My son was 8 months old when he was diagnosed with a peanut allergy (tree nut and dairy allergies subsequently followed). My daughter was 6 months old when she was diagnosed with a banana allergy.
I was devastated. Scared. And completely overwhelmed.
Suddenly, food was now a threat. It’s odd how this diagnosis can completely change your relationship with food. I no longer trust food. In my heart, I suspect food as always being potentially harmful.
Wondering if a food is going to trigger an allergic reaction in your child is anxiety producing. How could it not be?
If you’re reading this and you feel gut-turning anxiety when you have to introduce a new food to your child, you’re not alone. I’ve been there. It’s hard.
But I knew I needed a plan to help reduce the stress so that I could continue introducing new foods to my kids. Both of them had just recently entered the world of solid foods when they had their first allergic reactions.
My daughter had actually only had pureed pears, pureed carrots, rice cereal, and pureed apples before she reacted to bananas. That definitely wasn’t going to cut it for her long-term dietary needs.
You Can Do This
I know the anxiety you feel is very real. I’ve felt it too. To be honest, food allergies took so much of the joy out of introducing new foods to my kids.
I created some steps for our family to follow when introducing new foods to help rebuild some of my confidence and ease some of the anxiety.
I know you know this, but I’m NOT an allergist.
Everything I share with you is what has been helpful to our family. None of this is medical advice. This is information from one mom to another mom on how we handled introducing new foods.
1. Check with Your Allergist First
Do they have any specific ways they would like you to proceed with certain foods?
There may be foods that your allergist wants you to handle differently based on the current allergies that your child has been diagnosed with. Some foods they may want you to prioritize before others.
This was the case for my son when he was diagnosed with a peanut allergy. Apparently a peanut or egg allergy can increase risk of food allergy to the other one. After my son’s diagnosis of an allergy to peanuts, they tested him for egg. His testing was negative, so they wanted us to prioritize moving forward with early introduction of egg to help his chances of tolerating egg.
There may be foods your allergist wants you to avoid. My son’s peanut allergy prompted the allergist to run a blood panel for tree nuts since the two often go together. My son’s blood-work results, positive skin testing to tree nuts, and prior medical history prompted the allergist to have us avoid all tree nuts for the time being until we could test again the following year.
Some food group families may be a higher risk. When my daughter was diagnosed with a banana allergy, the allergist cautioned us that avocado, kiwi, and latex (although not a food) were in the same food family. Who knew?
We were not told to avoid entirely, but given that she was only 6 months old at the time, the allergist preferred that we prioritize other foods first.
2. We Do Small Bites First
When introducing a new food, we are sure to do small bites first. I usually give my child one bite to start, and then we wait before having more.
We want to prevent our children from eating a large portion of something when we don’t know if they are allergic to it.
3. We Wait 5 Minutes
After the first bite, we have a mandatory 5 minute wait rule. The language we use with our kids is, “We’re going to make sure your body says this new food is okay first before we eat some more.”
We made it a game with our kids. They would ask what number they had to wait for and got excited each time the clock changed. We sang songs, played games, all while I discreetly monitored them for signs of an allergic reaction.
4. Then We Double the Amount and Wait Some More
After 1 bite and the first 5 minutes, if all is well, we do two bites of the new food and wait an additional 5 minutes. More games, songs, and silliness.
5. We Free Eat After 15 Minutes
At 10 minutes, I do 4 bites and wait 5 more minutes. If we get to 15 minutes and we have no sign of an allergic reaction, then I let them eat normally.
6. We Isolate Ingredients
As much as possible, when realistic, we isolate ingredients so that if for some reason there is an allergic reaction, we have more confidence in what the reaction was in response to.
Now, for some processed foods, this could quickly get borderline ridiculous. In this case, I keep the label so I can start food tracking in a food journal should we have a reaction to help narrow down the culprit.
For whole foods, like a new fruit, fish, etc, we strictly keep it to that food during food introduction. We do not introduce two new foods at the same time.
7. Reduce Cross-Contact Risk
I am extra attentive to cross-contact when introducing new foods. I want to eliminate possible options to what the allergic reaction could have been to should we need to do so.
This means I am very selective of brands. I often choose only nut-free facilities or dedicated lines for my son’s peanut and tree nut allergies.
If you have your child’s allergens in the home, be mindful of cookware, cutting boards, knives, etc. that have come in to contact with your child’s allergen.
For more information on cross-contact, check out our blog post, What in the World is Food Cross-Contact?
8. We Don’t Do Food Introduction at Dinner
We really try to avoid introducing new foods after 4pm. This is because my kiddos are going to bed by 8pm.
It provides me with comfort to be able to monitor them for most of the day after they have had a new food to be sure there are no symptoms that I’m missing.
Although rare, sometimes allergic reactions can happen hours after exposure. The majority of allergic reactions occur within minutes of exposure to the food.
Sometimes, they can happen 30 minutes later or longer.
In rare cases, anaphylaxis can occur hours later.
For my own peace of mind, even though I understand this is rare, I do not want to give my child a new food at dinner, and then have them experience symptoms while sleeping. I want to be in a position to react immediately if my child needs medical assistance.
