Ruth Meaney - Food Allergy Mum Interview Series May 19, 2017 10:36

Food Allergy Week May 14-20, 2017

Australian children have the highest recorded rate of food allergies in the world. One in 10 babies born in Australia today will develop a food allergy. As, Food Allergy Week coincides with Mother's Day this year we are highlighting the awesome work of Aussie Food Allergy mums and advocates.

Australia has the unfortunate title of "Food Allergy Capital of the World". Hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions quadrupled in the last 20 years, while alarmingly the number of allergy-related deaths in Australia is increasing by 10 per cent each year. 

Food Allergy Week, May 14-20 is an initiative of Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia to raise awareness of food allergies in Australia.

In our Food Allergy Mum Interview Series, we hope to promote understanding and insight in to the challenges of parenting a child with life threatening food allergies, along with the need for change to build an allergy aware allergy safe commUNITY!

Ruth Meaney, Cook Book Author & Blogger

 What are your child’s allergies? When did you find out?

We found out my daughter had food allergies when she was 15 months, though she had her first reaction at 7 months of age when having egg yolk (I didn't realise it was an allergic reaction at the time). Our daughter had an unusual mix of symptoms including failure to thrive, little patches of eczema at her joints, horrible pock marked nappy rash and poor sleep as well as a few episodes of vomiting 2 hours after eating certain foods. I approached my GP and said "I think she has allergies" which my doctor disagreed with but thankfully referred us to the local allergy clinic anyway. Skin prick testing came back positive to hazelnut, pecan, seafood, sesame and egg. After cutting those foods out of her diet she grew 4cm in a month!! Plus her sleep and skin improved.

With our son, it's a bit different. He was a horrible baby from the beginning. He was born a little early at 37 weeks due to pregnancy complications, then was a very reflux like baby. Lots of screaming, lots of vomiting, not much sleep. Turned out he had a tongue and lip tie which we got lasered which helped with breastfeeding but it wasn't until I started cutting out the top 8 allergens did we finally have a happy and content baby (this was around 3-4 months of age). Both he and I stayed of the top 8 allergens until he was getting closer to 1 when we started introducing foods like egg and nuts. Egg he is fine with (Woohoo!) but he has had two major reactions which we think may be related to either seafood or nuts. Skin prick testing didn't give us many answers so we are next doing blood tests and have been prescribed EpiPens. He has intolerances to wheat and dairy but isn't allergic to them. He is nearly 2 years old.

What would be one of the most difficult aspects of daily living with food allergies?  Or one of the biggest challenges raising a child with food allergies?

One of the biggest challenges is managing three different dietary needs! My husband is allergic to mushrooms, my daughter to sesame, seafood, hazelnut and pecan and then my son can't do wheat, dairy, seafood or nuts! Finding meals, we can all eat is tricky, and especially with little kids who aren't big fans of trying new foods. I would love to be able to eat out as a family more often or go to social events without having to pack huge amounts of food. Feeding our family at home is easier now and we just keep safe foods easily available. So yes, I'd have to say convenience and eating away from home is the biggest challenge. We recently had a week-long family holiday and it was a bit frustrating having to cook and do the dishes just as much as when we are at home. Most families would be able to eat out and get take away to have a bit of a break from those day to day tasks.

How important is the support of friends, family, and community?

Support is HUGELY important. Thankfully all our family is very supportive and thoughtful. I have heard horrible stories from other mums about partners and family members doubting their kids’ allergies or intolerances and even feeding them foods that aren't safe! Our Blue Mountains community is very open and aware of food allergies and intolerances which makes social events much easier. I'd love there to be even more community awareness about food allergies though.

What would you like other people to know about caring for a child with food allergies? How can families who don’t live with food allergies be extra safe around your food allergic child?

I'd love people to know how much effort and thought goes into day to day life when food allergies are involved. You always have to plan and pack, always have to have EpiPens, and always have to know what’s in the food you're eating. 

Families who don't have allergies can help by not freely offering food to my kids without asking first. I have a couple of friends who contact me before social events and ask if what they have planned is safe for us to eat too. These kind of gestures and thoughtfulness make such a difference to us. If in doubt, please ask!

Do you have a proud mum moment (of your food allergic child?) that you would like to share?

I am so proud of my daughter, who is about to turn 4. When we play pretend cafes, she always makes me a coffee with coconut milk and makes sure there's food that each of us can eat. I love how food allergies has helped make us more inclusive and thoughtful of other people's needs.

What would be one piece of advice for parents who have a child with new food allergy diagnosis?

Find other allergy families to ask questions and advice from. Everything from recipes, what to do when you start child care/school, doctors to see, what tests to have done, identifying rashes. Allergy families are a wealth of information! There are some fantastic Facebook groups depending on where you live.

Do you have a favourite, safe for your family, recipe or meal idea to share? What's one of the first recipes you taught your kids to make?

We eat a lot of meat and veg, such as chops, roast meat and sausages. I do love a good roast chook, Roast Chicken With Garlic, Sage and Thyme. My kids both love chicken legs so they get one each.  

I have recently co-written a book called Allergy Free Afternoon Tea which is a collection of professional advice from a qualified feeding therapist and allergy friendly recipes to help make your afternoons a time for delicious fun!

How can we raise food allergy awareness in our communities?

We can talk openly about our struggles and challenges. We can request more allergy safe foods at our local supermarkets, cafes and food outlets. We can have awareness events at our schools, preschools, work places and day cares. We can make allergy safe food for our friends and family to try to help remove the stigma that allergy food carries. I'd love for more people to understand just how beautiful and delicious allergy friendly food can be!

Thank-you for being a food allergy awareness advocate. What inspires you?

I am so inspired by the genius ideas and the unwavering dedication of the other allergy families around me. They show such a strength and thirst for knowledge that has spurred me on!

Ruth is an allergy mum of two, living in the beautiful Blue Mountains. She started her blog, Pea Fritters, as a way to show the world just how delicious and beautiful allergy friendly food can be! She also writes about self care for us busy mums. Last year she hosted an allergy free high tea to help raise over $1500 for Hamlin Fistula Hospital. She recently collaborated with a feeding therapist to release her first book, titled Allergy Free Afternoon Tea
Ruth loves to experiment in the kitchen and have dance parties with her kids. Her life long dream is to swim with the Whale Sharks in the Ningaloo Reef.