Category Archives: Food

Follow-up to the peanut allergy post below

(Sorry for boring anyone who isn’t interested in this discussion. I’ll answer another question in the afternoon.)

The peanut allergy post seems to have sparked a lot of discussion, and it made me think about the whole allergy issue. I think that many people not only "don’t get it" about food allergies, but think that people (or parents of kids) with food allergies are making them up, or exaggerating them, or will somehow lose the allergy if they don’t "give in" to it. It’s almost as if they resent the person for having the allergy and cramping their lifestyle.

I don’t get this (I mean, I get that people think that way, but I think it doesn’t make sense). In trying to work through it in my head, I compare it to making accommodations for other kinds of chronic conditions or illnesses. The best comparison I could come up with was accommodating a child with diabetes. If there was a kid in your child’s class with diabetes, you wouldn’t bring sugary snacks because you know that child couldn’t have one, and it wouldn’t be fair to make one kid have to sit out when all the other kids were eating the sweet. I think most people would agree to bring in something else pretty happily and without comment.

So why the push-back about allergies, which are much more serious because even inhaling the food can cause the allergic reaction?

Is it because we see this as a weakness that can be overcome with grim determination and positive thinking? Or because we see it as a luxurious problem to have? Or something else?

What do you internets think?

Q&A: dealing with other’s lack of concern for your child’s allergies

Megan writes:

"I have a four year old and an (almost) one year old.
The older one has tested positive for a peanut allergy, and we believe the
younger one may have it as well.  This took us by surprise as neither my
husband or myself, or anyone in our families have this allergy.  Before we
found out when he was 18 months old, I knew virtually nothing about allergies.

At preschool, playgroups, park and rec classes, playdates…any
time my son is around anyone else and especially if I leave him in the care of
others, I am constantly explaining and reminding other parents and teachers
about this. I must always leave an epi-pen with him in case of a potentially
lethal reaction.  Many moms (and dads) are sympathetic and helpful and
honestly do their best to help.  The teachers at the school my son attends
have been fantastic.

However, there are some parents who don’t seem to get
it, no matter how much I try.  They bring trail-mix to playgroups when
they know we will be there.  They allow their children to wander at a
playdate after having eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without washing
their hands.   They send things to school for snack that have peanuts
listed as an ingredient. These are people who know he has an allergy! 

Now Moxie, I know that this is primarily my job, and I am willing to police his eating as much as possible.  But, it would make it a lot easier if I could somehow get these parents to understand that, for my son, the peanut butter that is on their child’s hands as they swing could mean death for my son if he has a turn on the swing next.

Also, I have had to approach strangers at the park to ask them to please make sure that all the peanut butter is cleaned off their child before they send them out to play. I feel strange doing this, but luckily so far people have been very nice about it.

So, my question is:  How do I communicate to people how  important this is?  What can I say to them to make it sink in?  To  your readers out there whose kids do not have an allergy, if you were approached by a woman at the park with this sort of thing, what would you want her to say?"

I think this is a tough situation, and a tough question, but I think it’s an issue that’s going to affect all parents at some point. Every one of us is going to have to deal with allergies (especially nut allergies), whether it’s our own kid or one of our kid’s friends or classmates.

So, before I get to my answer, I’d like everyone to click over and look at the instructions for how to use an epi-pen. If a child is going into anaphylactic shock from ingesting nuts or some other allergen, you may be the only adult present, so you need to know how to use one. It could mean the difference between life and death for someone’s child.

Did you click over? Seriously, do it now, please. I can’t be the only one who thought you were supposed to plunge it into the heart like they did in the movie "Pulp Fiction." (Update: Be sure to read these helpful tips about the EpiPen. Yikes.)

Now, to me this is an issue of public health. If anyone in the school or playgroup has a life-threatening allergy to a substance, the group as a whole needs to make rules limiting the use of that substance. And everyone needs to help police.

I’d like to think that some of these parents don’t realize how serious a nut allergy is. They may think it means that if your child eats nuts he’ll get hives or a rash. They may not realize it closes off his airway and can kill him by suffocating him. I really hope they don’t know how serious it is. Because if they do know and they still send snack with nuts or bring trail mix to playgroup, it’s the equivalent of bringing a big bag full of candies made out of rat poison.

