Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month
As we observe Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month we hope you will consider learning more about the impacts of food allergies. If you are a parent of a child with a food allergy then you already know and understand the struggles your child endures with food selectivity. Often times a food allergy is diagnosed secondary to accidental exposure. Regardless of the severity, that exposure may leave an impression on a child that food is not safe and that eating certain foods could be life-threatening.
As a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, I have treated hundreds of children with food selectivity. Through careful observation and history taking, I have discovered that some children who are “picky eaters” have underlying undiagnosed medical conditions, such as food allergy or esophageal eosinophilia, that precipitate their food aversion. Other children may have texture intolerances and prefer a certain consistency of food such as crunchy items. In a study published by the World Journal of Gastroenterology, it was estimated that 20% of the general population express symptomatic responses to food (Teufel et al., 2007).
With the prevalence of food allergies and intolerances being so high, it is important to find safer ways of introducing new foods and help to minimize accidental exposures. Part of being prepared is ensuring your child has early and thorough testing once a food allergy is discovered. By ruling out an allergy to the major threats, such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, soy, and shellfish, your medical team can make recommendations on which foods to gradually try.
Here are some steps to making food discovery fun:
Grocery Shop Together
Include your child in your grocery shopping experience. Show them how you look at labels to identify potential allergens. Even small children can understand your intention as you model this behavior as part of your shopping routine.
Allow your child to select from a variety of safe foods predetermined by you and your medical care team. Offering your child, a sense of control over the food they eat is key in reducing their anxiety, especially when trying new foods.
Invite your child to cook with you in the kitchen. Very small children can help to wash fruits and vegetables or place items in a bowl. Older children can gain a wealth of knowledge from following the sequence of a recipe, measuring items, and learning to cook with your guidance.
Provide serving utensils for each allergen-free food item you offer and encourage your child to serve themselves a spoonful, even if they don’t want to try it. (The key here is allergen-free as you don’t want to accidentally cross-contaminate food at the table). Studies show that it takes around a dozen times of presenting a new food before a child may be willing to try it.
Clear Table Together
Encourage your child to help clear the dishes and the food to the trash before putting their plate in the sink. This way your child has some engagement with the new food item, even if they aren’t willing to try it this time.
Explore Food Together
Create fun food exploration experiences. Paint and create artwork with food to engage a variety of senses. The sky is the limit!
Create an Appealing Table Presentation Together
Create a visually interesting presentation together. Engage your child in the design and creation of an aesthetically pleasing table by cutting foods into fun shapes, creating food designs, or a unique table set-up.
These tips are sure to motivate your child to safely explore and expand their food options.
As a parent of a child with multiple food allergies, I understand the stress surrounding food and allergies. A food allergy is a family condition, not just your child’s. Finding a way to involve and empower your child can help establish a healthy relationship and love of food. Let the fun and exploration begin!
Your Nurture Notetaker
Dr. Sonja Burmeister, OTD, MSPA-C, OTR/L, EICP-OT
For more support and information on food allergies please contact or visit our Nurture Notetaker Dr. Sonja Burmeister @
Dr. Sonja Burmeister OTD, MSPA-C & Tanja Ewing, MBA
Co-Owners, MyHealthcareKit LLC
Master your Food Allergy Emergency!
Teufel, M., Biedermann, T., Rapps, N., Hausteiner, C., Henningsen, P., Enck, P. & Zipfel, S. (2007). Psychological burden of food allergy. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 13(25), 3456-3465. doi: 10.3748/wig.v13.i25.3465