So you’re having a new friend over and they have a child with a severe food allergy. What should you do to make sure this little one is safe? You’re in the right place! Here are a few pointers or tips to help make your home welcoming, enjoyable, and food allergy friendly.
First of all, you need to know that food allergy mamas appreciate ANY effort you take to keep their child safe. They also want things to be easy as possible for you.
Preparing for a food allergy playdate
1. How clean is clean enough?
Cross-contact (aka cross contamination) means that if a food touches a surface (for example: plate, knife, cloth, table, container, another food, etc), the food protein is left on that surface until it’s cleaned well with soap and water. The food protein is what people with food allergies are allergic to. That's why it’s not safe to add nuts to a salad and then take them off and serve that same salad to someone with a nut allergy. Even small amounts (so small you can’t see them) of food protein can cause reactions. Another example is if a small child drinks milk and then drools on a toy, that toy is contaminated with the milk protein. Keep this in mind as you prepare for the fun.
2. Is the play area safe?
Think about whether you allow people to eat food where the kids will be playing. If so, you’ll need to clean the toys and space. We once visited a friend for a playdate and realized there were traces of peanut butter in the playroom or on toys because my LO’s face swelled like a balloon. She was ok, but it was scary. If you know there’s been food in the play area, is there another clean space the kids could play with one or two sanitized toys; or would outside be a better option?
3. What if they get hungry?
Kids often need snacks and if you’re going to spend more than an hour together, you’ll likely want to offer something. BUT, understand that snacks at another person’s home can be one of THE most stressful things for food allergy mamas (thanks to cross-contact). So, ASK the food allergy mom what she prefers as far as food, and always ask before serving anything. BONUS points for sending a picture of labels to the food allergy parents beforehand. Why? Reading labels is easy to do, but it's also EASY to make mistakes. For example, as a food allergy family, we read EVERY label EVERY time because facilities and product formulations can change. We also read labels 3 times before serving (once before buying, once before storing and once before preparing). This is because it’s EASY to miss the allergen. There are other nuances to reading labels that can make things confusing for anybody. So let's just say a double check is appreciated and required.
Many times food allergy moms prefer to provide a safe snack, but if you’re on snack duty, keep it simple; pre-packaged, well-labelled food items or plain fruit & veggies are easiest & safest. Don't forget about wiping down the area where you'll be chopping/preparing & eating the food beforehand.
4. What’s the protocol?
Kids need to wash hands before AND after eating. Not too hard, right? This also keeps germs from spreading, which we all want!
5. What should your child know?
Whatever age your child is, teach your child about the allergy, and how to help their new friend. If they’re old enough, it's a great idea to show them the epinephrine trainer so they understand what it is and why their friend carries it. Teaching your child empathy and understanding is one of THE MOST appreciated things! Normalizing the allergy with friends helps food allergy kids to be confident.
6. What’s the next step?
Here’s to hoping you’ll become fast friends which means you’ll likely watch your new friend’s kiddo at some point. If so, you’ll want to think about a few things:
For younger kids, an adult should supervise snack time and playtime after eating to ensure no reaction occurs.
Make sure you understand the food allergy kiddo’s emergency plan. This plan will tell you what symptoms to watch for and when to give epinephrine if needed. And don't forget to get a quick tutorial for the epinephrine. If your kids play together a lot, you may want to even TRY an expired epinephrine injector on an orange so you can get a REAL feel for what it would be like.
PS: Don’t feel pressured to have the food allergy kiddo over without their mama if you’re not comfortable. Also, food allergy mamas are happy to help you with ANYTHING you’re not comfortable with! Just ask.
By researching this topic you’ve shown kindness & compassion for your fellow mama and little one with food allergies. Many thanks for taking the time to create a safe environment. Have a great playdate!
FOR FOOD ALLERGY MAMAS: As your child gets older you'll want to teach them how they can keep themselves safe. To help you with this, I've created a list of things I teach my daughter and you can get it HERE:
About the Author:
Corinna is an 12-year food allergy mom and certified AllerCoach with Friendly Pantry Consulting Inc. Food allergy lifestyle & safety are her thing which means she spends her career making life easier for food allergy moms and families. Check out her blog where she posts regularly about food allergy mom life & solutions at www.friendlypantry.com