Need tips for a child with peanut allergies

An older cousin, who has been like a brother to me, recently had his 3-year-old daughter diagnosed with nut allergies, peanuts in particular. Neither he nor his wife had this growing up, they have been doing their homework on the subject and I’m looking to help if I can. There is a plethora of information online about this, detailing the concerns about processed foods and other issues. Just wondering if anyone has personal experience with this and/or can point to some of the better resources on the subject.

Would appreciate any advice (well, almost any advice…no need for clever prank ideas). This has been my first experience spending a lot of time with a little kid, already she can tug my heart at her will.

Since you’re looking more for advice and personal experiences than hard facts, I’ll move this thread to our In My Humble Opinion forum.

moderator GQ

The biggest challenge is going to be from the world around her, since the pressure from teachers, babysitters, Girl Scout leaders, kindergarten room mothers, playground supervisors, and other children’s parents to feed peanut butter to children, whether in a PBJ or in a celery stick, or on crackers, can be overwhelming. When it comes to menu planning, “The kids can eat peanut butter” is an instinctive response on the part of many grownups, and Kiddo is just going to have to learn to speak up and say, “I can’t eat that.” Kids with strawberry, dairy, and other food allergies have to learn this, too, and they do, and they all get along just fine.

My daughter, now 20, absolutely refused from toddlerhood to eat anything with peanut butter in it–peanut butter cookies, even–which astonished us, since we didn’t know you could be allergic to peanut butter in the first place. She told us, “It makes my tongue itch” and would sit there at Girl Scouts and go hungry rather than eat the nice peanut butter and saltines that Mrs. Novak had brought.

Finally when she was about seven, Time magazine did a cover story on it, and we all went, “Oh.”

And we thanked her for instinctively refusing to eat something that might have killed her.

So your cousin’s kid may be like this, too.

First and foremost, become very used to looking at ingredient lists. On everything. Notify teachers, daycare, babysitters, family members. Carry an Epi-Pen everywhere she goes. Don’t eat nut products yourself if you’re going to be around her within the next several hours. Even then, drink lots and brush your teeth after eating nuts. Also be wary of things not containing nuts but processed with things that contain nuts.

Behold the Mighty Soybean.

If your cousin has access to a Trader Joes, their private label soybean butter just rocks. I Think it tastes better than actual peanut butter.The brands of soybean butter I’ve found in supermarkets which are usually the same brand names as peanut butter, usually aren’t so good. Also, I’m allergic to most kinds of nuts, but I can eat almonds. If this is the case with the kiddo, almond butter is very tasty, too.

This is mostly anecdotal advice, based on the experience of a casual friend whose child is allergic to peanuts. Their main hurdles were eating in restaurants and prepared foods. Peanut oil was the big culprit. Even the most concerned strangers just didn’t think of it as an ingredient, so it tended to slip through the cracks.

I don’t know if there are levels of sensitivities but this child couldn’t even eat anything that had been cooked in cast iron that had been seasoned with peanut oil. It pretty well eliminated just about all Chinese food made away from home as peanut oil is used so often due to its high smoke point.


My tips:

Cross-contamination is your enemy. Wash all your cooking gear very well, be extremely careful about eating out. When the time comes for school/daycare, pack bag lunches. I’ve suffered countless times for the “a little bit won’t hurt” routine. Just simplify it by taking care of the food yourself- it’s the only 100% safe way.

Teach the child as they grow to cook safe foods- it will pay off immensely when they grow up and are living on their own.

Convenience foods are often a bad idea. They are, as mentioned, often processed with allegen-containing foods.

Make absolutely certain that everyone knows to be careful. Adults will often slip up, with awful results.

Read ingredient lists religiously. In cheaper brands or foreign-made, beware the phrase “natural flavors”.

Natural food stores are good resources for healthy, safe recipes.

My daughter is almost 4 now, and is allergic to peanuts, as well as other nuts. There are some good tips here, and since I’m just going to list what I do, I’ll probably repeat them.

I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying an EpiPen and Benadryl everywhere. (She has never actually needed the EpiPen, thank goodness.) Wherever DangerGirl is, my purse is with her. I’ve also installed Benadryl in all the places she spends time–Grandma’s house, in the preschool box (we have a little home-based group and take turns), and so on.

I check all ingredients. Thankfully, most packaged foods now have allergy warnings; they will say “contains wheat, milk, and peanut ingredients” or “manufactured on equipment used to process nuts” or something similar. But essentially, unless I already know it’s safe, I won’t let her have it. I don’t want to be running experiments with her.

I try to avoid packaged foods as much as possible anyway. Fruit and yogurt are the best, snacks-wise.

I bore everyone she comes in contact with by telling them about her allergies. Otherwise they’re liable to hand her a peanut-butter cracker. After I tell them, I tell them again.

She’s trained to tell people, and to ask me before eating anything anyone gives her. But of course, since she’s 3, I can’t count on her to do that, so I stick very close by.

We never take her out to Chinese, Thai, or other cuisines that use a lot of nuts. Too much risk for contamination in the kitchen. We tend to stick to the same few places that we’re already familiar with. And always check to see what the restaurant is using to fry foods; peanut oil is often an invisible ingredient.

I find ‘natural’ foods scary–they’re far too liable to have nuts in them. I mean, I love whole-wheat bread and interesting grains and fresh veggies, but multi-grain breads are worrisome, and natural-foods stores are usually big on nuts as a protein source. Which is great, as long as DGirl stays outta there.

We are seriously considering homeschooling–not primarily for this reason, but it is a factor in our as-yet-unmade decision. I’m worried about the early grades, before she’s really old enough to resist the temptation of food-swapping.
It’s a very scary allergy, but now that we’ve learned so much, it’s been a lot easier to handle. The last time she got a peanut-particle was over a year ago! Paranoia is good in this case. Never apologize for being protective and boring over this issue. For her, treat it matter-of-factly, and help her to take responsibility as she gets older and parental paranoia is no longer effective. My e-mail is in my profile if you or your cousin want to trade information.

Thanks for the feedback, much appreciated. I’m still treading a bit lightly on this subject, this is not my kid and I don’t want to intrude on the parents. She spends time at my house frequently, good to know the things to look out for.

I did read the part about it being your cousin’s daughter, not your own, but it went in one eye and out the other. :smack: