Picky eating can be one of a parent’s biggest challenges. In Part 1 of this series I want to discuss food allergies and intolerances or sensitivities. This is the first issue that must be eliminated if there is a picky eater in your household.
There is one word that sums up food allergies: fear. Sudden, utter, stark fear. Because people may die from food allergies.
Food allergies differ from other picky eating in that it presents with health reactions. Severe food allergies present with a release of histamine and a swollen throat that cuts off breathing. Sometimes the whole face will swell and even the hands. Quick reaction is needed with antihistamines and steroids. There are warning signs though. It might start with an itching throat or itching hands. There might be a rash. That is the time to react. Do not wait for the throat to close in swelling because that is when panic and fear sets in.
Fortunately, for most people such reaction is limited to a known number of foods: nuts, shellfish, cow’s milk, eggs, wheat and soy. Most food labels include the allergens. Teach a child who has food allergies to permanently carry their medication with them from a young age. As soon as they can read, teach them what to look out for on food labels. It is important that they learn to take responsibility for their food allergies at a young age.
Food allergies are not that common though. About 3 – 4 % of people suffer from food allergies. It is usually genetic. In fact, science says that allergies come from the mom’s genes. But if there are any food allergies in your family, on any side, know that there is a possibility that your child might be allergic. Avoid those food stuffs until your child can be tested. Allergologists or pathologists do the tests. Make an appointment when your child is a little older.
Food intolerances are similar to food allergies in that they cause a health reaction but the reaction is different, not severe. It usually causes upper respiratory tract infections and digestive problems. Food intolerance is not so easy to identify.
So, what is the difference?
A food allergy affects the immune system and the whole body reacts. There is a severe reaction and medical attention is needed immediately. A food intolerance affects the digestive system. Small amounts of the food might not even affect a person. But bigger amounts might cause bloatedness, constipation, diarrhea, and upper respiratory tract infections.
You might wonder why I include URTI if this is a digestive issue. In layman’s terms, it is because there are receptors in the intestines that are triggered by the food sensitivity. To get rid of it, the intestine in turn triggers a heightened release of mucous. But this reaction goes to every part of the body that makes mucous and thus also to the sinuses. That is where the URTI comes from.
Food intolerances normally include foods like gluten (found in wheat, barley and some oats), dairy, tomatoes, some fruits, legumes and preservatives. But it can be in anything. Often, but not always, children will not like these foods because it causes discomfort. And when they are small they are not able to explain it. So they scream and fuss when they have to eat.
Identifying food intolerances
There is only one way in which to identify food intolerances. It takes a period of time and requires some patience. Start by keeping a food diary. Note everything that the person eats and their health conditions over the next days as well as any emotional reactions. Do you notice a trend? Then, continuing the diary, you have to cut out all possible culprits for about two weeks and slowly reintroduce them, one by one every few weeks. Monitor reactions. If problems arise, you know to avoid that food in future. It can take a few months to sort out but is worth the effort.
The challenging part
This is where the challenging part comes in. Food intolerances are often for food stuffs to be found at children’s events. How on earth do you handle that?
- Talk to your child about the importance of eating the right food. Without making a huge issue of it. They are never too young. When our son was 3, we were on a total exclusion diet. He was not allowed to have anything on the list of possible food intolerances on doctor’s orders. We were visiting and the hostess offered sweets. He accepted it with thanks, walked up to his friends and offered it to them. They are not too young to understand.
- Be prepared. Pack nice goodies to take with. Things that will be a treat.
- Talk to the hostess beforehand. If there are going to be party packs, arrange that you will arrive a few minutes early to pack your child’s pack. A wise hostess will not make an issue of it.
It helps if the whole family follows the same diet. Then it is not so obvious that one is different. It is often a healthier diet as well. Don’t make an issue out of it though. Just introduce the changes and discuss healthy eating habits.
A good place to start
In fact, a good place to start is to establish healthy eating habits long before any food intolerances are identified.
The key is not to make an issue of it. Talk about healthy eating (remember that this is for their health) as you would about other good habits like brushing teeth or please and thank you. If you don’t make an issue out of it, it won’t be an issue for your child. It will just be the way life is.
Do not allow food allergies and intolerances to identify who your child is.
In Part 2 of this series, we will have a look at the sensory challenges picky eaters might have. If food allergies can be summed up by the word fear, then sensory challenges are accompanied by guilt and shame.
Scared potatoes image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay. Peanut butter image by Mirko Sajkov from Pixabay. Dairy image by Дарья Яковлева from Pixabay. Woman with diary image by free stock photos from www.picjumbo.com from Pixabay.