Oh yes, it is possible to be a smug allergy parent. Not often, I’ll agree, but possible.
Usually eating out for our family is fraught with hours or days of planning, menu scanning and waiter interrogation. However, there is one place where serene smugness can descend:
The local establishment known as Soft Play.
The local soft play is the place for birthday parties around here. ‘Hang on!’ you’re thinking, I thought you were talking about eating out. Well, yes, I am. After some time of screaming whilst running, jumping and bombing down slides head fast, 10-20 sweating primary kids are called back to the ‘party room’ to eat.
The well-meaning sixth-former who fancied becoming a teacher before she got a Saturday job in the child-zoo asks each parent if the child is having ‘chicken’, ‘fish’ or ‘mushroom’. When it gets to our turn, you’ve guessed it……
…..I enter the smug zone.
It doesn’t happen often, but there it is and it feels good to get there sometimes with my child’s food.
’I’m sorry’*, I say, ‘my son has food allergies and he has his own lunch – that’s him there’ (I point to the note on the name list ‘no food- allergies’), smile sweetly and go find him a seat.
Sixth-form girl may have a future in food analysis as I couldn’t spot any difference in the orange breadcrumb coated cubes on each child’s plate. They sort of mingle into the orange of the over-cooked baked beans and the chips stuck to each other.
And whilst MyItchyBoy’s packed lunch is not quite up the standard of the Lunchbox Doctor (it is a party after all) he happily munches on his wraps full of roast chicken, hummus and raw pepper. I can see the other parents eyeing him up as he chats away, shoving fresh, red tomatoes in his face and then looking back at their own kids picking at their plates wondering what the orange lumps are but too scared to ask.
At cake time, it is clear the hostess didn’t make it herself, but has bought one that has been professionally crafted into a magical castle. It’s all coloured icing and towers and most kids aren’t even aware there’s anything actually edible underneath. MyItchyBoy admires the castle but devours his packet of dried fruit ‘sweets’ and runs back off to play.
Parenting a food allergy child is hard and occasions to look at the plus side of things are few, so I do take the chance when I can. I don’t want you to think that we eat perfectly all the time (you’ll find no quinoa in our cupboards) but food allergies do mean that you tend to cut out a lot of processed food, just because of the number and provenance of the ingredients. It also means that you’re more aware of nutrition as you have to make sure that you are providing a balanced diet despite any restrictions.
I get cross that places dedicated to children don’t seem to have the same concerns. They probably have to stick to lots of regulations for the safety of the children playing in the centre, but there no one seems to care that they can dish up any processed rubbish and call it a ‘meal’.
Of course, the smug zone doesn’t last. Parents who have only ever nodded at each other at the school gate need something to chat about. ‘Why has he got his own lunch?’ is an easy topic to latch onto, followed by ‘oh, I know someone who cured their eczema by……’.
Like I said, the smug zone doesn’t last long…..
*I am not really sorry.
A) They should provide proper food for kids at places like this so they don’t grow up thinking this is normal. B) They should know where their food comes from so they can actually tell me what’s in it before they give it to any kids.