Someday, summer will actually be here. Kids will finish school and summer play dates will be in full swing.
Does your child have any friends with food allergies? Do you feel nervous about hosting children with food allergies? As a parent of a child with multiple serious food allergies, I’m here to share with you how to host a food allergy-friendly play date.
If your child would like to have a friend over and that friend has food allergies, the first step is to just check in with the parent. I can say from firsthand experience that another parent even thinking for a second about how to keep my son safe truly warms my heart. The parent will be able to tell you what may or may not work for keeping their child safe. If you’re not comfortable having the child over, please don’t hesitate to say so.
A food allergy parent can address your concerns and certainly never wants their child in a situation that isn’t safe for them.
In my case, my son is allergic to peanut, tree nut, sunflower, sesame, milk, egg, and legumes (except soy). If he ingests these foods, he could experience anaphylaxis. If he comes in contact with them, he sometimes experiences hives and swelling. Every reaction can be different and each more severe; we follow strict avoidance. More often than not, we host play dates at our house as we know it is safe for our child. I love going to other people’s houses, but I feel terrible (and incredibly appreciative) of the cleaning and preparation most do just to have us over for a food allergy-friendly play date. If someone wants to come over and play with my kiddo, I’m happy to host!
When we have gone elsewhere to play, I’m always there too. I’m honestly not sure when I’ll feel comfortable sending my son to a play date on his own, certainly not anytime soon. Please don’t be offended if an allergy parent says they need to host or would like to stay for the playdate at your house. I really don’t want to be a helicopter parent. I try my best to scan a structure at the playground for food crumbs from as far away as possible. There’s a never-ending battle between maintaining child safety and fostering child independence for any food allergy family. Most food allergy parents also feel terrible about the fact that they know there is inevitably some level of extra work involved for you, the hosting parent.
If you’ve made the initial request and you know someone with food allergies is coming to your house, please don’t panic. You can host a food allergy-friendly playdate!
Look around and think about where the children will be playing. How much food is consumed in that area? Food allergies are typically reactions to the protein in food and even minuscule amounts of a food protein can cause a reaction via cross-contact for some kids. Ask the parent how much of an issue this is. Trust me, they’ll know.
In terms of cleaning, make sure to vacuum all crumbs (don’t forget the couch if your kiddos snack there), wipe surfaces where food is consumed with soap and water, and give favorite toys a once over with soap and water too. If a parent indicates their child is contact allergic, consider wiping down a small collection of toys to play with and restricting others. Does teddy often cuddle at the table to enjoy a peanut butter sandwich? Maybe hide him away. Perhaps this is your chance to haul out some toys!
Even for my son, with seven foods/categories he is anaphylactic to, this would be more than enough. We safely attend storytime, open gym, and play at places like Echo with no issue, aside from my own internal panic from time to time. I’m certain there’s some level of cross-contact there. We try to convince our son to keep his hands out of his mouth (side note – does this ever end?!) and wash his hands as soon as we’re done playing. On a similar note, have your child wash their hands before their friend arrives and again before and after eating.
You’d think that means we miraculously avoid germs, but at least for my family, that’s not true.
When it comes to eating, ask what the parent prefers.
My guess is the parent will send safe food, even if you ask for a list of all allergies and offer to make something. Please don’t be offended if that is the case. Do you know the 28 names that can indicate milk is an ingredient? I still sometimes have to Google one and my son has been allergic to dairy since birth. Manufacturing and labeling laws in the US are also quite poor. There is no requirement to label for shared manufacturing lines, even for the top 8 allergens. Most allergy parents have reached out to companies to make sure manufacturing practices fit with the needs of their family. If an allergy parent doesn’t indicate they’re bringing a snack, you can ask them to if you’re not comfortable providing one. I’ll happily send enough allergen-free snack for everyone so my son can be safe and included, especially if there are just a few children.
If you do want to provide a snack and the other parent is OK with it, ask for a few suggestions and send a picture of the label ahead of time. Ingredients and manufacturing practices can change all the time. We go with rule of three: check when you buy, when you put it away, and when you eat it. An ingredient check text is incredibly appreciated. If fruits and vegetables are safe, these are also a great, simple snack option. Just be sure to wash the cutting surface and knife well. For those with a dairy allergy, guacamole is a delicious and healthy alternative to ranch for dipping veggies if your child is like mine and must always have something to dip in. He does dip fruit in ketchup though, so I’m not sure how much I’d trust his palate.
Use this play date as an opportunity to educate yourself and your child about other children and families with food allergies. There are some outstanding children’s books that discuss food allergies. I am certain you can find an age-appropriate book that introduces the concept of food allergies and teaches your child what they can do to help keep their friends safe. If the allergic child will be at your house without their parent, make sure you are familiar with their emergency plan. My absolute favorite is this one from FARE as it goes over reaction symptoms and how to treat. Don’t be afraid to ask the food allergy parent for an epinephrine tutorial either.
Food allergy parents are happy to help with a food allergy-friendly play date, just ask!
I really think that asking is the answer to a lot when it comes to hosting a child with food allergies. It is also important to know that no child or allergy is exactly the same. Some of what I listed above may be overkill for some or not be enough for others. No matter what, I guarantee that you taking the time to read this and consider the safety of your child’s friend with food allergies is an incredibly appreciated step. Your kindness and effort will never go unnoticed.