Years ago, community member Paulette Cohen’s daughter was diagnosed with a number of allergies. At the time, there was little awareness about food allergies, and Paulette felt like her daughter’s doctors did the bare minimum. They gave her a diagnosis and sent her home. Paulette felt overwhelmed and alone in coping with this serious challenge. However, she realized that she could educate herself and be proactive instead of just feeling blindsided. Paulette recognized that she would need to get into high gear to change her lifestyle and the lives of her family members. First, she wanted to help her child. Second, she wanted to be the one who others with allergic children could turn to for advice and understanding.
Mom Turned Mentor
After years of study, Paulette has become a well-respected food allergy coach and consultant. She has dedicated herself to helping our community, raising allergy awareness and tolerance, and helping families with allergy management and more. Paulette created a blog to document and share her feelings and to show others how she dealt with different situations. The feedback was amazing. Mothers with allergic kids were so thankful to read Paulette’s blog, to find someone who not only understood them, but wanted to help them along their journey. The positive feedback fueled her to keep going.
Paulette helps others to learn how to manage a home with food allergies. Instagram is her primary platform to spread awareness and to give tips and advice. She works with clients one-on-one in their homes, to give them a detailed medical plan for their family. This includes recipe ideas, pointers on how to talk to your child to minimize anxiety, and more.
With summer coming up, we reached out to Paulette for advice for community families with allergic children. We asked how they can best prepare for the social gatherings that come along with warmer weather. Another objective here is to raise awareness for parents who do not have food allergic children, to encourage them to be more accommodating for children who do suffer from sometimes life-threatening allergies. Here are some of Paulette’s allergy safety tips.
Paulette’s Summertime Tips
If you have a child with food allergies, planning ahead is the key to having a fun and safe summer. Summertime is full of excitement and fun, and we may let ourselves slip into relaxation mode. But vigilance is crucial. I advise all of my clients to prepare themselves before summer starts, so they have less to worry about right before camp begins. For example, make sure you have enough EpiPens, that are not expired. I can’t tell you how many people rush to the pharmacy the day before camp to buy more EpiPens and can’t get them because the pharmacy has run out due to high demand! Do not wait until the last minute because that will only add unnecessary stress if the EpiPens are out of stock.
Before camp starts, contact the camp director and nurse. Ask about the protocol in the event of an emergency and get a feel for the camp’s policy on food allergies. This is critical information if your child is old enough to go on trips and overnights. Find out if the food will be prepared at camp or will be catered. When my daughter went on her first overnight trip with camp, she packed things like oatmeal packets, instant soups, pita bread, and allergy-free snacks. She thankfully didn’t need the extra food she brought, but she felt much better knowing it was there, just in case. Planning ahead and packing safe foods helped both of us have peace of mind during this new adventure.
Many parents tell me that their child is not comfortable going on a camp overnight. I think it’s important to validate your child’s feelings, but also do what you can to show them the precautions you and the camp are taking to keep them safe. If you are a client of mine, you know that “communication is key!” is my number one piece of advice. Through open and healthy communication, you and your child together can decide if they are ready and comfortable enough to go on an overnight trip. There is no right or wrong here, so please don’t stress yourself out if your child is not ready. My daughter was not ready to go on an overnight the first year she could, and I knew pushing her to go would not be good for her mental health. She ended up going the next summer when she felt ready. It is completely normal for children with food allergies to have anxiety when it comes to not sleeping in their own home. Home should be their safe place, so it’s understandable. Be patient.
If you’re considering sending your child to sleepaway camp find out exactly what the daily menu will be, and what ingredients are in each dish. Make sure to ask what snacks are available daily and if there are any special events that will have food from different suppliers. It is not impossible for a child with food allergies to go to sleepaway camp, but it will take extra work on your part to ensure your child’s safety. The most important thing is to see how responsible the camp is and if they have strict allergy protocols. If you are unsure, or feel the camp is not taking your concerns seriously, then that camp might not be the best place to send your child. Thankfully, most camps have gotten amazing at understanding the severity of food allergies.
No one wants to feel as if their child is missing out. I know how hard it is to send young kids with allergies to birthday parties when they can’t have a piece of that beautiful birthday cake. Bake or order special cupcakes that are safe for your child and keep them in the freezer so you can send them with your child when they are invited to a birthday party. That way, they won’t feel like they’re missing out so much. Go through party bags together and teach your child the importance of reading the ingredients list on each candy. Everything can and should be used as a teaching moment. So, lovingly teach your allergic child to never eat from a party bag without first going over together with a parent what is safe.
When your child is older it is harder for them to see their friends eating whatever they want at parties. Summertime is a popular time for bar and bat mitzvah parties. If it’s not ideal or practical for your child to bring their own food or desserts, I recommend feeding them right beforehand so they aren’t hungry! Have conversations with your kids to encourage them to recognize that just because the food wouldn’t be safe for them doesn’t mean they won’t have a great time. When my allergic daughter would go to bat mitzvah parties, I would focus on talking about the dancing and other activities they had. Encourage your children not to focus on the negative and what they can’t do, but rather on all the fun they can take part in. It is an important life lesson to think positively and it will hopefully help your allergic children be happier and more positive in their attitude and mindset.
Wishing everyone a safe and awesome summer,
The Nut Job Mom.
If you, your family members, or anyone you know suffer from food allergies please check out my Instagram @thenutjobmom for some good education and information on allergies!