Guidance when Raising a Child with Food Allergies

RachelMS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS

Read time: 4 minutes

What should I know about how to spot and avoid food allergens for my child

  • Strategies for educating yourself and protecting your little one from food allergens, at home and on-the-go

  • Understanding food labels

  • Following cross contact recalls and alerts

Raising a child with food allergies can be daunting and requires extra time, attention, and effort. There are, however, a number of measures you can take to alleviate stress while maintaining a safe eating environment for your child. Know that you are not alone in this effort.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), food allergies are on the rise, with about 8% of children being allergic to at least one food.1 The good news is that the rise in food allergies has led to increased allergy awareness, education, regulation, and labeling; as well as more allergy friendly restaurants and food allergy policies in schools and daycares.

Read on to learn how to confidently navigate the complex world of food allergies.

Know where food allergens may be found

First and foremost, always be your own detective when it comes to food allergens; never make assumptions based on word of mouth or past experiences. Reading labels (when available) is critical, but know that food ingredients and menu items can change, even in longstanding products.2

Keep in mind that allergens may not be obvious – they can hide in food coatings, thickeners, spices, natural flavors, and other ingredients found in fresh, frozen, refrigerated, and shelf-stable foods.3 Unlabeled food allergens may also be present in salad bars and restaurant meals.

When in doubt, ask! Ask the staff of grocery stores and restaurants for more allergen information. It’s also important to call food manufacturing companies to get all the facts.

Read more: Does my Child have a Food Allergy or Food Intolerance?

Watch for product recalls

Keep an eye open for market recalls due to cross contact. This is when an allergen comes into contact with, and therefore contaminates, another food or food product.5

Cross contact can occur in manufacturing facilities, restaurant deep fryers, deli meat blade slicers, ice cream scoops, prep bowls, even the cutting boards in your own home. Cross contact is a serious issue, as even a tiny amount of an allergen is enough to cause a reaction in some people.5

How to look for allergens on food labels

When food shopping, read labels carefully. Foods containing the top 8 major allergens must now clearly declare those allergens on the label, thanks to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA).8 Sesame will be added to this food labeling law in January of 2023.2

There are two ways an allergen may be labeled on food packaging:

  1. In parenthesis after a particular ingredient. For example: albumin (egg), lecithin (soy), or

  2. Listed at the very end of the ingredient list proceeding the word “contains”. For example: “Contains egg and soy”.

FALCPA applies to all packaged foods sold in the United States after 2006, regardless of where the food was originally manufactured.8

FALCPA does NOT apply, however, to labels on meat, poultry, and certain egg products.8 Nor does FALCPA require food labels to note any potential cross contact of food allergens during manufacturing.8 Even though the potential for cross contact during manufacturing is a real risk and is often a reason for recalls.9

Cross contamination labeling

Many manufacturers have electively chosen to include the statement “May contain (allergen)” or “Produced in a facility that also uses (allergen)” as a courtesy to consumers.10 While these warnings are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, they should not be ignored.10

It is best to avoid products you suspect could be cross-contaminated or mislabeled.

What should I know about eating out with food allergies?

When eating out, there is no shame in speaking with your server about your child’s dietary restrictions and asking for a detailed ingredients list. If a server cannot answer your questions, then ask to speak with the chef or a manager.

You can also call a restaurant in advance during slower service times – such as at 11am before the lunch rush or 4pm before the dinner rush – to plan ahead.

How do I manage food allergies at home?

Preparing more foods at home is a smart strategy for maintaining greater control over your child’s food sources, minimizing cross contact, and limiting processed food consumption.6

Focus on whole, fresh foods that your child can tolerate such as: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, and beans. Working with a dietitian can help make sure your little one continues to get the nutrients they need even while taking allergens out of their diet.

Need more personalized guidance on food allergies and your child? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am - 6pm (ET), and Saturday – Sunday 8am - 2pm (ET). Chat Now!

Tips to help you avoid your child’s known food allergens

Inform anyone handling your child’s food about specific allergies

Educate caregivers and schools about your child’s specific allergies and be ready to strategize with them.

Be prepared to combat exposure to an allergen

Keep antihistamine and epinephrine (if prescribed by your physician) with you (or with your child if they are away from you) at all times.11 Consult with your pediatrician and/or allergist to have a plan of action in place should exposure to an allergen occur.

Avoid riskier food choices

Buffets, bakeries, and restaurants with pre-made foods are full of potential allergy pitfalls.12 Ask questions or avoid these establishments altogether.

Spread the word

Carry cards that list your child’s food allergies and hand them out to caregivers, waiters, chefs, family members, and whoever else may need one.

Plan ahead and take special precautions when traveling

Call restaurants in advance and speak to the manager to find out if your child’s food needs can be accommodated. Pack safe, non-perishable foods and snacks just in case. Also be sure to notify airline attendants, hotel agents, and visiting family members of any allergies when traveling. (If traveling abroad, you can purchase translation cards made for this purpose).

Stay tuned to market recalls due to cross contact with allergens

The Kids with Allergies organization has a useful blog of food recalls.

Cook more at home and eat fewer processed foods

Taking these steps alone will lessen the risk for exposure and cross contact with allergens while also improving your family’s overall diet.6

Keep the most common food allergens in mind if you suspect your child is experiencing additional allergies

FALCPA has identified these eight food items as being the culprits behind the majority of food allergies: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and crustacean shellfish.8 Also be aware that certain seeds, including sesame and mustard seeds, are common food allergy triggers and are considered a major allergen in some other countries.13

Most importantly, never make assumptions – always ask!

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Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am - 6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am - 2pm (ET).Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Does my Baby or Toddler have a Milk Allergy or a Lactose Intolerance?

Am I Able to Reduce the Risk of Allergies for my Baby while I’m Pregnant and Breastfeeding?

Introducing Major Food Allergens to your Infant