My son, Adam, has a severe nut allergy. He’s 8, and very responsible. He knows not to eat anything unless an adult we trust checks the ingredients. He knows that if a food label says ‘may contain nuts,’ it’s not safe. He knows to do what we call the epi-check, which means to double check his bag every day before school to make sure the Epipens are in their regular pocket, even if he didn’t take them out. ‘Better to be safe’ is our motto.
Since my husband and I both have diabetes, and we adhere to a fairly strict low carb diet, Adam is hyper-aware not only of nuts, but of carbs. There are days in our family when dealing with food is exhausting. The most natural human thing – eating – is complicated and restricted, and we can rarely be spontaneous about meals. The upside is that we eat quite healthfully. Unrelated to his food allergy, Adam knows that junk food is bad for his body. He says, “I heard on Youtube that the more you eat junk food, the more you want to eat junk food.” And he hears from his parents that carbs are bad for you, even if you don’t have diabetes.
Yesterday, there was a Purim celebration in Adam’s school. Adam explains, “Purim is the holiday that marks the time the Persian king did not let his advisor massacre Jews.” Somehow, in Israeli schools, Purim has evolved into a day of eating as much junk food as possible. Every year, I kind of lose it when we get assigned to send our kids to school in costumes, with not only the traditional triangle-shaped cookies called hamentaschen, but with a bucket of the worst food on the planet, wrapped as a gift, which the kids then exchange. This year’s list included chocolate, gummy candy, a second kind of chocolate, two kinds of salty snacks like potato chips, gum, and a lollipop. At 9:00 in the morning, the kids swapped their boxes of poison, and had a full half-hour to gorge on as much as they could stuff into their mouths. I attended the class party to supervise and make sure Adam didn’t eat anything dangerous, and that no one around him was eating anything that would immediately jeopardize his health. Before the party, Adam and I talked a lot about being careful, and what it feels like when you can’t eat the same things as everyone else. Even though it sometimes makes him feel left out, he’s got strategies that help him cope, and he asked to share them so that other kids might benefit.
So, here are some tips from Adam for kids who have to say ‘no’ to candy because of food allergies, diabetes, celiac disease, or any other food-related issues.
- Say no to candy, even if you want to eat it. It makes you feel bad in the moment, but it is better in the long run.
- Always carry a “safe snack” because when others are eating something you want to eat, you will have something you can eat and not feel hungry. Then you won’t want to eat the food the other kids are eating.
- Entertain yourself because when you entertain yourself you won’t want to eat because you’re busy having fun. (Ways to entertain yourself include: if you have a ball that’s soft, you can squeeze it. Go outside and play if you can. Do math in your head.)
- If you’re not sure if something is low carb or gluten free, or nut free, just avoid it. Don’t eat it. The consequences are worse than the feeling you have if you just avoid it.
- If you eat something you weren’t supposed to, immediately tell the teacher, call your parents, or tell an adult who can give you your Epipen if you need it, or call for emergency help.
- If you eat something you’re not supposed to, keep calm even if you’re scared.
- Tell the kids in your class about your allergy or diabetes or any kind of problem that means you can’t eat the same things as everyone else. Yesterday a boy in my class asked if his snack was safe before he opened it in the classroom.
- Tell your parents to teach other parents how to keep you safe. You can teach them how to check your blood sugar or how to use an Epipen.
- Be happy about all the things you can eat. I love to eat cucumbers and schnitzel.
- Know you’re not alone in having problems with your body. Lots of kids do, and it’s good to talk about it.