Food Allergies in the Time of COVID-19


A Panic-inducing Grocery Run

I felt slight panic as my eyes panned the aisles and I saw first-hand the barren food shelves in Target. As I turned the corner, I uttered underneath my breath, “Even the toilet paper’s gone?!”

Being that I frequent the grocery store quite a bit, our pantry seems to always be stocked full of plenty of allergy-safe foods and essentials that my family needs to be comfortable. Thus, I did not feel an urgent need to run to the stores and be amongst the frenzy when the mandated “stay at home” order had been put in place. But now, two weeks later, it was time to go and refill my low pantry with all the chips, sun-butters, fresh fruit, and other essential items ravaged by my newly home-schooled children, who just couldn’t seem to control their increased appetites.

When I saw those empty shelves, my initial feelings bought me back to the early memories I experienced in the days leading up to and after my son’s food allergy diagnosis. I could not bear the thoughts of having meager food offerings and being forced to pick through leftovers that would possibly be deemed unsafe for him. Now, imagine that! Tanisha Foster, M.A. of Health Education, the food allergy guru, the qualified expert here, the one always guiding allergy families by creating customized solutions to address their unique needs — this time I’m the one imploding, having an internal meltdown.

Navigating food allergies has its challenges, but the idea of rummaging for safe foods amidst a pandemic can intensify feelings of uneasiness and uncertainty. With much chagrin, I quickly grabbed what I could gather before exiting the store.

Regaining Control

Later, I sat outside on my balcony in deep thought while attempting to clear my mind. I glanced up and noticed a baby bell pepper budding in the nearby pot. My first pepper! As the smile crept across my face, I began to regain control of my thoughts and feelings.

It was in that moment that the educator in me perked up. My children were dependent on me to be calm and informed so that I could continue to provide that for them and be a safe haven. I recognized my own needs as a health educator to be informed and in control in order to empower them, despite this time of uncertainty we were all facing.

That night at dinner, the children lined up for their daily dose of our homemade elderberry syrup that we consume to keep our immune systems boosted. “What are we having for dinner, Ma?” Chop asked.

“Salad and spaghetti with some yummy veggies: spinach, garlic, some fresh herbs, and bell peppers,” I replied.

The bell peppers. My mind raced back to the bell pepper that I had seen earlier that day on the balcony.

“Oh!!! Guess what, you guys?! We have a bell pepper growing in the pot we put outside. Go check it out!”

After the “ooos and ahhs” had passed, I brought up our previous plans for starting a garden and the many benefits it would offer us. Many questions came up about the items that were on the menu that evening. We even discussed why we focus on healthy eating and take our vitamins and herbal supplements consistently. That night at dinner, I realized that it would always be my job to use the skills and the knowledge I had acquired over the years to share and to empower not only the clients that I work with on a daily basis, but also my own tribe.

Managing the Additional Stress of a Pandemic

Families everywhere are experiencing stress or discomfort to some degree during the COVID-19 crisis. With social distancing practices being in place to manage physical health, it is important to note the effects it can potentially pose on one’s mental health. Finding ways to maintain or increase mental health status will help with lessening anxieties during this time.

Not only has starting a family garden been a fun and educational experience, it has also been therapeutic for all of us. We have had the opportunity to get more time outside as well as time together as a family. The kids have shared in assuming the responsibilities of keeping our garden watered and checking for changes in growth. We have also been able to expand our knowledge and help other families with herbal supplements as well. There are so many things that can be done for yourself or with your family to maintain or de-stress during this pandemic.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Starting a new book
  • Journal
  • Paint
  • Sew
  • Puzzles (word/crossword search, Suduko, jigsaw
  • Dance
  • Explore your own backyard
  • Home improvement projects
  • Rest (guilt-free)
  • Plant flowers or start a garden

Be creative! You certainly do not have to deal with the feelings of being overwhelmed alone. There are lots of resources available to you to assist you and your family. I encourage you to seek professional assistance if needed as well. NAMI, an affiliate organization for mental health, offers free assistance to help you locate emotional support by your area code. You are not alone! Be safe out there — mind, body, and spirit. Most of all, be informed and know that options are available for you.

For help coping with food allergies in a pandemic, visit these resources:

Guest Blogger

Tanisha Foster, a savvy and ambitious STEM & health educator and community organizer is the founder of Chop Friendly. She started Chop Friendly in 2018 after teaching her family, friends, and those caring for her toddler son how to offer him safe allergy-free foods. Tanisha is now promoting food allergy awareness and inclusion by educating and providing tools to families, schools, day cares, restaurants, and the community. As a mom-preneur and health expert constituent and advocate, Tanisha works alongside FARE to support state and national legislature of food allergies.