This week, I’m excited to have Cindy Gordon from Vegetarian Mamma join us today. She is discussing different methods to teach kids to eat safe foods. When I first discovered Cindy’s site I was thrilled because her focus is on meat-free, gluten-free and nut-free recipes. It’s easy to find recipes that work for our family. She also has a weekly link up called Gluten-Free Friday’s.
Another reason I’m excited to have Cindy here is that I met her at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference last year! Ever since we met I regularly send her random questions and she is always so gracious to answer them. Without further ado, here’s Cindy.
Living with food allergies can be overwhelming for anybody, let alone our little ones. As we head back to school, whether it be preschool, elementary and beyond, we need to teach our children about their food allergies. Learning about their food allergies, includes learning what is safe to eat.
Green Means GO
When my youngest was finally diagnosed at 18 months old, we began teaching him about safe foods. Being so young, he was not able to fully communicate in sentences and read labels. He was however very fluent with his colors. We were able to teach our children, green means GO and red means STOP! We headed to the dollar store and bought all kinds of green and red bins. Within all the green bins, we placed food items that my youngest could eat. He was able to immediately identify with the color of the bin that the food inside was safe. In the red bins, we had foods that were not safe for him. Since he was a toddler those red bins were on very high shelves.
This color coding system worked well for any visiting family members that came to our house. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t have to question an item when it was on the green bin.
As the kids have grown older and are beginning to read, we still have our color coding system in place, but in a different way. We have two sets of utensils, toasters, etc. The allergy friendly utensils and toaster are green. This is a clear reminder for the children so they do not cross contaminate their foods with unsafe foods.
Focus On What You Can Eat
From the initial allergy diagnosis, our children wore Allerbling medical bracelets. On the bracelets, it indicated with words and pictures what their allergies were. People would often ask about their bracelets. This was the perfect learning opportunity for my children. We would point to each picture and say what the allergen is and explain that it is not safe to eat. We would always end on a positive note and say a few food items that were safe to eat. We always tried to focus on what we could eat, not what we can’t eat.
Look for Teachable Moments
As additional reinforcement, often times when we would see an allergen in our environment (grocery store, etc) we would point it out and discuss the allergen. We would discuss that it is not safe to eat.
As the boys started to get older, we would point out the allergens words, such as: peanut, gluten, dairy on ingredient labels. These words were some of the first ‘sight words’ that my children could read. That is a life saving skill!
Over the course of several years, we have worked to adapt our food allergy learning to the ages of the boys. When they were little we were visual and concrete with colors, as they grew older we used pictures and as they matured we began reading labels. No matter what age or stage your child is in, it is important for you to teach them about their allergies and to know what is safe to eat. In our food allergy world, just one little bit could change everything.
Cindy Gordon is the owner and author of Vegetarian Mamma and is a foodie who loves to blog about gluten free vegetarian/vegan recipes. Her family also focuses on foods that are peanut, tree nut, dairy and gluten free. Cindy’s family is dedicated to finding/creating recipes and products that fit their families allergy needs. Cindy resides in Ohio with her husband and two boys (born ’07 & ’10). She enjoys spending time with her family, the outdoors, gardening, wine and cooking! Connect with Cindy on VegetarianMamma.com, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Check out her latest books: Gluten Free Fork and The Dessert Fork. Both books are completely gluten and nut-free.