(This is part two of a three part series on food allergies by Molly Ridenhour. This post does contain affiliate links.)
Let’s face it. We’re southern. We love food. We eat when we’re celebrating. We eat when we’re grieving. We eat to socialize. Sharing meals is our love language. I love this way of life.
Following the initial diagnosis and testing with the allergist, we found out that our full-of-life, one-year-old was allergic to all dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, and that we should avoid all fish and shellfish until he was older. What? No butter? No milk? No eggs? Peanut butter?! How would we ever survive? Would our love of food and sharing a meal be no more?
As I mentioned in my earlier post, food allergies are definitely a challenge that our family has faced; but they are manageable. Management can look very different in different stages. In the beginning, we simply “managed”. I’m excited to share that over the years, we’ve learned to LIVE! We all still love to eat. And I’m pretty sure (and happy to say) that I successfully passed on my love of good food to Mack…our “food allergic foodie!”
In the beginning, I took one meal at a time. We stuck with “whole foods”. Basic grilled meats, vegetables and fruits. Mixed foods were off limits. Those were the days of plain grilled chicken or beef, roasted vegetables and salads and raw fruit. That’s it. It was simple and it was safe. We didn’t eat out and we didn’t eat at friend’s houses. They were welcome to eat at ours, but the fear of foods often still had us frozen. We simply survived.
We learned to read labels and call companies to check for cross-contamination of Mack’s allergens in products that looked safe. We taught Mack to never eat anything he was unsure of, and to always make sure people around him were aware. I remember him asking if food was “safe” very early on. We taught him to be prepared.
I found resources like Food Allergy Mama (and her fabulous cookbooks such as The Food Allergy Mama’s Easy, Fast Family Meals and The Food Allergy Mama’s Baking Book), a local “mama support group” out of Charlotte and No Nut Guides to help me navigate. We slowly introduced more foods. With each success (we considered no reaction a success), we introduced more.
We slowly began to go out to eat again. Of course, this mama bear could not trust the hands of most in prep kitchens. So we took Mack’s meal with us. What we at first thought was impossible simply became a way of life. A little inconvenient for sure, but we were taking back “social eating”.
We started to eat at friends’ houses again. There were a few friends who “got it”. Friends who would spend extra time cleaning their kitchens before preparing a meal for our families to enjoy together. Friends who made the extra effort so that we could enjoy socially and safely. These friends got us through!
As the years went by and Mack was able to verbalize reactions (for example, I feel itchy, my tongue hurts, etc.), we decided that although we knew reactions would occur at times, we were not going to let them stop us. As one very wise allergy mama always said to a group I was in, “Live Life, Bring Epi!” And that’s just what we did. One restaurant became two, and then more.
We learned to cope and we learned to live. We had a greater empathy for those around us with challenges and we were growing because of it. Food allergies were making us stop, making us listen, and encouraging us to be thankful for the truly important things in life.
We finally began to live again! How about you…what has been your biggest struggles/fears with living with allergies? I’d love for you to share….us allergy folks need one another and sharing certainly makes living this life easier!!