As a mother of two small children who both suffer from allergies, I've had to learn the hard way what they can eat, and how to avoid them becoming ill. Learning to navigate around this issue has been a real rollercoaster ride, and inventing recipes and finding alternatives became such a huge part of my life that I set up my business, FoodsYouCan.com, which has gone on to become the UK's most popular Free From website.
Like all mums, I constantly worry about my children's health and so it was a huge worry when at seven months my son was diagnosed with a dairy and soya allergy.
I have two very young children - a boy Kobe who is two and a half and a little girl Thea who is just over a year old. For anyone this is certainly a lot to have on your plate, but dealing with food allergies on top of this has been doubly stressful.
I knew there was something wrong with both children very early on as they just didn't seem to be thriving the same way that other babies were. My son was constantly unwell and although a happy baby, he had problems with his skin and bowels. My daughter from just a few days old up to her diagnosis and would always vomit and was a teary baby girl. I approached my GP who referred us to our local children's hospital where both were diagnosed with their allergies.
Now dealing with allergies in children can have its ups and downs. However there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you believe that your child has an allergy or intolerance to food then you should certainly pursue this with your GP. Your child could get referred to a specialist hospital unit or alternatively if the GP has the experience, they will normally happily diagnose and set out a strategy to treat your child.
Once you know what your child's allergies or intolerance are then this is when you get creative with meals that they can eat. You will need to understand and know food inside out especially what's in them. Smaller babies are normally prescribed suitable formula milk on prescription so that makes life easier. Weaning from the age of six months is where things may become more challenging. However I have a number tried and tested ways that have helped me along the way to deal better with my children's allergies.
• Cook from scratch. For children with food allergies, readymade off the shelf meals are strictly off the menu, as many of these products have hidden ingredients in that are not suitable. My suggestion and experience is that where possible, you should cook the foods yourself at home. There are some amazing useful websites that can help you with recipes or if like me you like getting creative in the kitchen, then just make your own up.
• Cook in big batches. Making meals doesn't have to be complicated either nor time consuming. I found it easier to cook suitable foods in big batches for example things like simple chicken, beef of vegetable casseroles which can be made and then blend them down to suitable consistency and frozen until required.
• Always call ahead. If you're eating at a restaurant, it's essential that you call ahead and ensure that the establishment can cater for your child properly. New legislation out in December 2014 means that all eateries need to provide allergen information on all their foods.
• And when travelling, always plan ahead. We tend to make food and carry them in lunch iceboxes to keep them cool and then heat them up at different locations. Many places now have baby food heating up spots making it easier to feed your child suitable foods on the go.
• Educate your child's carers about their needs. One of the hardest things when you're a parent is letting your children out of your sight. It's not easy letting your child go, but it has to be done. You can't shelter them forever; all you can do is prepare whoever is looking after them. Make them aware of your child's needs. Ensuring that all staff have full details of your child's care plan in light of a reaction.
• And don't be scared to question. Don't be scared to question how your child is being looked after and make sure you stand your ground especially if you think there has been an issue with your child's care.
All in all staying safe when your child has a food allergy is more than possible. The key is really just to be prepared and to be one step ahead at all times. Stay positive and know that by planning you will always be in control as much as you can be.
Educate yourself so that you understand what your child's allergy is and how it can represent in your them. No two children are the same so the symptoms are unlikely to always be an exact match. I recognised this in my kids. Trust your instinct and don't question yourself. If you think that your child may have an allergy then act quickly. Your local health care professionals are there to help.