Nicole Ledoux is no stranger to food allergies. Her husband and co-founder, Rob Dalton has a severe nut allergy and she's learned to navigate food allergies to keep him safe. When Emmett was born in 2016, Nicole and Rob realized the unique challenges that come with parenting a child with food allergies.
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What is it like taking care of a toddler with food allergies?
It can be really scary at times. I want to pass along my love for food to him, but I have to teach him that some foods are dangerous for him. He’s almost 2 ½ now, and his language skills are getting better every day, but for the first couple of years he couldn’t verbalize when he felt sick, or when he felt funny after eating. I had to learn the signs. His food allergies (and Rob’s) have resulted in us cooking at home more often, which honestly, we should be doing anyway. Emmett loves to help in the kitchen so I am really grateful that he’s taking such an interest in food and want to make sure that Rob and I foster that curiousity and love for food.
Sesame is not on the top 8 food allergen list, what impact does that have?
Sesame has been a real challenge. Because it’s not on the top 8 allergen list, it’s not as easy to spot on an ingredient label, and I’m always worried that brands will lump sesame under some opaque “spices” label. So we are extra careful thoroughly vetting brands so I can make sure that Emmett is safe before eating something. One of the trickiest foods for us is bread--there are very few sesame-free bread companies and one of Emmett’s favorite foods is a pumpkin butter and jelly sandwich. We have to search pretty hard for bread made in a sesame-free facility.
How do you introduce Emmett to new foods?
We discovered his allergies to egg and sesame when he ate those foods and had a noticeable reaction. After the allergic reactions, I became fearful of introducing new foods, but I knew that we had to expose him to more foods (especially the major allergens) and that he should eat any food that he wasn’t allergic to. We came up with a food introduction plan with the help of our Pediatric Allergist. We would only introduce 1 new food per week and closely monitor him to make sure he was tolerating the food. Since Rob is deathly allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, we introduced those foods in the hospital during a formal food challenge. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that Emmett isn’t allergic to peanuts, but now we have to figure out how to safely feed him peanuts without putting Rob in harm’s way. It’s pretty tricky.
What are some of his favorite and least favorite foods?
Emmett is a pretty typical kid. He loves chicken fingers, sweet potato tater tots, ham, turkey, brown rice, steamed veggies (really!) and butternut squash. He is a huge fan of pumpkin seed butter and jelly sandwiches. He puts ketchup on EVERYTHING. He loves crunchy snacks like crackers. He does not like salmon these days, even though he used to love it. He doesn’t like peas and an entire assortment of veggies. He’s a pretty regular kid!
How do you keep Rob and Emmett safe at home with multiple food allergies?
I do my research on the brands we bring into our home and make sure that neither have to read labels in their own house (well, Emmett can’t read but you get my point…)
How do you keep Emmett safe at school?
Rob and I met with Emmett’s teachers and school administrators to walk them through his allergy plan. The teachers know that Emmett only eats the snacks and foods that we send to school with him. If other kids in the class room bring in food that Emmett is allergic to, they split the kids into 2 tables and make sure Emmett isn’t around that food. For emergencies, he has Epi-pens and Benadryl at school, but we’ve instructed Emmett’s teachers to call 911 immediately if they suspect he’s ingested something he’s allergic to. I’d rather they overreact than underreact. It’s tough--he’s a curious little boy and wants to eat the foods that everyone else is eating. They’ve done an excellent job of keeping him safe and we’re really grateful that they’re so thorough and careful.
Do family members and friends understand his allergy and take it seriously?
Yes. No one wants to be the family member that made Emmett sick (or worse). They’ve all been really great and supportive. Rob’s mom (Emmett’s grandma) is like a food allergy expert--Rob was the first kid in his school system with a nut allergy. Rob’s mom was a nurse and literally had to teach the school how to keep Rob safe. Now food allergies are so much more prevalent and people are more aware of how important it is to do their part to keep food allergic kids safe.
How does Rob impact Emmett’s food allergy experience?
I think they’ll be food allergy buddies. Rob plays a huge role in keeping Emmett safe and teaching him how to keep himself safe because Rob knows exactly what Emmett is facing.
What do you hope happens in the future with food allergy research?
I hope scientists can find a cure for food allergies. I want Emmett and Rob to be able to eat without worry. We can transplant hearts into patients and cure all kinds of diseases, but we know so little about food allergies and why they’re on the rise.