How to Help Friends with Food Allergies

Paige Geis Bradshaw

Food allergies can be scary stuff. Though they only affect an estimated 8% of children in the United States, they still must be taken seriously.

Any kind of allergic reaction is your body’s immune system responding to an allergen—a usually harmless substance that, in some people, is perceived as a threat by their body. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe, and can even be life-threatening.

Mild allergy symptoms, like hives or stomach pain, can usually be treated with over-the-counter allergy pills or ointments. However, severe allergy symptoms, like tightening of the throat and trouble breathing, require swift action and medical intervention.

Some of the most common food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soybeans, milk, eggs, and different types of fish—all of which can be found in all kinds of food products.

Having a food allergy can be tough, especially as a child. But if your child has a friend with food allergies, there’s a lot they can do to make them feel supported and less alone! If your child is wondering how to help friends with food allergies, here are some steps they can take:

Learn More about Their Allergies

Knowledge is power! If your child’s friend is open to it, encourage your child to set some time aside to talk with them about their food allergies. Here are some questions your child can ask:

  • What foods are you allergic to?
  • How severe are your food allergies? Do you have to eat the food to trigger an allergic reaction? Or are you sensitive to any kind of contact with the food?
  • What symptoms do you usually experience during an allergic reaction?

Understanding the details of their friend’s food allergies will allow your child to offer assistance in the event of an allergic reaction. Better yet, being aware of their food allergies and standard symptoms can nip an allergic reaction in the bud before it becomes serious.

Take Allergies Seriously

It’s important that your child understands how serious their friend’s food allergies can be. In some cases, food allergies can be fatal.

If your child sees their friend about to eat something that may trigger an allergic reaction, encourage them to speak up! Don’t keep quiet when it comes to food allergies. Even if it ends up being a false alarm and the food is safe to eat, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Their friend will appreciate the concern!

Food allergies can make life a little complicated. If your child’s classmates tease, threaten, or mock their friend because of their food allergies, teach your child to defend their friend and tell a trusted adult.

Sharing Is Not Caring!

Even though your child means well, it’s critical that they never share their food with friends who have food allergies. For some people, the slightest trace of an allergen in their food can lead to serious consequences.

Your child may be offering their friend a taste of their turkey sandwich, but what if the knife you used to cut the sandwich in half had peanut butter on it before you used it? What if the fruit snacks you sent your child were processed in a plant that also makes food their friend can’t eat? If your child doesn’t know for sure that the food is allergen-free, teach them to play it safe and don’t share.

Skip the Homemade Goodies

Who doesn’t love a plate of warm, gooey, and homemade chocolate chip cookies?

While thoughtful and well-intended, it’s better to leave the homemade goodies for friends without food allergies. Even if you were intentional by choosing ingredients without allergens, there’s no telling if your mixing bowls, spoons, and cookie sheets were cross-contaminated at some point in the process.

Simply said, it’s just not worth the risk. If your child would like to give their friend a treat, encourage them to stick to something pre-packaged that’s safe for them to eat. Or give them something other than food altogether!

Read the Labels on Everything

Help your child become an expert reader of labels! But here’s the kicker—when it comes to food allergies, they’ll need to read the labels on more than just food products.

Medication, skincare products, hair care products, pet food and treats, craft supplies, and all sorts of other products may contain ingredients that trigger their friend’s food allergies. It never hurts to make a habit of checking ingredients on just about everything!

Wash Hands after Eating or Handling Food

You’ve probably taught your child how important it is to wash their hands before they eat. But when they’re around friends with food allergies, it’s even more important to wash up after eating and handling food.

Lathering up with lots of soap and warm water will prevent the spread of any allergens. In case you can’t locate a sink nearby, always opt for hand wipes over hand sanitizers as an alternative. Hand wipes can eliminate allergens while hand sanitizers, creams, and sprays cannot.

Consider Allergies at Events

Depending on the severity of a friend’s food allergies, they may not be able to enjoy eating out at the same restaurants you or your child can. Before planning a lunch date with your child’s friend, check for restaurants that have safe food selections they can enjoy without worry!

At events like birthday parties, potluck dinners, and other environments where food may be served, remind the host and attendees of your child’s friend’s food allergies.

And while you’re at it, suggest alternative ways to party! There’s no limit to the kind of fun you can have without food being the center of attention. You can make crafts, play board games, go to the local park—get creative!

Have an Action Plan in Place—Just in Case!

Remember those symptoms we discussed earlier? Watching for those symptoms will keep you and your child alert and ready to help in case of an unexpected allergic reaction.

Encourage your child to talk to their friend and find out what support they might need in a medical emergency. Work together to help your child create a just-in-case action plan! Here are some things you should incorporate into your action plan:

  • Does your friend have an epinephrine auto-injector? (Also known as an EpiPen.) Ask them to teach you how to use it and where they keep it stored. It’s best to know this information ahead beforehand in case an allergic reaction makes it difficult for your friend to speak.
  • If your friend shows signs of an allergic reaction, notify a nearby adult right away. The more help available, the merrier!
  • Contact 911 if necessary, plus any parents or emergency contacts. Don’t search frantically for a phone—always have a kid-safe way to connect on hand with a Troomi phone!

Having a food allergy can be challenging and isolating. But having alert, empathetic, understanding, and supportive friends can make food allergies so much easier to cope with!