9. Have Your Epinephrine and Emergency Care Plan Ready
Just a friendly reminder to double check that you know exactly where your epis are before you try new foods. We have a designated spot in our house where our epis hang out. I always double check that they are right there.
I also keep a copy of our emergency care plan with the epinephrine. Having this plan printed out is very helpful in reducing panic if you suddenly find yourself in the middle of an allergic reaction.
If you do not have one, FARE is the trusted source of information on food allergies and they have an Emergency Care Plan that you can print and follow.
10. Trust Your Mom Gut
I think the “mom instinct” is often underrated. It’s a real thing. It just is. We are very much connected to our children. And when we sense something is off, our gut tells us.
For example, when my son was 2, I made these apple oatmeal cookies for the first time. I was very careful with the ingredients for his peanut, tree nut, and at the time, dairy allergies.
We had recently gone to an orchard for apple picking, and the recipe called for freshly shredded apples, skin on.
I made the cookies, and as I sat down to let him have one, my mom gut totally went off.
“Don’t let him have the cookies. He will react to these.”
I kid you not, those 2 thoughts went through my head.
I thought it was my anxiety acting up. After all, I had made the cookies myself, no cross-contact issues, so it should have been fine. I took deep breaths and convinced myself to let him have the cookies. Still, I was hesitant and only let him have 2 small bites first instead of handing him a whole cookie which is what I was originally going to do.
Within 3 minutes, his mouth had red splotches all around, and my heart sank as red streaks shot up his face toward his eyes. His eczema, which had basically been dormant for a year since we figured out his allergies, instantly flared into an angry dragon red on the backs of his knees and elbows.
My stomach lurched. This was exactly what happened when he had started reacting to dairy, only this time I knew there was no dairy in these cookies. I began to panic that it had something to do with his nut allergy.
I took the cookie away, called my neighbor who was an ICU nurse to come running, and got on the phone with the allergist.
Luckily, things did not progress further. There was never a second symptom besides the skin reaction, and the redness/hives resolved on its own within an hour.
My allergist immediately connected the issue. “It’s the fresh apple skin.”
She determined that the proteins in the apple skin were related to one of his tree nut allergies. I believe it was cashew, but I could be mistaken. My allergist said the protein was localized to the apple skin and not the flesh of the apple.
I was in disbelief. And then it suddenly hit me. I had always peeled apples before giving them to him in the past, he had never eaten apple skin before until now.
My mom gut was right in sensing that something was off.
The truth is that food anxiety is real and hard to manage. So it can be difficult to differentiate between anxiety and mom gut.
Sometimes the anxiety around this can be truly crushing. This is different than being nervous or experiencing “mom gut.”
One of our favorite resources is Food Allergy Counselor. Pay attention to how you are feeling, Momma. This stuff can be really difficult and you are not alone.
We highly recommend reaching out to them as they focus on helping families who are experiencing food allergies.
However, I am always nervous giving my kids new foods. But the apple cookie experience felt different than anxiety. It was my mom gut talking to me.
You have a mom gut too. Trust it.
11. Be Aware of Your Own Anxiety
My kids are super perceptive. They pick up on my emotions easily. I think they must have little sensors or something.
But the reality is, my kids are watching me. If my face is tense and stressed, chances are that my kids will pick up on it.
It was really important to me that my anxiety about food allergies didn’t impact my kids and make them anxious around food. I had to be hyper aware.
A few things that helped me were:
- Having another adult present when possible. Whether it was my husband or a friend, it provided me a small comfort to know I had another person to help.
This wasn’t always realistic, and I did many introductions alone. But for some foods that I was more nervous about, like introducing my daughter to peanuts after my son’s peanut allergy, I was sure to arrange to have someone else there.
- Preparing myself emotionally. Deep breathing, praying, or a quick mindful minute all helped me get ready.
- Playing music, made-up games, silly songs, etc. with my kids all were helpful while we were doing new food introductions. It eased the stress and kept the kids (and me) relaxed.
- Being aware of my facial expressions. I had to make an intentional effort to smile and have a gentle, confident mom face with my kids instead of displaying all the worry I felt on the inside.
- Having my phone right next to me incase I needed to call for help.
- Using language with my kids like, “We’re going to see if your body says this food is okay.”
- Having the emergency care plan easily accessible.
A Few Final Thoughts
I know how stressful this is. I’m sorry. Truly, I wish this was easier. But I want to encourage you with this thought:
You are more ready now to handle an allergic reaction than you were before.
The reality is, you may discover new allergies. We did. But each time we did, I was ready. I recognized it immediately. I had what we needed.
Think about how much you know now compared to when your child first reacted to a food. You are so much more equipped to help them should they need it.
I also want to encourage you that we have introduced far more foods that our kids COULD eat than ones they could not. Because we introduced new foods, our kids have so many new favorites! They love it! It has opened so many doors for them. Which is so important.
One thing we focus on in our family is how many foods we CAN eat, not just the ones we can’t eat.
You can do this! We’re here for you and cheering you on. <3
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