Food allergies come in many shapes and sizes, with symptoms ranging from an itchy mouth to dizziness, hives and difficulty breathing. For many, these symptoms come on fast and strong, and can even result in death. Even more frightening, reactions can occur from eating trace amounts of the food or simply being around certain foods.
Food allergies have been on the rise in the United States since the late ‘90s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is currently estimated that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. To put it into perspective, this is nearly two times the population of New York City. According to Food Allergy & Research Education (FARE), of the 15 million Americans with food allergies, 5.9 million are under the age of eighteen.
Following are five tips to help you navigate a friend’s or loved one’s food allergies consciously and supportively:
1. Be a silent cheerleader
Navigating life with food allergies is tough in and of itself. Let your friend be their own best advocate by giving them the space and freedom to address their concerns with others. Drawing unwanted and unwarranted attention to their food allergy can be awkward and uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to ask your friend how they would like you to support them. This may include requests around social situations or even a quick lesson on how to administer an EPiPen injection, should they ever need it.
2. Let them choose the place
Want to meet up for dinner or brunch? Invite your friend to choose the place. Aside from your friend being psyched to decide the food adventure you are about to embark on, it also alleviates any stress or worry on your part that the restaurant of your choosing will have safe and delicious options for the both of you. If you insist on choosing the spot yourself, we suggest referencing an app such as Spokin to see recommendations from people nearby who share your friend’s food allergy.
3. Hosting a social gathering
Discuss with your friend what you will be serving ahead of time and invite them to bring a dish. If possible, separate food between two tables and include separate serving utensils so it is clear to your guests with food allergies which foods are safe for them. Consider going the extra mile by inviting your guests with allergies to first serve themselves first to help prevent cross contamination. Hosting is a lot of work. Take a load off by purchasing a treat that is allergy-safe for dessert, such as free2b Foods’ Snack Breaks, rather than trying to make it. Have your heart set on preparing everything from scratch but don’t know where to start? Do a quick search for some easy allergy-friendly recipes such as these Chocolate Cup Sorbet Shooters.
Planning a fun day out to the ballpark or catching the next new box office hit? Unfortunately, while many of these places are working to carry more healthful treats, not many offer items that are allergy-friendly. Consider packing a tasty allergy-friendly snack to share with your friend. I recommend free2b Food’s re-sealable Sun Cups Minis for these occasions. While the packages are small enough to tuck into your bag or purse, they contain a few servings and pack a big punch of flavor and delight.
5. If your child has a friend with food allergies
FARE has a wonderful educational program called “Be a PAL: Protect A Life™.”This program helps teach your little one (and you) how to be a great friend to a child with food allergies. Materials are free and downloadable on FARE’s website in both English and Spanish. If your child’s friend has anaphylactic allergies, you may want to think about discussing EPiPen administration with them. This will help your little one be prepared to encounter and cope with this situation should they be with their friend when they have a reaction.
Having food allergies is tough, but having a friend with food allergies doesn’t need to be. Going the extra mile to help your friend feel safe and supported will go a long way. Not to mention, your care and consideration will help ensure you get to partake in many more years of fun and adventure together!