Sending kids away to school is scary for any parent, but parents of kids with serious food allergies have one more scary “what-if” scenario to contemplate. Here are some ways you can help your teens stay safe and navigate social situations where their food allergy comes into play.
Have another test before they go
A diagnosis of food allergies is not a life sentence—they come and go, and often kids grow out of them. Before you batten down the hatches and send your kid to school in metaphorical bubble wrap, have one last skin-prick test to verify that their allergies are still an issue. You might find that some of their more problematic sensitivities have gone away—or you may find that there are additional allergens they need to avoid. Either way, it’s a good idea.
It’s also helpful to show them where they can find allergy information for college students, so they can start doing their own research and keep tabs on changes in their allergy situation.
Talk about social situations
Depending on your child’s specific triggers, there may be social considerations to talk about. Have a frank discussion about alcohol, including which allergens are found in which drinks—you’d be surprised how many kids get into trouble because they don’t realize that some drinks contain gluten, histamine, and sulfites which can trigger allergic reactions or asthma attacks. In addition to having a good selection of yummy recipes for dinner dates, it’s also a good idea to talk about finding restaurants that accommodate food-allergic people, so your child has options when they’re looking for date ideas.
Incorporate allergy prep into your back-to-school shopping
Kids who have dealt with food allergies since they were young know how to read labels and look out for themselves—the concern is not that your nut-allergic student will start trying Snickers bars for lunch—but most college kids don’t cook, don’t eat healthy, and don’t know how to shop for nutritious groceries. Managing a food allergy is more than just a list of “don’ts”, and if your child doesn’t know what to replace her trigger foods with, she won’t get the nutrition she needs. While you’re out shopping for laptops, backpacks, and dorm furniture, consider a practice run at the grocery store where you can talk about picking fresh produce, finding substitute ingredients, and buying low-prep, healthy snacks.
Again, most college kids would really benefit from a little cooking lesson before they’re on their own, but for allergic kids, the extra dietary limitations makes the potential for vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition even greater. If your kid has had food allergies for a while, you’ve probably developed some awesome, low-maintenance recipes you can share. If your kid isn’t much for cooking, you might have them help you out in the kitchen for a while before they leave, so they can see that the recipes really aren’t that much work; otherwise, those recipes might just gather dust.
Patricia Shuler is a BBGeeks.com staff writer from Oakland, California. She’s an admitted tech-junkie who’s quick to share her honest opinion on laptops, tablets, smartphones, and all things consumer electronic—including up-to-date news, user reviews, and “no holds barred” opinions on a variety of social media, tech, computer, and mobile accessories topics.