It was a daunting task to go through the regular and simple task of grocery shopping with food allergies. Fear, sadness, and despair were still fresh in our minds from the scary moment my daughter was having her first anaphylactic attack and we received the diagnosis. 

Learning takes time.

This was fifteen years ago. I have two daughters with food allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. I remember feeling lost and extremely overwhelmed. Any family that gets a diagnosis of a food allergy will likely feel this way. Luckily, we have come very far from when my oldest was diagnosed, so we were more prepared for my second daughter’s diagnosis. 

Sensitivity and awareness towards cross-contact and labeling has become commonplace; so rest assured things will become easier as you learn to identify your child’s particular allergen and the hidden names it may have. I became an expert label reader for peanuts and tree nuts, but I wasn’t at the start. The process got faster and easier the more I did it. The first time I shopped, I only purchased the basics. As I grew more confident, I started to add more and more variety of foods.

Food allergy folks are loyal.

I found myself supporting the brands that made efforts to make our lives easier – those with clear, bolded allergen lists and those with added notes like made in a plant that also processes Y and Z allergens. If they go the extra mile listing cross-contact allergens, I figure it means I can safely buy their products if they don’t contain my kid’s allergen. I began adding those products from companies that are allergen-conscious to my grocery list, even if I didn’t need them. I was so grateful to find safe options and wanted to show my gratitude and loyalty.

Making mistakes is part of learning.

Yamelly with one of her daughters who has allergies.
Yamelly with one of her daughters.

After so many years, we consider ourselves experts, but sometimes we still make mistakes and there is always more to learn. For example, here are some things I discovered. If your child has allergies to dairy, you should avoid products that contain casein as well. Also, you need to also pay attention to some food processing techniques that use milk to mask fish smell in some canned foods. In other words, when you buy a can of tuna, you should read the label just in case, especially if it is the first time you are buying that particular brand.

Forgive yourself and be patient with yourself in this process. As long as our rescue medication and emergency action plan is always with us, we will be okay. My daughter and I were overly confident about her allergies one day recently and forgot to read a label correctly. A friend brought a dish home made with vegan cheese and we did not read the label. We assumed mac and cheese was plain mac and cheese. This one had macadamia in it, and we were thankful for our epinephrine and the marvelous team at the ER that day. 

We moved on from this last experience with the learning and the reminder that life can change in an instant, not just for allergic patients but just for anyone for various reasons. So when you are at the grocery store next time, or for the first time, be okay with the thought that you are learning every day, that it takes time, and that you are doing your best to keep you and your child safe, one day at a time. The task will get easier and faster, I promise. We are all in this together.

Translated by Kimberly Colula.

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