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Marci Komssi
BY Marci Komssi

Making Summer BBQs and Picnics Safe for Your Child with Food Allergies

Summertime not only brings warm weather, vacations, and endless trips to the pool—it’s also time for BBQs. For the average person, BBQs equal fun, but for the 15 million Americans living with food allergies, such gatherings can often be more worrisome than wonderful.

Imagine this: Your neighbor invites the entire neighborhood to his home for an afternoon of corn hole, swimming, and food. What a great neighbor! He’s supplying the burgers and dogs and is asking everyone else to bring a side dish and dessert. In your arsenal, you already have your list of safe foods you can whip up with ease. But what about the other families on your block? Sure, they have their go-to list, but will it be safe for your child? How do you ensure that your child can have fun with the neighbors and stay safe?

How Parents Handle This Situation

There is no right or wrong answer for this scenario. Everyone’s comfort level is different. Some families will choose to ask other families not to bring anything their child may be allergic to. Others may choose not to attend at all.

When I asked the members of the Central Mass Parents of Children With Food Allergies Support Group how they would handle such a situation, their responses were similar. Most agreed that they would bring a separate, safe meal for their child. Some would bring a side and dessert their child would enjoy and make sure he or she gets served first. One mom brought up a great point: Jennifer said, “Even if we bring food that is safe for him, we scoop and package his food at home before going. People don’t mean any harm but they quickly use whatever spoon, or eat deviled eggs, then reach for a plate of watermelon or whatever.”

They all agreed that each family will handle a situation like this in a way that works best for them. What’s important is that kids never feel excluded, know how to advocate for themselves, and never accept food from anyone other than someone who completely knows and understands their allergens.

Ensuring Kids Understand Their Allergies

For kids to take seriously that job of never accepting food that’s not definitely allergy-safe, it helps if they understand their own allergies and know this isn’t something you can forget about when you want to be like everyone else. The best piece of advice I can give is to start talking about the allergy immediately after the diagnosis.

When my son was a baby, there weren’t too many resources. When he reached for a food at the grocery store, I would remind him that we needed to be sure the food was safe. As he got older I would have him read the ingredients, and do the research if an item was not clearly labeled.

Thankfully, today there are many great resources out there, from articles to apps to a plethora of children’s books. Here are a few of our favorites:

The BugaBees app
“Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids About Food Allergies” from Huffington Post
“Wizdy Diner” app from Wizdy Games
“36 Skills To Teach Your Food Allergic Child” from Spokin

Remind Others of Your Child’s Safety Needs

Especially when you can’t be there or there are a lot of people around who may be tempted to hand your child a cookie, it’s important to remind everyone of what your child needs to be safe. Fun T-shirts, temporary tattoos, and other products can put that message out in a positive way. Try these sites for awareness products:

Allerware
Allergy Apparel

Great Allergen-Free Recipes to Share

Allergies or no allergies, it can be overwhelming when asked to bring food to a gathering. Sometimes it’s best to bring goodies that are safe for most. Below are a few side dishes and desserts that are top eight allergen free (milk, soy, wheat, nuts, peanuts, eggs, fish, and shellfish) and will be the talk of any get-together.

 Sides:

Classic American Potato Salad from Strength and Sunshine
Cilantro Lime Rice and Beans from Living Well Kitchen
Healthy Italian Pasta Salad from Veggie Balance

Desserts:

Allergy-Friendly Rice Krispie Treats from Allergy Awesomeness
Fruit Sparklers from Tastes Better from Scratch

Remember, you may not be able to please everyone, but keeping your child safe is a priority.

Marci Komssi

Written on July 17, 2017 by:

Marci Komssi holds an MBA in Organization Leadership and International Business from Johnson and Wales University. She is the former Director of Admissions for the Central Mass Campus of Bay Path University where she continues to teach leadership classes . After leaving the admissions office of BPU in 2011 she continued working with women as Program Manager for Dress for Success, Worcester where she assisted women with their interview skills, resume building, networking, career advancement and more. Currently, she owns her own food allergy awareness business called AllerWare. Over the past 12 years Marci has become a public advocate for the safety of children with serious allergies. After a lunch bag mix-up in 2nd grade landed her son in the hospital, she knew something had to change. She started the Central Massachusetts Parents of Children with Food Allergies Support Group and began talking with principals, nurses, and school superintendents to ensure that no other child would go through what her son did. Out of the support group came a resource guide for her local school system, which has since been adopted by several school systems around the country. The support group has also held Allergy Awareness events held at libraries and schools. Her personal mission is to raise awareness while protecting children from this invisible disability.
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