Key.
My parents choose to be humble and assume that we know what is best for our children because we are their parents.
Not everyone treats us that way, which does impact our comfort level.
If a Food Allergy Family Says “No”
If I decide that I am not comfortable with a snack for whatever reason, my parents respect that. This also applies for the seasons of life when food allergies are harder to manage and I say “no” to even going over for a visit.
Sometimes, I only feel safe doing visits in our own home, and that’s okay. My kids have some pretty serious medical needs around food allergies.
Sadly, there have been many family members that have argued with me in the past or even laughed at me for that decision.
Thankfully, I’ve never experienced that with my parents.
If you are a family member of someone with food allergies, I want to very gently tell you that being laughed at, argued with, or dismissed for our safety concerns adds hurt to an already complicated situation.
In my experience, being treated that way only makes me more weary of letting my children spend time with those particular people.
One boundary that I have for my own sense of comfort is I ask people to not eat our kids’ allergens while we are hanging out or right before we meet up.
For example, if my mom wants to meal prep or bake something, she doesn’t do it prior to us arriving at her home. Her and my dad avoid the allergens altogether that day.
This also makes us feel more comfortable because we don’t have to worry about accidentally coming into contact with smeared peanut butter or raw egg on countertops.
Our children are still toddlers, so there is a high risk of them touching those leftover food messes and putting their hands in their mouth.
For more on this topic, check out our post “What In The World Is Food Cross-Contact?”
Our allergens also sometimes pop up in non-food items, such as shampoos and lotions. Oddly enough, sesame oil ends up in a lot of body and beauty products.
My parents also make sure to not use any body care products that contain our allergens right before we visit.
The way my parents really honor this boundary makes me feel respected and very cared for.
Truly, if you want to spend quality time with a food allergy family, be respectful and supportive of their comfort levels.
3. Think Through Your Home
If you are preparing to host a food allergy family, it’s important to think through a few things to help keep everyone safe.
For example, my kiddos are really young (both under age 5). Therefore, my parents store anything with their food allergens up high in the pantry in containers. This helps reduce any accidents.
Our kids do not go into their pantry, but if this is a concern for you, a childproof door knob can be installed or even a temporary lock put on.
To help make our kids feel more at home, my mom created a “go” cabinet for our children that is within their reach. She wrapped the handle with green felt so that our kids know it is safe.
Inside, she stores snacks that are safe foods for them to eat. They love it!
Green is for “go” and we tell them so every time we visit.
Again, my mom goes back to tip number 1 for clear and respectful communication with us. She tells us beforehand what is in the “go” cabinet and sends me pictures of the snacks and food labels.
My husband and I really appreciate that my parents don’t blindside us with undiscussed foods/drinks/snacks.
To us, that builds our trust in them and demonstrates their capability of handling our children’s food allergies.
Don’t Forget About Pets.
Allergens (especially peanut) can show up in dog and cat food, pet treats, etc. This would be a good thing to talk about beforehand so everyone is on the same page with how to manage that.
4. Get Ready to Clean
As stated above, not using or eating the allergens the same day you see a food allergy family is helpful because it cuts down on the cross-contact risk.
However, the home still needs to be cleaned well, especially kitchens and dining areas.
When my mom created the “go” cabinet, she scrubbed the inside down throughly.
She also periodically cleans the pantry to make sure there are no allergen residues hiding out anywhere outside of the designated containers.
My parents have even designated an allergen eating area in their home. So if my dad wants to eat peanut butter, he does so in one spot in their kitchen so my mom knows where to clean extensively.
Before our arrival, she cleans countertops and tables. Depending on the food allergens, a refrigerator might also need an in-depth scrubbing.
A great way to reduce cross-contact issues is to simply wash hands after eating your meals.
Since my parents keep my kid’s allergens in their home, I prefer they wipe down things like faucets, handles, fridge doors, and light switches before we come over.
Especially with younger kids who are still crawling around, it’s a good idea to get the floors nice and clean.
FARE is the trusted source of information about food allergies and you can check out their page about effective allergen cleaning methods HERE.
5. Consider Purchasing New Cookware and Utensils.
Another decision my parents made was to buy brand new cookware and utensils for their kitchen. They use them only for our children.
My mother stores these pots and pans away from her other dishes so there is no risk of cross-contact.
She tied red ribbon to the ends of the handles so that she can visually see that they are the food allergy safe cookware.
Additionally, she uses a designated dish scrubber to clean them as an additional safety measure.
Depending on the family and everyone’s comfort level, this may or may not be doable for your family.
If not, and cross-contact is a concern for your child, using disposable dishes and utensils can be helpful.
6. Have a List of Safe Foods.
Our family keeps track of brands that are safe for our kids to eat in a computer document. I update the list regularly after calling companies to inquire about shared lines and their facilities.
My mom prints this list off after I update it. She puts it in a sleeve protector and hangs it up in her pantry so it is easy to reference.
This way she can stock up on food for us when we’re coming over for a visit.
The document looks a bit like the following example below.
Important Note: This picture is meant to be an example, not a recommendation of foods that would be safe for your child to eat. Always check with your allergist and reach out to each specific food company before deciding a food is safe for your child.
Another fantastic resource is SnackSafely.com because they help food allergy families find safe brands depending on their particular food allergens.
You can actually customize your safe snack guide for your family’s needs. For example, my family searches for brands that are free from eggs/sesame/peanuts.
Check it out HERE!
7. Review the Emergency Care Plan
Last, but oh-so-important, is to understand how anaphylaxis with food allergies occurs, what the symptoms are, and how to proceed in the case of an emergency situation.
We printed our emergency care plan and signs of anaphylaxis for my parents to post on their pantry door and have reviewed it with them.
Lauren and I both desire to be prepared for an emergency. We don’t want to be looking up information frantically in a moment of medical need.
Here are both resources:
- FAACT’s Recognizing Anaphylaxis Guide
- FARE is the trusted source of information about food allergies and they have an emergency care plan you can look at HERE.
It’s also helpful to be familiar with the specific type of epinephrine injector your loved one has.
We Hope This Was Helpful to You
The fact that my parents have been willing to walk this journey has been nothing short of amazing. Honestly, it has helped our mental health more than they’ll ever know.
If you are coming to us as a new food allergy family, we hope this post encouraged you that you are not alone.
There are helpful people in the world that will come alongside you and support your needs. Sometimes they just need a place to start accumulating information.
If you are the extended family of someone with food allergies, we hope that this post gave you some safety tips to think about.
It might be worth sitting down and discussing if these are options with the loved ones you wish to support.
Always and forever, Lauren and I are in your corner, cheering you forward! <3