There are basically two camps of thinking when it comes to cooking with a member of the family who has one or multiple food allergies. The first completely eliminates the allergen from the home, making it a safe haven for the allergic individual by nobody having the option to have the offending food available. The other camp does not eliminate allergens, but comes up with a system to keep things safe.
I see the drawbacks and benefits of both sides, but for our family, there are just so many allergens to steer clear from that the rest of the family who isn’t affected by Jonah’s multiple food allergies would not be realistically content.
We also feel that Jonah has so many anaphylactic allergies to deal with that we want him to be comfortable both in and out of our home to eat confidently no matter who is with, or what situation he finds himself in by being able to read labels, ask questions, and decrease anxiety he may develop over offending foods as he gets older. The reality of his diagnosis thus far is that there are multiple allergies that are life-threatening for him and he lives in a world that surrounds him with them. The more we can help him navigate at home in a “realistic” setting, the more confident he will feel when put into situations outside the home to advocate for himself and protect himself when we can’t be there as he grows older.
We have come up with a system in our home, specifically our kitchen to still ensure ultimate safety for Sadie, who has a life threatening peanut/tree nut allergy and for Jonah’s multiple anaphylactic list of allergens as well. Hopefully if you are newly diagnosed or going back and forth between which way is the right way for your family, these tips will give you confidence in your kitchen.
- USE SEPARATE UTENSILS/COOKWARE We keep bowls, plates, spoons and forks separate so Jonah is always eating from the same things. As time has passed we have also designated cookware specifically for one use. Example: we have a small skillet that we only use for eggs and nothing else. This way we don’t have to worry about cross-contamination. I also use the same muffin tin for his baking and line cookie sheets with foil so I can throw it away after use.
- CLEAN WITH DISPOSABLES I used to be a hard-core frugal when it came to cleaning our kitchen by using washcloths and a homemade vinegar spray in our paperless kitchen. However, when dealing with allergies, a washcloth or a sponge is asking for a trip to the hospital from cross-contamination. We don’t think twice about using disposable wipes to clean the surfaces of our kitchen nowadays. We also make a point to clean Jonah’s eating spot first and then move on to other areas of the kitchen as to not subject his safe area from any contaminants we are cleaning up with the same wipe.
- SEGREGATE SNACKS We keep any offending snacks in a separate cabinet in our pantry that is too high for either child to reach, even if they got a chair. For the refrigerator, we keep any cheese in a separate drawer away from everything else that is safe and reachable. We also have plans to implement green stickers to food items that say “safe” and red stickers that say “not safe” as a preliminary introduction to reading labels for Jonah now that he is getting to an age to understand right from wrong. It helps out family members or babysitters who come into the home and are nervous about having to read labels without us there with a hungry little boy. When Jonah is old enough to read, we will start educating him on all of the key words and alternative words for ingredients he is to steer clear from. Until then, everything is out of sight and out of reach.
- DESIGNATE SAFE EATING AREAS Jonah always sits in the same spot at the table. This way we all know not to sit there with any unsafe food and to always start cleaning in that spot. Likewise, if I let Sadie have a treat that he is not able to eat, she either sits in her specific spot at the table away from Jonah’s area or at the desk where I can easily wipe off anything that falls. He already knows not to go to either spot that is an option for Sadie to avoid an “owie.”
- DE-CLUTTER We have already always been a pretty clean and tidy family, but even more vigilant (you might argue paranoid) in our kitchen than anywhere else in our home. We keep it minimal on the counter tops, only having out what we use daily. We do dishes right away so nothing is left out to curious hands, and we deep clean as we go. The less mess you have to deal with, the less chance there is for any mistake to be made or any accident to be more prone to take place.
So there you have it. The top five tips I have for implementing a safe kitchen when you are dealing with food allergies. Regardless of what camp you fall into, hopefully this is a good springboard for you and your family members to gain confidence to cook and operate in your kitchen bye creating a safe environment no matter what you choose.