Any parent knows how tricky it is to come up with a varied and nutritious packed lunch for a six-year old. When that child has a severe allergy to eggs, nuts and dairy products, as my own daughter does, it’s even harder.
Luckily in this country we are generally well-served with products such as non-dairy cheese, margarine, ice-cream and chocolate (including Easter eggs and advent calendars) – as long as you search them out, and don’t mind paying a premium. You can even buy dairy-free mayonnaise.
We’re also lucky in the UK that we have a high standard of labelling food allergens in products. But you’d be surprised at how many products do contain warnings of cross contamination – I’ve found that even some brands of baked beans can contain traces of nuts.
An added complication is that recipes constantly change. So just because it was OK last time, it doesn’t mean it still is. Our monthly trip to the supermarket takes twice as long as everyone else as we have to stop and read every label.
One area of confusion is the wide array of warnings on packaging. As well as ‘may contain traces of…’, there’s varying warnings that indicate when nuts or dairy products are handled elsewhere in the factory, or were previously handled on the production line. There are even messages saying that although the recipe and factory are nut-free, the product may still contain them.
I often find we’re not sure about a certain product so we end up not taking the risk.
Food allergies and eating out
Having a family meal out is another test for us. Luckily most child-friendly chains, such as Pizza Express, will make pizzas etc using soya cheese supplied by ourselves. And these kinds of chains are generally very good at supplying breakdowns of ingredients. Fish and chips are usually off-limits for us unless we can be sure groundnut oil hasn’t been used – unfortunately my local chippy does fry in it.
Later this year, we’re taking our children on their first ever holiday abroad, to the Italian Lakes. The hope is that we can take soya-based butter and cheese with us on the plane, so that my daughter can enjoy the local specialities.
Most of these situations we can control, but going to children’s parties is often a worry for us. If we’re not confident that the organiser can supply appropriate food, then we’ll send some food along for my daughter. It’s hard though when she can’t eat the usual party biscuits, cakes and crisps with her friends. She’s a sensible girl and she handles it well, but it can still be upsetting as a parent.
Do you or anyone you know have a food allergy? Do you have any experiences or advice you can share with me and my six-year-old daughter?