Yes, you have to be the main advocate for your son, but the other members of your community should take responsibility, too. Ask the director of your son’s school and his teachers to make sure all parents know they can’t bring snacks with nuts in them. (It may also be a liability issue for them, so I’m sure they’ll take it seriously.) Any snack with nuts need to be sent back home immediately. They could even institute a policy of having the kids all wash their hands as soon as they get to school to make sure there are no traces of peanut butter left. (This will also make sure the kids themselves get in the habit of checking to be sure they’re not nut carriers.)

At playgroup, do you have a friend who gets how serious the nut issue is? Maybe she will be the watchdog on your behalf. (If you were in my playgroup I’d rip anyone who brought trail mix a new one.) If more than one person is saying it (and especially someone who has no personal stake in it), then people start to listen and pay attention. Or, you could just start a new playgroup with the parents who get it.

My only problem is with the playground issue. It’s just not going to be logistically possible to make sure it’s an allergen-free zone. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to try, but I don’t think you can lock down a playground the same way you can lock down a school or private property. I think your best bet is going to be to make sure you wipe down any equipment your son is going to play on. You can also approach the parents of any kids your so is playing with to ask if they’ve eaten any nuts and to ask if they’d mind washing hands and faces if they have. Yes, some parents will be offended, but I’m betting most of them will be sympathetic and possibly even sheepish that they didn’t think of it themselves. Readers? How would you react?

The public space issue is one that will continue to plague you, although my guess is that it will get slightly easier when your son gets older and can be more of an advocate for himself.

I really think most people just simply don’t know how life-threatening nut allergies can be. That means it’s incumbent on all of us to keep educating so people don’t think peanut butter crackers are good snacks for preschool. We love peanut butter in my house. I’d guess we probably go through a jar or two a week. I’ve been absolutely anal about not having any at school, but the playground issue honestly never occurred to me. We’re going to have to insititute an "only on the house and then wash your hands and face with soap" policy about peanut butter. Maybe everyone reading this will do that, too.

If you have a peanut (or any other serious) allergy, please let everyone around you know. It could be the difference between life and death.

Q&A: waking in the middle of the night and screaming

Kate writes:

"Here’s my question: My son, Brody, started sleeping through thenight at 4 months. He went 7 months without waking during the night.
Suddenly, at 11 months, he started waking at midnight- we’ll feed him
and he’d go back to sleep. He’ll wake again around 3-4 a.m., we
feed him, and then he screams (and I mean SCREAMS) for 60-90 minutes
before finally collapsing from exhaustion. We’ve tried everything-
rocking him, gas drops, singing to him, CIO (which I hated),
etc. Nothing has worked, aside from letting him sleep with either my
husband or myself on the couch. Up until this point, he’s never slept
with us. It’s been 3 1/2 months. Do you have any suggestions?
We do follow a very strict bedtime routine- dinner, then 30 minutes of playing,
followed by a 15 minute bath, and a final bottle before bed at 8 p.m.
Is he too old to be sleep trained? If not, what method would you recommend?

Thanks for your help!"


I’m going to cut to the chase: I think your son has some kind of digestive problem of the reflux/heartburn/ulcer type.

Here’s how I got there:

You’ve got the bedtime routine, so rule that out.

When he wakes up, it’s not just to play, so I eliminated having the wrong nap schedule (some kids start waking in the middle of the night for playtime when they’re on the verge of going from two naps to one because the sleep times are disturbing their body cycles).

It’s been going on for 3 1/2 months, so rule out a developmental spurt, which would last a month or two, tops.

It happens every night, so it’s not night terrors or nightmares.

He’s waking up screaming from a dead sleep, which says to me that there’s some kind of pain involved. Probably from lying flat, since he can only fall asleep on top of one of you.

My guess is that he’s having some kind of stomach trouble while lying flat that makes him wake up and think he’s hungry (so he eats again at midnight, and then again at 3) but then it just gets too painful and he wakes up and screams. You hold him upright for an hour, the pain goes away, and he can sleep again. That’s the exact cycle I had when I had an ulcer 7 years ago. It hurts, but it feels like eating will make the pain go away, but then it actually just makes it worse.

