Have you ever stood in your pantry or in front of a cupboard full of food and thought, “Well, which of these items is going to kill my kid?” I’m sorry if you have. Really. It is incredibly frustrating. Your child is diagnosed with food allergies, and your entire meal planning/grocery shopping life is upended. Suddenly, all that time (and money!) spent on products that are “all natural” and “healthy” is a waste because all those foods are full of nut butters and coconut oil. Ok, that’s a mild exaggeration, but STILL. I’ve been there, full of Mom Guilt, because I’m buying the blue box graham crackers instead of the graham crackers with fewer ingredients with the label that tells me they are “GMO Free” with no preservatives. I’m here to tell you – IT IS TOTALLY FINE. Those preservatives are (probably) not going to send your kid to the ER like, in my daughter’s case, the coconut oil will.
So, how do we shop for these kids? I would love to tell you to grow vegetables, make your own bread and pasta, and to buy only foods containing ingredients you can pronounce. Blah. Blah. Blah. This is real life. I will tell you to grow vegetables because they are so much more delicious out of the backyard, and gardening is therapeutic. But, as for the other stuff, we are all the same – busy. Who has time to make bread and granola bars? Not me. Instead, I will share a few of my grocery shopping strategies to, hopefully, make your life a little easier.
Step #1: RESEARCH
First, I research labeling requirements. The FDA requires that all domestic and imported food products be labeled if they contain an ingredient or the proteins of an ingredient that is one of the top eight food allergens. The top eight are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. These eight foods encompass 90 percent of all documented food allergies in the United States. These ingredients are either bolded as part of the regular ingredient list or listed under a “Contains: _______” statement near the ingredient list. Remember, cautionary statements such as “May contain” or “Processed in a facility” are not mandatory. If your kid, like mine, has an allergy outside the top eight, get ready to just read every label all the time. There isn’t a shortcut – grocery shopping will take forever.
Step 2: MAKE A PLAN
Second, decide early on how to handle foods with those cautionary statements. Are you going to avoid those foods completely? Will you feed your kid foods that are processed in a facility that also processes their allergen? These are personal decisions. Talk to your doctor. Think about your own child and your family. What works for you? Do that. Personally, we feed our girl foods that are processed in a facility that also processes her allergens regularly. We don’t buy things that “may contain” or are “processed on shared lines.” We do the best we can with the information we have. I don’t call the manufacturer from the grocery store, but I do use the resources available to make choices about the foods I buy her based on our comfort level.
Step 3: USE YOUR RESOURCES
Finally, use the internet. Facebook groups are amazing resources full of moms who do call/email the manufacturers to find out how often they clean their equipment or change their production facilities. My favorite online resource is snacksafely.com. It is a categorized detailed list of foods that is updated regularly. The website is a great resource for food allergies in general. Also, there are coupons!
Shopping for the food-allergic kid isn’t easy or fun, but it isn’t like grocery shopping was fun to start with, right? So, make the best of it, and stop by the wine aisle on your way to check out. See you there!
Theresa Birchfield is a Nevada native with a husband, two littles, a dog, and a job as a medical practice administrator. She loves reading and wine. She also loves school and is thinking of going back for another Master’s degree. You can often find her at Target. If she isn’t there, she is at home or work. She is also trying to find time to start exercising again – tips welcome!