Allergy firsts: staying with friends

This Easter, we went to stay with friends in the Lake District for a few days. This was the first time we had stayed at someone else’s house following my son’s anaphylactic reaction to a peanut butter cookie. It also turned out to be the first time we have left the children with a babysitter other than their granny. Although our friends were brilliant about my son’s allergy, staying over in someone else’s home did throw us out of our nut free comfort zone, so I thought I would share some of the things which cropped up.

What foods can he eat?

Before we came to stay, my friend and I discussed what foods are safe for D. I explained that he could eat any prepacked foods, provided that:

  • Peanuts and nuts were not listed in the ingredients list; and
  • There was no other nut allergy warning on the food label (for example, “may contain nut traces” or “not suitable for nut allergy sufferers”).

(For more information, see my previous blog posts on supermarket shopping and food allergen labelling law).

We agreed that my friend would do the food shopping but that I also would bring some emergency supplies, just in case D couldn’t eat what she had bought.

Reading ingredients labels

Before my friend cooked anything during our stay, she ran the food packet past me, so I could double check it was safe for D. This gave us both peace of mind.

One question which came up was whether D could eat nutmeg. Luckily, this was one of the queries we had encountered when we first started scrutinising ingredients labels, so I was able to confirm that nutmeg is a seed (not a nut) and he has eaten nutmeg-containing foods many times previously without a reaction. For further information on nutmeg, see:

Can we have a takeaway?

On past visits, we would usually have a take away night at some point. When D was diagnosed peanut allergic, our allergy doctors specifically warned us that curries, Indian, Chinese and Thai dishes and pesto sauce can contain hidden peanuts. In order to ensure a nut free home, our takeaway habit ground to an abrupt halt following D’s peanut allergy diagnosis. It might sound extreme, but even eating a takeaway after he had gone to bed would make us feel uneasy. Also, once the leftovers and cartons were bagged up and disposed of in the outside bin, we would probably give ourselves indigestion by frantically running round the house with dettol wipes, lest any nut traces remain.

So we decided against having a takeaway this time … even though, provided it was eaten once the children were upstairs asleep and we cleaned up thoroughly afterwards, the risk would be minimal. I think we were being overcautious here. However, since D’s anaphylactic reaction, I myself feel uncomfortable eating something which could contain peanuts or nuts, even if I’m outside of the home and, say, not going to see D until the next day. Just another emotional after effect of anaphylaxis, I guess.

Heading home: sandwich shops vs supermarket

We stopped off at Keswick on the way home, to visit the park and look around the town centre. Despite the array of sandwich shops, at lunchtime, we brought bread and ham from a supermarket and made our own. Even when you know what allergy questions to ask, it often still feels simpler and safer to go for the prepackaged option when available.

Final thoughts and further useful resources

We know it’s unrealistic to expect the outside world to be the same nut free haven as our own house. This trip showed us that, provided obviously we keep a vigilant eye on D (and keep him away from, for example, kitchen food cupboards … or the Easter Egg shelf!), venturing outside our nut free bubble can go without a hitch.

I found that talking to our friends about safe foods beforehand helped a lot. Here are links to two helpful articles on the information you should give to hosts and new babysitters about your child’s food allergies:

  • Handy checklist of things to talk through with a babysitter beforehand, by Linda Coss (Kids With Food Allergies)
  • Article with tips on how to explain your child’s food allergy and its severity from Linda Coss, Elizabeth Goldenberg and Lynda Mitchell (published on calorielab.com).

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