I’m assuming he’s getting a bottle of formula or milk at bedtime, then the same thing when he wakes up? During the day, does he get this same meal right before going down for a nap? If so, how are his naps? Or does he get bottles and then stay upright for an hour or so afterward? If he’s staying upright, he won’t have pain symptoms because all the acid will stay down in his stomach until digestion is in full swing.

You could try propping the head of his crib to see if he sleeps a little bit longer at an incline. If the pain is severe, though, that won’t solve the problem.

The other thing I’m wondering is what changed at 11 months to make this start happening then. Did you change formula? Or switch to cow’s milk then? If you didn’t make any change in what you’re feeding him at night, then I’d talk to your doctor to see if s/he can run some tests to see what’s causing this. Since my experience is with ulcers, not reflux or heartburn, I’m thinking he maybe somehow got the bacteria that causes ulcers (helicobacter pylori), which they can find by analyzing a poop sample. But there’s got to be a straightforward diagnostic path for reflux and heartburn, too.

I do not think this is a sleep problem. If it was, something would have changed in the last few months just because baby sleep changes all the time. It seems clearly pain-related to me. Try to watch and see what happens during the day when he has a bottle. Try propping the crib. Think back to anything that might have changed right before this started. Talk to your doctor (and emphasize the pain and screaming, so you don’t just get the "let him cry it out" crap they sometimes try to hand you because they think you’re just a "nervous first-time parent"). See what happens if you give him a banana or another food that is unlikely to cause reflux instead of a bottle in the middle of the night.

Then write back and definitely let me know what happens, because I’m going to be preoccupied with Brody’s problem until I find out what the real story is.

Q&A: Getting a 3-year-old to eat

Tammy writes:

"My name is Tammy, I’m 33 and the
single mother of a 3 year old little boy.  I am having a hard time getting him
to eat anything besides: chicken nuggets, scrambled eggs, corn and cereal.  He
doesn’t want to try anything new and is downright awful when I try to get
him to eat something else.  What kind of advice can you give me to help him
start eating more nutritional foods?"

I feel your pain. Oh, boy, do I feel your pain!

Kids are just as stubborn at 3 as they were at 2, but they’re not tricked as easily. And they really refine their preferences into the two discrete categories of "favorites" and "no-o-o-o-o!".

I was talking to one of the other moms at our preschool the other day. El Chico will be 4 in two months, and her son will be 4 in five months.

"Remember back when he was 2 and ate everything?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said. "I thought I was the best mother ever because my kid ate such a wide variety of foods!"

"Oh, I was sooo cocky and judgemental because my little health nut loved asparagus."

"And kale!" she countered.

Then we both laughed. The bitter, jaded laugh of mothers whose children eat nothing that isn’t a carrier for butter.

My kid will eat cinnamon toast (special thanks to my mother for introducing him to cinnamon toast), French fries, chicken, broccoli, baby carrots, bagels with butter, peanut-butter-and-honey-sandwiches, and frosting (but not the cake beneath it). I am extremely grateful that he eats the chicken, broccoli, and carrots. Three month ago he wouldn’t even eat those.

Actually, he seems to be expanding his palate almost exponentially in the last month or two. He’s eaten salad, cucumbers, turkey, baked beans, and corn in the last two weeks. Who knows how many foods he’ll deign to eat by the time he turns four?

If your son is anything like mine, it’s partly because he just likes what he likes, and partly to exert control over his life. I don’t think there’s much to be done about it (assuming you don’t want to have knock-down-drag-out fights at every meal) except wait it out and make sure he gets vitamins every day.

So you should probably just count your blessings (corn is better than cookies!) and hang in there until he gets closer to 4. It will happen. Just not soon enough.

Updated to add: I just thought of another thing that might help. Peer pressure is strong at this age. So if your child has a friend who will eat things s/he won’t, maybe you can have them trade some time sharing meals with each other. "Jack likes tomatoes!" can be a powerful force to getting your own child to at least try them. It doesn’t always work, but it’s more likely to work than just trying to talk new foods up on your own.

Q&A: wintertime dressing, feeding solids, delaying development on purpose

Melanie (whose twins are 9 months old) writes:

"Issue 1:  I don’t know how to dress these babies!  First there was the overheating = SIDS issue, but since they are past the main risk period, I’m not so concerned.  I get very caught up in believing Hayden (who runs hot) should be dressed lighter than Zoey (who runs cold).  So the house is at about 60 degrees+ drafts and most days I’ve got them in long-sleeve onesies and sleepers.  Is this enough? If not, please lay out what you would dress them in.  Very specifically, so my brain won’t try to overthink it.

