I can’t remember what a peanut taste like. I couldn’t even remember the last time I actually bought one, since my son, Nico, had his first allergic reaction to peanuts when he was only 17 months old. I will never forget that moment, vividly, where he was trying for the first time a peanut butter sandwich and had an inexplicable reaction to it.
See, in my country, Venezuela, food allergies are just SO rare. We grow up eating everything and anything (I was the girl jumping into mango trees – classic Maca – and eating them in front of my home), or stealing bites from my mama’s plate when she was having lunch.
I actually never met someone who had them. ever.
After living with this the past 7 years, my sweet boy has been diagnosed with severe and multiple allergies, and sharing it on Instagram for the first time the past weeks made me realize there are so many mamas in the same situation as us, and so many asking how they could help.
I think it is SO important to explain what, we, parents with a child with many food allergies, feel and go through, including a constant low-grade anxiety about meals, all the time.
Here’s our story.
How everything started
Nico was a chubby, cutie, and big eater when he was a tiny baby, and, as a first-time mama, I followed every single rule from his pediatrician like a total regime. I remember Nico’s routine of food introduction that started at 6 months and thought, wow, this is SO organized! Each fruit, legume, had a very specific order to be followed/respected, and without a doubt I did it all like a PRO.
Since he was born, Nico suffered from eczema (rashes all over his body, like me), and we waited a bit longer to introduce him to peanuts, because we knew he was prone to be an allergic baby. Guess what? BINGO, he indeed was. Just a tiny bite of peanut butter caused him facial hives, swelling in his left eye and ears, cough, stomach pain and diarrhea.
That night, I ran to the ER with a friend (my husband was traveling, working at the time) and I was as confused, lost, as someone who has no clue what an allergic reaction was. That moment, after a shot of EpiPen and a round of steroids, my little chubby baby was having indeed, an anaphylactic reaction.
WHAT HE IS ALLERGIC TO, DIAGNOSED SO FAR
Three ER visits, two anaphylactic reactions requiring an EpiPen shot, many Claritin doses, and years of testing, Nico has been diagnosed with severe allergy to peanuts, tree nuts (almond is severe) and legumes (lentils, chickpeas).
The latest one? Peas. YES, yellow peas, green peas, all peas. Confused, sad, and scared, we started cleaning our kitchen pantry and adjusting to this new lifestyle of having severe allergies at home.
We learned so much about food allergies right after his reactions, things like: Peanuts are actual legumes and not tree nuts, (did you know?), we learned how to use an EpiPen, to understand that two systems need to be compromised (skin-stomach-respiratory) to run to the hospital requiring an Epi shot, and how to be creative in the kitchen with him.
WHEN I’M AT HOME
I turned our kitchen allergen-free, and took to the studio the products I knew could cause a mild or severe reaction but Oli could still eat (we love pistachios, for example). The only thing I haven’t eaten ever since, even outside home, is peanuts. Since little, Nico was taught that it is SO important to just eat what he has in his plate, and to never touch others (even at home), for his own safety (thinking about school later), and I started:
Reading all the labels, and understanding what each product meant: even very obvious labels, and googling ingredients I’ve never seen before. His last episode was pea protein (which comes from yellow peas, from the same peanut family – thanks, google).
Avoid cross-contamination at all cost: with a free-allergen kitchen where I can cook using my knives, surfaces, cutting boards no matter what I’m cooking knowing we won’t have any risk of cross-contact.
Wash my hands, clean our table after eating: this is key, and more often around Nico, so he can repeat both at school.
Learning that a lot of vegan products could have lots of allergens: with the increase of vegan and non-lactose products in the market, I learned to be careful with substitutes: almond flour, nut milks, chickpea flour, bean proteins, and many more. Just read the labels, always!
when we Plan his food for school & AROUND
Nico’s bento boxes became my number one inspiration and fave pass time since he started school. I was so anxious just thinking he was going to be eating around 15 children in the same room, without me (making sure he was okay). Just don’t blame me, but every single school day, I’m checking my phone during lunch, because I guess all parents in this condition go through this.
This is one of the reasons why we’ve been so diligent and creative in packing his lunchboxes and now snacks if we are going out. We are those parents who are always carrying food with us, no matter where we are going. Safe food is key so you gotta be prepared.
When we go DINE OUT
Dining out has been a challenge when we bring Nico, and the first thing we do is to announce his allergy if we see ingredients in the menu he could be allergic to. This is mainly why we go out for brunch with them, because breakfast menus are usually safe, and allergen free. Always notify your allergies when you reserve or you arrive, (they could even use peanut oil, nut milks, which is rare but still possible).
I noticed some places in the city take them very seriously but always remember that cross-contamination is way more complicated to control in restaurant kitchens. Our rule? we can’t leave our house without his bag of Claritin 24hours plus his EpiPen.
when we travel
We have been to all inclusive weeks, road trips and many international travel adventures with Nico. If you ask me, I love when we rent Airbnb’s or hotels with a kitchen, where I can visit local groceries and I have the opportunity to check every single label of what I’ll be cooking for him during our stay. As foodies, we always dine out (of course), and again, we make sure we order things that are safe for him (announcing his allergies). Our safe bets: pastas, broccoli with chicken, rice, veggies, soups, and more.
In the past flights we’ve done, especially long ones (thanks to the magic team of Air Transat), they have notified as soon as we’re about to take off, that Nico is severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, recommending passengers to avoid them during the time of the flight. Again, we also carry one EpiPen in my purse and another one in our carry-on bag. We also check the flight menu in advance and plan his snacks at the airport and during the flight.
What can we do about it?
Awareness, organization and planning are key with food allergies. As I’ve asked many times to his allergist, would he outgrow them? Only 20 to 25% of children with peanut allergy outgrow them, sadly. What about oral immunotherapy? In Nico’s case, one with multiple and severe allergies, this clinical trial is very complicated, risky and potentially traumatic, because we have so many allergens to treat.
Moms and dads: Always think how serious food allergies could be when you pack lunch boxes, and that peanuts aren’t the only allergens that can cause severe reactions. Tree nuts (mostly all, and especially almonds), legumes, and many others too. Talk to the teacher if there’s a severe case in the classroom and be mindful.
In the meantime, I’ll keep talking about the importance of food allergy awareness, on educating Nico how to use his EpiPen, how to describe his symptoms, and believing he’ll be okay.
We will be okay.