As your child with food allergies reaches their teenage years, it is essential that they learn to confidently and independently manage their food allergy. They will be increasingly exposed to new experiences and settings without the supervision of mum and dad. This includes different activities and classes at school, plus eating out with friends. For this reason your teen must be able to clearly communicate the seriousness of their food allergy to others. It is also essential that they develop the confidence to deal with peer pressure and not be tempted into high risk activities. The following guide offers some helpful suggestions on starting high school and how to make eating out a fun and stress free experience.
Starting high school
Starting high school is an exciting time for teens. With multiple teachers, classrooms and activities it can also be a time of high risk for those with food allergies. In fact, teens are the highest risk group for fatal, food triggered anaphylactic reactions1. Below is a selection of tips to help keep your teen safe (List adapted from Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia, 13-17 years)
- Create and laminate a medical information card for your teen to carry with them at all times (e.g. in their wallet, pencil case, backpack etc). The card should include your child’s name, a list of what foods your child is allergic to plus emergency medication and emergency contact details
- Keep a laminated copy of your child’s Action Plan for Anaphylaxis in the staffroom, library and other places you think it might be needed. Be sure to keep it updated as your child grows and their needs change
- Make sure that all of your child’s teachers are aware of your child’s food allergy and what to do in case of emergency. This includes casual and relief teachers. The year coordinator should be able to help with this, they may choose to leave a note for teachers in each classroom
- Home economics, cooking or food technology classes require special consideration. Staff must be extra careful to ensure that the recipes that are prepared are safe for any student with food allergies. These classes may also be a good time to educate other students about food allergies
- Wearing a medic alert bracelet or necklace may also be helpful as your child gains increasing amounts of independence
Eating out with food allergies
For most people eating out is an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, it can be stressful when you or a member of your family has food allergies. You not only have to worry about the ingredients used in the dish, but also about how the kitchen staff handled those ingredients. Especially when severe food allergy reactions are a possibility, the risk of cross-contamination in the restaurant kitchen can cause stress. Thankfully, with a little forward planning your loved one with food allergies can too, enjoy a restaurant meal.
The first thing you must ensure when eating out is that your teen has an allergy Action Plan in place2. If they require medication (such as an adrenaline auto-injector) they must carry this with them at all times. If they do not have their emergency medication with them, then they MUST NOT eat2.
Unfortunately when eating out, many people claim to have food allergies, when they are actually intolerant or simply do not like a particular food. This can lead to a level of dismissiveness amongst food service staff when informed of a food allergy. In order to be taken seriously, it is important to carry your teens Action Plan and be prepared to show the restaurant staff if needed2.
Choosing the right restaurant
Selecting the right restaurant can be half the battle when eating out with food allergies. When deciding where to eat, it can be helpful to pick the right type of cuisine. Below is a list of the most common food allergies and the best and most risky cuisine choices:
- Those with a fish or seafood allergy should avoid fish and seafood restaurants2. Many Asian dishes also contain seafood as an ingredient or in the sauces (like oyster sauce, surimi or fish sauce) so are a high risk option3. It is also important to think about cross contamination in other restaurants.
- Fried foods are often cooked in the same oil as other food allergens2. Those with a seafood, egg, milk and wheat allergy should be careful of fried, battered or crumbed foods.
- If you have a peanut or tree nut allergy it is best to avoid vegetarian, Asian and Indian cuisines as nuts are often used in these dishes2. Pastries and desserts also often contain nuts in their decorations and bases2. Good alternatives are grill or steak houses (though be careful of sauces and salads) or café style meals of meat or seafood and vegetables (again be careful of sauces and sides).
- For those with a sesame allergy, it is best to avoid patisseries, salad garnishes and Middle Eastern style cuisines2. Good alternatives are European restaurants, like French or Italian as these cuisines traditionally don’t use sesame3. Be sure to check breads, oils and salads.
- European style cuisine like Italian, French and German food often contains wheat, dairy and egg3.
- Egg is found in almost every cuisine3. Vegan restaurants, however, should be egg free. Traditional café style meals like meat and vegetables or grilled seafood and salad/vegetables should also be allergen free. It is still important, however, to check any dressings, sauces or garnishes.
- For soy allergy avoid vegetarian and Asian style cuisine3. Again, café style meals might be the best alternative.
- For all types of food allergies avoid buffet style restaurants as there is a high risk of cross contamination2.
When you have narrowed down your search to a particular restaurant, check out their website and menu before making a booking. This will reveal if the restaurant has any allergy free options and how easy it will be to order an allergen free meal2. Online reviews of the restaurant will also give you an idea of how attentive the wait staff are3. Good service often means that the staff have a greater knowledge of the menu and this may also help in preventing contamination of the meal3.
When you are booking, let the manager or chef know about your teen’s food allergy to make sure they can accommodate it2. Also try to go to the restaurant at a less busy time2. The peak times at lunch and dinner are usually very busy in a kitchen and this may increase the risk of accidental contamination occurring.
Ordering at a restaurant
When your teen arrives at the restaurant, make sure they read the menu carefully2. Encourage them to ask questions about unfamiliar menu items, or about how the food is prepared. When it comes time to order make sure they explain to the waiter that they have a food allergy and how serious an allergic reaction can be. When your teen places the order, double check that the food is allergen free. If the waiter doesn’t seem certain, avoid that dish2. Even if your teen has eaten this dish before, check the ingredients with the wait staff2. Also do not assume that the same dish at a different restaurant will contain the same ingredients.
As a general rule of thumb, if you choose dishes with fewer ingredients, there is less room for error2. Ordering simple dishes like grilled meat and vegetables without sauces is often the safest option. You can also ask for grilled meat to be wrapped in foil before cooking to avoid it coming into contact with food allergens.
Teenagers can consider doing a touch test on their meal, after all the other checks have been undertaken2. This test involves placing a small amount of the food on their outer lip to see if any reaction, like tingling, burning or swelling, occurs. If this happens they should not eat that food.
They will be increasingly exposed to new experiences and settings without the supervision of mum and dad. It is essential that teenagers develop the confidence to deal with peer pressure and not be tempted into high risk activities.
- Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. 2016. Teens. Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. Viewed 12 July 2016. https://www.allergyfacts.org.au/living-with-the-risk/life-stages/13-18-years/teens
- Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. 2016. Out and About- Eating out with food allergies. Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. https://www.allergyfacts.org.au/living-with-the-risk/the-basics/out-and-about
- Marsh, Kate. 2010. Eating out with food allergies. Healthy Food Guide. Viewed 11 July 2016. http://www.healthyfoodguide.com.au/articles/2010/november/eating-out-allergies
- Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. 2016. 13-18 years. Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. Viewed 12 July 2016. https://www.allergyfacts.org.au/living-with-the-risk/life-stages/13-18-years