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Teaching your Child’s Class about Nut Allergies

I remember the moment that I realized that my son would never have nuts again.

It hurt so much that it made my toes curl. I felt like someone sucker-punched me in the stomach and I cried so much that my sockets looked like enormous peanuts. My first reaction was denial.

Maybe there was a mistake. Maybe he moved too much during the allergy test. Doing an allergy test on a two year old is virtually impossible anyway. He must have fidgeted too much and he really must be allergic to some kind of vegetable that nobody wants to eat like peas (by chance he is allergic to those too).

I realize that this was a bit melodramatic of me. The kid is healthy. It isn’t a deadly disease and nuts can be avoided. I had just finished writing my book, the Food Lovers Guide to Seattle and he had nuts many times throughout the research. There was no reaction that I had noticed until the one night. I was at my own party when his neck started to swell and he started talking funny. And there it was, he was on his way to anaphylaxis land, where people stop breathing because of a damn hazelnut, a cute innocent hazelnut. But we were lucky that Benadryl stopped the swelling. His first scary reaction was stopped by the Benadryl. I have heard that this first reaction is the free pass. The one where you know but you don’t really know. Nobody wants to really know.

My son will never have these beautiful macarons made with almond flour. Photo credit: Jackie Donnely Baisa

I made the mistake of overgoogling. I saw horrendous photos of other kids with blotches everywhere. I read stories about moms who didn’t have play dates because they didn’t want their kids exposed. I read about people who don’t go into bakeries or restaurants or basically never leave the house. I am a food writer. How could I do this? How could I live my life in fear. Would I ever fly again? Could I take my son on an airplane full of people eating nuts around me. I didn’t sleep for a few nights because all I could think about was nuts. I dream that a Nutella jar with hands and feet was chasing us. For real, I did.

My son has a tree nut allergy. That means he can’t have tree nuts or else he can go into anaphylactic shock. He can’t have anything that touches them either. You can’t spoon some nutella in your mouth and leave the spoon on the counter. He can’t have marzipan or pesto or muffins with nuts. He is not allergic to peanuts. I can’t tell you how many times people have offered him a food with nuts in it and said, “there are no peanuts in it”. Peanuts are a legume and he can eat them as much as he wants.

We have learned to live with his allergy and gone past those over-dramatic days. We eat in restaurants, we fly across the world and we have lots of play dates.
He is now 4 and understands it. He won’t eat anything without asking if there are nuts in it. He remembers his Epipen every time we leave the house.

When my son started a new daycare, I wanted to make sure that the kids knew about his allergies and understood them so I put together a small lesson plan and came in to talk to the kids.
I brought ingredients and together we made homemade tortillas. I told the kids about how I like tortillas because they are my favorite type of bread. I like that they are flat and can be rolled up and don’t take up much room in the fridge. We talked about all the different types of bread and why we like them. Then we talked about how all breads are different but so many are still delicious. Then I explained that all kids are different. We talked about how one child might have glasses and one might have an allergy. We are all special in our own way.

We also talked about things that we shouldn’t touch such as medicine or cleaning products. We talked about how parents put these products high up because they can make kids sick. I explained that nuts may be okay for most of the kids in the class but for my son, they make him sick.

I also prepared a list of foods that may contain nuts along with a photo of his to hang at the daycare. This way, any teacher that comes in to help, can see this form. I took the epipen instructions and enlarged them so that they are clear and easy to see.

Being a part of the lesson plan gave my son confidence (I got to come to school with him), it helped his friends understand his allergies and the kids love pretend checking labels to see if nuts are anywhere around. I feel much more at ease now that I can educate his friends and his friends can watch out for him.

Do you have any tips for parents with allergies? How do you deal with allergies?


9 responses to “Teaching your Child’s Class about Nut Allergies”

  1. Happy New Year Keren! That lesson plan is such a great idea. Our pre-school is nut free and now citrus free and it amazes me all the time how many people people just don’t get how serious it is. So great that your son is on board and is now taking responsibility. And, for what it is worth – my husband had an anaphylactic food allergy his entire life (he was in a hospital on a ventilator as a young teen b/c of it), carried an Epi-Pen, all of it. And in his early 30’s – he grew out of it – completely. So, you never know!


  2. Wow – i read your blog and go to your event but this is the first time i am commenting. Wow what an awesome post and that you went to school and explained all this. I have a 10 month old and so far we are not aware of any allergies but you never know. If she has a nut allergy then i know what i am doing after reading this. . .


  3. My son has a life-threatening allergy to tree nuts as well but I’ve found he’s not very responsible about asking if things have nuts in them. And it’s astonishing how many people offer children free food (at the Costco, the farmer’s market, the neighbors next door, his ski instructor, the barber, even the librarian, just to name a few…), so kudos to you for managing to teach your son to ask. Seriously, it’s no wonder so many kids are overweight, but I digress.

    He also has (had?) a milder allergy to egg whites, which I think he’s become tolerant of or outgrown. And it’s surprising to learn that foods are preserved or made glossy with an egg white enzyme (pot stickers and manchego cheese, two of my favorite things!). Who’d have thought?

    Anyway, I like your idea of teaching the kids about the allergy. We did this at our school with a more simplistic, “Don’t share food” lecture. But I think it’s the parents that need the education. You tell a kid not to share his snack, and they don’t. You tell a parent not to put nuts into the muffins and some of them feel rebellious and put out. Or they just flat forget or assume you meant peanuts. “You said no peanut butter right? That’s ok, I brought Almond Milk!”

    It’s even hard to avoid nut oils in things that have nothing to do with food. My son is allergic to almonds and hazelnuts, specifically. Do you know how many lotions, conditioners and lipsticks have almond oil in them? Or other nut oils. Luckily, my son can be around them, he just can’t ingest it or he’ll have problems. But not everyone is so lucky.

    Anyway, keep up the good fight. And who knows, maybe our kids will outgrow the allergy…


    • I totally see the rebellious thing as a food writer. I see people joking about all the allergies but I really don’t take it personal. I am just extra careful with my kids. It is one of those things that you only realize when it happens to you or your child. It isn’t easy but I have hope that one day, there will be some way for him to have nuts. Who knows what the docs will figure out? Thanks for writing, it is always so great to hear other people’s stories.


  4. Hi Keren,

    I also have a 4-year-old son allergic to tree nuts as well as a host of other proteins such as dairy and eggs.

    We did the same thing as you and talked to our son’s class about his allergies. We did this with the help of a powerpoint presentation that showed what an allergic reaction does to your body. The kids “got it” and there has not been one incident or accident.

    I am the owner of Sweet Debbie’s Organic Cupcakes which caters to families with food allergies. It is so rewarding to be able to provide safe treats to those who can’t otherwise partake.

    Thank you so much for your amazing blog and I hope to meet you when I come to Seattle on my cookbook tour in the Fall.

    Debbie Adler


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