Living with Food Allergies

Just about a month ago, one of my family’s favorite restaurants, Acapulcos Family Restaurant in Needham, MA, closed its doors for good. Now, in the grand scheme of things, a restaurant closing is not a major event, but this restaurant represented much more than a nice family restaurant.

We are a family that has multiple people with life threatening food allergies. Our child was first diagnosed with a severe egg allergy at the age of nine months. As new parents, this news was debilitating and came on the heels of other medical challenges that seemed quite large at the time.

Food allergies have a way of turning a person and family’s world upside down. So much of our lives revolve around food, truthfully almost everything in life revolves around food, and at that moment we were left to wonder how we would feed our child that could not eat anything that had an egg in it or came in contact with an egg. Food is simply central to life and we knew that this would impact family and friend gatherings and holiday celebrations, would make it more difficult to just run errands on a Sunday, and would require us to carry a pantry of safe food with us where ever we went on a daily basis.

Sometimes you simply do not want to make dinner or bring a snack filled bag with you. This is where Acapulcos comes in. Acapulcos was the first restaurant that we found where we felt safe feeding our child. All of a sudden the world did not seem so hard and there was hope that we could regain some sense of everyday normalcy. It allowed us to have dinner out with friends without the need to go through every menu item with a server to determine what was safe and meant we did not need to spend time talking to restaurant managers about the way they prepared food in their kitchen.

So, when Acapulcos closed it caused me to reflect on the incredible progress that has been made over the past decade when it comes to food allergy awareness and education. Food allergies continue to grow, and it is estimated that one in thirteen children have food allergies. We have seen an improvement in food labeling on packages, awareness in restaurants, and new rules at schools.

Like many schools, Brimmer does more to keep children safe than most schools. As a parent of a child with food allergies and the spouse to a person with food allergies, I am constantly looking at food in a different way than most. While most people may gloss over the ingredients on a menu, I digest every word. This is one of the reasons I continue to be impressed with the lengths Brimmer and May Dining Services goes to during every meal it serves.

In addition to the incredible food they prepare each day, they go to great lengths to make meals accessible to community members. A quick glance at the labeling at lunch will show the ingredients that go into the meals, information on how they are prepared, and labels with major food allergens. Children and adults can quickly identify which options are safe for them to eat and our dining staff helps students navigate the options. On any given day, you may find a main dish prepared three to four different ways to try and accommodate the various food allergies and sensitivities that exist in the community.

Meals can be incredibly stressful for a person and family living with food allergies and it is important to celebrate those that are doing their best to make food accessible to people. While my family lost one of its go to places to eat, I’m proud to work at an organization that goes the lengths it does to make meals easier for those with food allergies.

 

Author: jneudel

father, food allergy advocate, soccer enthusiast, educational innovator helping to maximize collaborative learning in schools. Upper School Head at Brimmer and May School

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