Eight foods cause 90% of food allergies: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish and as many as 8% of children (6 million kids) in the US suffer from at least one food allergy. And while relatively minor symptoms live hives or a scratchy throat have taught many parents to keep their kids away from shellfish or peanuts, nearly 40% of children with food allergies have suffered from a severe reaction and sadly some of those reactions can be fatal. There is a reason some schools and daycare centers are completely banning peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—even just the smell of peanuts can cause a child’s throat to swell up if their allergy is severe enough.
If you’re the parent of a youth athlete that has food allergies you’ve probably devised a whole system of eating and shopping to keep that allergen out of your house and child’s diet by any means necessary. Home-packed lunches are a must; sending your child to parties and sleepovers with their own snacks, scrutinizing every ingredient on every menu when dining out. But what about when your child joins a travel youth sports team and is going to be gone all weekend? Dining options will be limited to what’s close and open and there is no guarantee that any of the snacks for sale at the tournament will be allergen-free. So what can a traveling sports team do to protect their youth athletes with food allergies?
1. Make dinner reservations well in advance.
Imagine how many dozens of softball teams will be hunting for a dinner spot during that overnight tournament? If you want to make sure your whole team even gets dinner at a reasonable hour (let alone making sure it’s safe for your youth athletes with allergies) you’ve got to do a little planning ahead. Look for restaurants within a 10-15 mile radius of your hotel or the tournament fields and call ahead to check and see if the menu has options for all your allergy sufferers. For instance, if one of your players has a gluten allergy a pizza place probably isn’t the best idea unless they have gluten-free crust available. And while a buffet might seem like the easiest dinner idea you can’t guarantee something wasn’t cross-contaminated with peanut oil. Plan ahead now instead of leaving one player with nothing but salad for dinner!
2. Load up on allergy-safe snacks.
If one of the players on your team suffers from a severe food allergy it’s best to make sure that ingredient just isn’t around, so before you head to the tournament load up on allergy-safe snacks. Most fruits and veggies are usually ok (although strawberry allergies do exist!), cheddar cheese snacks are lactose-free, and rice cakes are also typically a safe bet. If you have plenty of allergy-safe snacks you don’t have to worry as much about the wrong snack ending up in the wrong hands. Bonus, most allergy-free snacks are also really good for youth athletes, so hopefully that will keep them out of the hotel vending machine!
3. Don’t underestimate the severity of a child’s food allergies.
There are some parents out there who think food allergy sensitivity has gotten blown way out of proportion and that it’s really no big deal; it’s just other parents overreacting—but are you prepared to risk a child’s life on that assumption? No matter how light or severe a youth athlete’s food allergy is it’s not something you ever want to gamble with. If another parent or the athlete themselves tells you they are allergic to peanuts, wheat or dairy then that’s the end of it.
According to a study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, about 35% of children over age 5 with food allergies have been teased or bullied because of their food allergy. You don’t want to turn that one player into the outcast on their team for having a food allergy but you can’t leave them with nothing to eat all weekend either!