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  • Writer's pictureLauren Foti, @thecraftroom.nj

Food Allergies & Dining Out: Even Plain Salad Wasn't Safe for My Son

Lauren Foti, creative force behind the @thecraftroom.nj and food allergy mom shares that when her son with food allergies was younger, he didn’t really seem to notice or care if he couldn't eat what others were eating. But recently she sees it makes him sad. The food allergy parenting struggle to find a balance — between being too cautious (to protect) and including in some small way — is real. And it's hard. Find out what Lauren and her son recently learned from a restaurant experience:


three smiling little brothers at the beach at sunset wear knitted caps and sweatshirts that say THANKFUL

Let me introduce my son, Henry. The oldest of my three sons, he’s the most confident, friendly, sweet 8-year-old boy. He’s smart and shockingly good at every sport he tries!


He’s also allergic to eggs, tree nuts and dairy. ANA allergic. He’s off the charts sensitive to dairy — even having asthma attacks when exposed to aerosolized milk — twice at Starbucks (steamed milk in the air) and once at home when I cooked with butter.


We discovered his allergies when he was about 2 months old. I exclusively breastfed him, but had to give him formula for the first time when I was sick. He immediately swelled, was covered in red splotches and was saved with oxygen and an epi-pen in the ambulance when he went into anaphylactic shock.


Even though Henry is 8 now, I can still vividly picture those moments in the ambulance, his head bobbing, tongue swollen, not breathing, his life on the line, and me screaming his name and crying at him to breathe. Those moments changed my life forever. I was a wreck for the next few months (I’m lying — more like years,) but we educated ourselves. We taught Henry as early as possible what he could and couldn’t eat, making it super simple for him at first by teaching him to “Only eat what mommy and daddy give you.”


As time went on, I felt more confident in my food allergy parenting skills and my ability to keep Henry safe. I also grew more confident in Henry’s growing ability to advocate for himself.


His allergies have not stopped him from having his best life!


Fast forward to Henry starting school and we were met with new panics, though I can honestly say his schools have been amazing working with us to keep Henry safe and included. For example, his school created a fun workaround to eating in the lunchroom for him since it's not an option with his dairy sensitivity.


The only time I feel like Henry’s not really included are in food-focused situations, like celebrations and restaurant outings. When he was younger, he didn’t really seem to notice or care, but recently it’s hurting his feelings. When we go out to eat and his brothers are enjoying their meal at a restaurant, I can feel his sadness at being left out.


With a dairy allergy, eating out isn’t as easy as you might think. Sure, we could order french fries for him, but were they cooked in a fryer that also cooked mozzarella sticks? Worries like this have prevented us from ordering food at restaurants because we know that even cautious allergy parents, with all the knowledge and know-how, can and do make simple mistakes. So it's hard to trust restaurant kitchens to get it right.


Recently, in an effort to include Henry more, we’ve ordered him a plain salad, basically just lettuce. No Cheese. No croutons. Last time though, I had the restaurant add sliced red peppers to make the salad more interesting. Within minutes of eating it, he told me, “Mom, my lips feel weird.” Sure enough, spots were starting to swell.

The friends we were with sprang into action and rushed off to buy Benadryl (something I usually carry, kicking myself that it was MIA) while I tried to stay calm and collected for Henry...


...pretending I wasn’t already thinking ahead to stabbing him with his Epi-Pen.


Henry was scared. Brave. After taking Benadryl, you could see the swelling go down. I breathed a sigh of relief.


But then the questions and guilt overwhelmed me:


  • How did this happen?

  • Did someone in the kitchen touch something Henry was allergic to before handling his order?

  • Were the peppers cut with the same knife used to cut cheese?

  • Or, maybe they were cut on a cutting board used for cheese?

  • How could I have been so naïve?

  • How could I have let this happen?


Henry and I have had many talks after this mishap. But he doesn’t get angry. He gets stronger.


We both get smarter.


I’m working on letting the guilt go. It’s a heavy thing to carry around.


We probably won’t order at a restaurant again any time soon. But, I think we’re both going to be just fine with that.


 
headshot of lauren foti guest author

About the Author: Lauren Foti and her 3 sons live by the beach in her hometown Cape May, New Jersey. Creativity, fun, music, and adventure are a priority for their family. Lauren has been sewing and crafting for over 20 years and sharing it with her children brings her the greatest joy. Being together as a family, making safe treats, watching sunsets, kitchen dance parties...these are a few of their favorite things. Follow their sweet life at the beach @thecraftroom.nj.


Images: Lauren Foti

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