Ready for Valentine's Day?
Much like trick-or-treat, Valentine’s Day introduces increased risk for cross contact with food allergens. Knowing the risks and preparing for them before February 14 lowers the likelihood of accidental exposure and allergic reaction. Here pediatric allergist Mike Pistiner offers advice in response to a reader’s question.
My little boy was just diagnosed with multiple food allergies. I’m worried about all the Valentine’s Day activities coming up with his friends and in his classroom. What should I do?
Dr. Pistiner Work closely with your son’s allergist to gain full understanding of all safety issues and food allergy management strategies. Also, touch base with your son’s teacher and school nurse to determine classroom and school food-allergy policies and avoidance measures. Obviously, it’s safest if classroom celebrations are food free--but this isn’t the case in most schools.
It’s hard for food-allergic and celiac kids to watch as their friends devour delicious-looking goodies that they can’t eat. Have a supply of safe, suitable treats available for your child so that he doesn’t feel left out.
It’s also important to empower and prepare your child to advocate for himself. Have open discussions about the particular challenges he may encounter on Valentine’s Day and teach age-appropriate strategies to deal with these. Instruct him to avoid eating foods unless he knows they are safe. Role-play with him so that he has lots of practice and is comfortable saying, “No, thank you,” in various scenarios.
Be aware that common Valentine treats and chocolates are notorious for containing hidden ingredients, especially peanuts and tree nuts. Different varieties of the same brand of candy may be processed in different facilities, so ingredients can change unexpectedly. If your child is not able to read yet, teach him to wait until a trusted adult tells him a product is safe.
What strategies work for you and your family?
Michael Pistiner, MD, MMSc, is a board-certified pediatric allergist with Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and co-creator of AllergyHome.org, a free website dedicated to educating others about allergies.