Issue 2: Feeding.  We started solids at 6 mos.  They are each nursing about 7 times a day.  We’ve been doing "dinner" for 3 months, and last week I began with "lunch" & watered-down juice.  (BTW, 2-3 oz of watery juice during the late afternoon grumpiness is very helpful!) So they are getting about 3 ice cubes of food twice a day.  Is that enough?  I suspect they should be slightly nursing less at this age, but I confess I view that as moving towards he days when they’re all grown up so I’m not eager to push it.  But I am wondering if they’re getting enough food.  They don’t seem willing to eat much more at a sitting– might I need to add another meal, even if it means letting them grow up??

Mini-Issue:  Another mom at playgroup has attempted to slow her child’s progression to mobility by sitting them up and handing them toys instead of encouraging them to roll on their tummies and reach for toys.  She figures dealing with a mobile child is easier if said child has a little more language comprehension.  And it’s not as if you could stop them —  my kids often practice rocking & crawling during naps.  So what think you on the idea of attempting to delay crawling by a couple weeks?  Is the common drive for early mobility good parenting or just the beginnings of  ‘must-be-able-to-compete-in-modern-world’ overacheiver-ism?"

OK, I was really thinking this email through and deciding how to answer issues number 1 and 2, and then I got to the mini-issue. At first I laughed a loopy "What-is-wrong-with-people?" kind of laugh that made my husband say "What’s so funny, Cacklepuss?".

But then I thought, "Why the hell not?" I mean, people bound girls’ feet for years to prevent them from developing normally, and in some cultures kids were given opium so they wouldn’t get into trouble while their parents were out plowing the fields. And they all turned out fine*. So why not hand them things so they won’t reach for them in hopes of trying to delay their development?

Because it’s both futile and a little nutty, is why. Even kids in seriously deprived situations learn to crawl, so why would you actually try to prevent it? I completely understand the mom’s point that an older baby has better judgement, but they’re babies. How much more judgement are they really going to have in a month or two anyway?  Frankly, I think she should be putting all this energy into babyproofing her house, because time waits for no mom, and they’re going to be crawling soon whether she likes it or not. In the meantime, what’s she going to do when they start learning to walk? The mind boggles.

FWIW, I think there’s so much ridiculousness going on in the Parenting Industry right now with thousands of products to make our babies smarter and more advanced. I don’t think they work. And, even if they do, who cares? We need our 8-month-olds to have one extra IQ point or walk two days early? Sounds like too much time on our hands, and too much pressure on our kids. Personally, I choose media products based on how funny they are, and whether the kid will watch them for half an hour so I can put in some laundry and catch a shower. (And if he happened to learn the alphabet or his numbers from them before he was 2, well, that couldn’t be helped.)

Now, to Issue 1: You’re talking about dressing them for bed, right? Shhh–don’t tell anyone, but I actually put a blanket on my baby. You might feel better with a light blanket on them at the beginning of the night (over the onesie and sleeper you’ve got them in already). Then if they feel hot in the night you can always take it off them. In a few months they’ll be able to kick it off themselves if they don’t like it.

Anyway, the rule to tell if they’re warm enough is to feel the back of the neck. If it’s warm, they’re fine. (People always think it’s the hands or the feet, but plenty of kids have hands and feet that always run a little cold, so that’s no great indicator.)

Issue 2: At this age, eating is still for fun, and they’re getting most of their nutrition from nursing or formula. If they like eating, try adding another meal, since volume isn’t what you’re really concerned with at this age. Practice and exposure are. So maybe try giving them some kind of finger foods to see how they do. Cheerios, Veggie Booty, cut pieces of ripe banana or avocado, smushed beans, etc. Of course they’ll be fine if you don’t give them another meal, but if you’re willing to let them grow up just a teensy bit 🙂 they’ll find the self-feeding fun. Just whatever you do, don’t let them watch Baby Einstein while they eat, or they’ll be ready to move out of the house next week.

*Please note I’m being sarcastic. This is my least favorite excuse for why people should persist in parenting decisions that have been shown to be less than optimal. "We never had carseats, and we turned out fine." Yes. You sure did.