‘Mommy – aren’t you glad that I saved myself from dying today?!’ – these words will echo in my ears for a long time to come. Ironic that I should file this post under ‘Parents’ nuggets of wisdom’
Much as I would like to think that I am an awesome mom who has always ensured that her boy is safe – I have made many, many mistakes. This post needed to be written to demonstrate how carelessness, overconfidence and sheer ignorance can cost a food allergic child his life! As my son, Arjun is growing up and we are getting comfortable managing allergies – we are slowly slipping into a comfort zone and that’s the moment to watch out for…
- Don’t rely ‘just’ on Ingredient Listings: Use visual cues too! Recently I bought a box of exotic seemingly safe cookies. When I offered them to my son – he was very hesitant and made me re-read the ingredient statement and all was fine. But, he insisted and said, ‘Mom – the picture on front seems to be that of some tree nut!’ And, was he right or what – the cookie was Hazelnut flavored. A flavor that probably got included under the broad spectrum of ‘Natural flavors’. Yessss – my little boy saved himself on that day and as he put it, ‘Mommy – aren’t you glad that I saved myself from dying today?!’
- Yes – moms are human too: And we forget and make occasional mistakes. I used to pride myself on being very careful when it came to being mom to a kid with food allergies. Not anymore! The top 3 shelves in my freezer are meant exclusively for allergy friendly foods so that my son’s nanny finds it easier to feed him when I am at work. Accidentally I put a box of ‘soy’ chik’n nuggets on the Allergy Friendly shelves. When I walked in from work – I saw my little boy happily eating them. Yes – I had been careless and put an allergic food in his shelf and my nanny was careless and din’t re-read the instructions before serving. Thankfully – he had eaten only a little and he also seems to be not that allergic to soy now. But – what if it had been a nut-based product. The very thought got my son so scared that he has been scared to eat for a week now
- Beware when buying unfamiliar foods: Recently I picked up a box of a ‘safe’ Indian snack from the local grocery store. A quick glance at the ingredient list confirmed it to be okay. Thankfully my background in Indian cooking stirred up and I remembered that this snack is made from wheat flour but it had not been mentioned in the listing. Yes – it was an inaccurately labeled box!!! I would have never realized it if I had not been conversant with Indian cuisine. Moral of the story – ‘be extra careful when buying ethnic, foreign-made or unfamiliar foods’.
- NEVER stop taking extra care when introducing new foods: In the initial days, I was constantly on the lookout for healthy fats that I could include in my son’s diet because he was so underweight. That’s when the flax revolution happened and I started adding small quantities of flax to his meals. It was much later that I realized – thanks to all the feedback from my blog readers that flax could be extremely allergenic. I just lucked out that Arjun did not react to it.
- Spices – beware: It was only a couple of years after I had started using asafoetida to flavor Arjun’s otherwise bland food that it contained wheat in small quantities. And, mustard – pheww I din’t even know that it is one of the top 10 allergens when I first introduced it to Arjun.
- Don’t skim over the ingredient list: Even though it is tempting and we feel we know it all after reading millions of ingredient lists. Flashback to 4 Christamses back…Arjun and his cousins huddled around a Gingerbread house as they decorated it. The baker in me forgot that sometimes store bought frosting uses egg whites to help decoration harden faster and form shapes better. So, as the other kids licked spoons of frosting as they decorated, I let my little one eat it too – and within the hour his lips had swelled up and he was throwing up Lucky for us – it was not an anaphylactic reaction!!! And, how can I forget the Halloween night when I let him have Twizzlers because a cursory glance did not reveal that wheat is used to make Twizzlers.
- Being ‘hungry’ is sometimes the lesser evil: Now this has to be one of my worst goof-ups. I fed him airline food since it looked okay on inspection even as he said that he is not feling okay because I was worried that he will be hungry. Thankfully – I stopped forcing him after the first few bites. Within an hour – he had thrown up all over me. I forgot that one has to be extra cautious when in situations where emergency help is unavailable. Yes – ‘use extra precaution when traveling’.
- Avoid packaged foods with too many ingredients: Ingredient listing runs more than 3 lines? Ditch the item! Not worth taking the risk because half of them are chemical preservatives and enhancers. Most of us are not chemists or biologists to know if they are safe and who wants so many chemicals in our systems anyways! Yes – the mistakes I have made has usually been because my eyes missed an ingredient when reading such a long list.
- Do not assume that you know the ingredients used in a dish/ snack: I have accidentally offered dark chocolate to Arjun assuming that it ‘obviously’ will not have nuts in them. Lucky for me – he did not want to eat it because I found out minuted later that it contained almonds – the tree nut he is most allergic to.
- Homemade food is not necessarily safe: This is especially true when you are visting a friend/ family and the dish served is not made by you. They may forget to mention a vital ingredient in the midst of entertaining – a genuine mistake that could happen to any one of us. Arjun was just 3 when I let him eat baked chicken that had been marinated in yogurt. A definite no no for someone who is allergic to dairy
- Cross-contaminnation can happen at home too: There are times when I am using all 4 burners to cook different dishes – one of them supposedely allergy-friendly. big cheese cube flew from my dish while stirring and fell into the allergy-friendly food while stirring and I did not pay attention. Thankfully – we noticed it as he was eating it though we could have as easily missed it.
As I write this post – it hits me even more forcefully how careless I have been as a mom and how fortunate I have been thus far. However, one can push their luck only so far. This post needed to be written to jolt me into mindfullness and see things with a fresh and vigilant perspective!
Another great takeaway from these experiences – each time Arjun escaped because he was careful despite mommy’s words. That’s one thing I seem to have done right thus far – raising a kid who knows that his safety is in his hands! I can only hope that he never forget this valuable lesson.
This post has been in draft mode for weeks – with a full-time job it is becoming increasingly difficult to focus and write at the end of a long day. But, a dear friend Sandhya said. ‘Missing your blog posts. Loved reading your writing style.’ That too from someone who does not deal with food allergies. Thanks Sandy – that immediately motivated me to finish this post this weekend – just as I promised you