How to be vigilant when babysitting grandkids with food allergies

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By Georgia Pandelios, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Owner at Nutrition Prescription.

Food allergies are a serious and sometimes life threatening reaction to food. It is caused by an immune response where the body identifies a specific food particle as an intruder that it needs to attack – which makes it different to a food intolerance.

Reactions can vary from person to person, making it confusing for carers that have little experience with allergies. A lot of the time, I will hear “will it go away” or “can we give a little bit each day to build up tolerance?” the answer is no and definitely not. Do not feed a suspected or identified allergen to that person or child.

If you are going to care for a child with allergies you need to know the following:

1. What the allergen is, where it is found and how to avoid it.

This involves understanding how to read food labels and being able to modify recipes. You will also need to practice good food hygiene to avoid cross contamination, like washing your face, hands and surfaces, as well as not sharing food if you have eaten the offending allergen. You might choose to use separate cutting boards and utensils in food preparation if the allergen is present in your home. Don’t forget to be mindful of transferring the allergen through kisses if you have recently eaten the allergen without cleaning your face or mouth.

Don’t forget to clean hard surfaces.

2. What the symptoms of a reaction are.

If symptoms are mild, they may experience swelling in the face, eyes and lips, itchy hives on their skin, vomiting or abdominal discomfort. Common serious reactions involve difficulty breathing or speaking, swelling in the tongue and throat, wheezing, coughing, dizziness, fainting and in young children going pale and limp.

3. How to treat a reaction.

Request parents and guardians to bring any allergy medication when dropping off their child, with instructions on dosage. If you keep this at your place, you should make sure it has not expired. If the child is anaphylactic, ask their parent or guardian for their GP allergy action plan and training on how to administer their prescribed Epi-pen in the event of an anaphylactic reaction. 

READ MORE: Can a healthy diet boost your immune system? Dietitian Georgia Pandelios dishes up

Young child works at desk beside a set of anaphylaxis injector pens.

To make things easy, ask the parent or guardian to provide you with your grandchild’s meals and snacks for their stay. Ask for extra portions and a few extra items that you can store in the freezer for unexpected visits and for some recipes. Also ask for a list of approved foods – this will ideally have household ingredients as well as readily available safe takeaway or packaged foods for when you are out together. I highly recommend you make it known to wait staff when eating out that there is a food allergy, to ensure extra care in avoiding cross contamination in the kitchen.

The more time you spend learning and trying to understand your grandchild’s food allergy, the easier it will be. If you need more support in learning how to manage food allergy, ask to come along to the paediatrician, allergist or dietitian appointments. At Nutrition Prescription, as dietitians highly trained in food reactions, we provide training and refreshers on how to identify food allergens in food labels, high risk settings and practices for cross contamination and recipe modification support. 

READ MORE: Dietitian, Georgia Pandelios, shares her top tips on meal planning like a pro

Lastly, understand your limits. If you don’t feel confident minding a child with food allergies, let their parent or guardian know.

If you need help with your diet and lifestyle, contact Nutrition Prescription for a nutrition assessment with tailored nutrition recommendations. You can book through www.nutritionprescription.com.au or email info@nutritionprescription.com.au.

Nutrition Prescription, founded by leading maternal and foetal health fertility dietitian and nutritionist, Georgia Pandelios, aims to offer nutrition consultations specially designed for the whole family – from infants to adults and elderly, through to highly specialised fertility-pregnancy, paediatric and food reaction services. They can assist with all your nutrition needs, including complex and chronic conditions – in English, Greek or Portuguese.

Follow Nutrition Prescription on Instagram & Facebook

Disclaimer: The information in this article is generalised and is not intended to replace medical or dietetic advice, nor directly manage any medical conditions. For personalised advice, please speak with your doctor or contact us via info@nutritionprescription.com.au to make an appointment with one of our Dietitians. 

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