My eldest child (now 7) was diagnosed with a food allergy at the age of 9 months. I recall a lovely day out shopping at Selfridges ending up at A&E of St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. The offending item was a chocolate orange macaroon. I made the purchase while snooping around the delightful treats counter at the Hotel Chocolat concession in Selfridges. Being the foodie that I am, I couldn’t possibly wait until I got home to sample the chocolate goodness. So I dived into the perfectly presented box and removed a chocolate orange macaroon to curb my cravings. As I was indulging, I looked at my little cutie in her pink mini skirt and denim jacket with tiny pigtails on either side of her head and she gave me the biggest smile ever. So I did what most parents do..I broke off a tiny crumb sized amount from the macaroon and fed it to the baby. Obviously I have no intention in feeding my child a diet consisting of chocolate, and yes I do know that salt and sugar shouldn’t really be given to a baby, but i’m a parent, I was eating something delicious and I wanted my baby to try it. The events that followed from that tiny crumb sized amount left me feeling traumatised for quite a while after. No sooner did she ingest the crumb, she began vomiting violently. Next her face turned a blotchy red colour, her lips started to swell and she fell sound asleep. All this must have occurred in less than 3 minutes! You could imagine my horror. There was a crowd of people around me, I was sobbing whilst clutching onto my baby. Someone called an ambulance, we were rushed to A&E on blue lights, the paramedics administered antihistamines immediately and placed her on an oxygen mask. All that from a crumb of a macaroon!
I was later informed that the macaroon itself was not the issue, rather the egg allergen present within it. The human body is designed to protect us from harm. An allergic reaction is the body’s response to a potential harmful substance (allergen) that triggers an immune response. Allergic reactions can range from: upper respiratory mild reactions such as sneezing, nasal congestion, and itchy eyes/ throat to more serious reactions such as: skin rashes, swelling, fainting, lethargy (extreme fatigue) and a total shutdown of the body resulting in suspended breathing and a cardiac arrest. An allergic person will display a variation of symptoms according to their own immune systems response to a particular allergen.
It isn’t uncommon for children to experience food allergies. I was told repeatedly over the years “most children outgrow their allergy by the age of 5”. So I was holding onto a smidgen of hope that my daughter would outgrow her egg allergy until we reached the age of 7. We have now accepted that the allergy is more than likely to be a life sentence and we are OK to deal with it.
Naturally, the events back at Selfridges while my daughter was an infant really resonated with me. For a long time; my home, my parents home, and her nursery were strictly an egg-free territory. I was terrified to dine out with her, even at the most reputable places. I convinced myself that nobody beside me could possibly cook her an egg-free, uncontaminated meal. So we avoided dining out all costs. It was difficult, I had to learn to cook everything from scratch (you would be surprised how much egg there is in shop bought food), but it was a small price to pay.
By the time my daughter was three years old and totally knowledgable in her severe allergy. I felt slightly more at ease about her going to birthday parties, christenings, weddings (social events with cake). She was so wonderfully behaved around food. She fully understood that she must only eat food that mummy has “Okayed” because there could be egg in anything and egg was “bad bad bad”. I started toying with idea of actually dining out as a family and enjoying all the lovely places we frequented before the egg allergy came along.
So I set about to plan our first outing. It was basically a military assignment; I checked menus online, confirmed the allergy during booking, spoke to the chef when we got to the restaurant, lectured the staff that worked there, made a packed-lunch for dear daughter (just in case they couldn’t cook the meal), and packed the contents of a first aid kit (antihistamines and epi-pens of course). I was a total nightmare! The staff must have thought I was barking mad. We had a pleasant meal and overall it was a success but I couldn’t help watching my daughter like a hawk with every mouthful of pasta that she ate. I was ready to speed dial an ambulance and jab her thigh with an epi-pen!
If there is only one thing I could advise a mum living with a child’s allergy it would be to: Calm Down….
Yes your child is allergic, yes it is serious. But believe it or not, you as a parent are totally in control of this. No harm will come to your child if you plan ahead and you plan well. The allergen will not jump into your child’s mouth, nor will it crawl into your handbag and follow you home. There are a few simple steps to follow that will allow you to enjoy all the food you love Inside or Outside your home. Please don’t deprive yourself or your loved ones the experiences of dining out through sheer lack of faith in strangers. Restaurants (most) do not want you to experience harm whilst dinning out, on the contrary it is in their favour if you enjoy your meal and return for future visits.
My simple checklist is as follows:
- The first time you dine out post diagnosis of the allergy – go to a restaurant that you are familiar with. Somewhere you love and have frequented in the past. That way your more at ease with your surroundings and more likely to be less apprehensive of the stranger cooking your childs meal.
- Do check online menus and make a selection ahead of time. This means your more organised on the night and are able to focus on spending time having great conversations rather than faffing over the menu.
- Call the restaurant and inform them that you will be attending with a child that has X allergy. Ask if they’re happy to accommodate your family and let them know that it will be your first time dining out since you found out about the allergy. You will be surprised at how lovely people can be when given “notice”.
- Explain to your child that you have ensured that their meal will be as safe as the ones that mummy cooks. Let them know that you have arranged everything and that everything will be just fine. Children need re-assurance no matter how small, this is massive for them.
- When you reach the restaurant gently remind your allocated waiter that you are the parent with the allergic child, and ask if there is anything you can do to help them navigate your child’s allergy.
- Always pack the antihistamines and epi-pens (good parenting, not necessarily being pessimistic)
- Look forward to your meal and enjoy it. Focus on your child’s enjoyment and capture the moment. This is a treat for the whole family not just the child, and when your having fun, your child channels your happiness.