Food allergies and picnics

Q: My 3-year-old son was recently diagnosed with severe food allergies. We frequently enjoy picnics during the summer with our friends and family. What can we do to prevent exposure to foods that will cause reactions?

A: Be very aware of all the foods available at the picnic. Since you know what foods your child is sensitive to, this will eliminate some of the guess work in trying to decide if something is safe. 

If you have a question about what’s in a mixed food — a creamy salad, mixed vegetables, hot dish or dessert — you may simply have to ask the person who made it. If you can’t find out who made the particular dish or its ingredients, then you may just have to avoid it.

If you know ahead of time who’s bringing food and if this works for your situation, explain your child’s food allergies and ask if they can avoid — or at least minimize — using allergens. If you’re particularly worried, the best way to make sure your child is safe is to bring a few favorite foods he’s sure to enjoy.

With a 3-year-old, you’ll have to be the “food police” on behalf of your child. Start teaching him what to avoid, but remember that you won’t be able to rely on his monitoring ability. 

“Always check with mom or dad,” is one of the more important lessons at this age. As your son gets older, he should be able to safely and reliably avoid foods that cause problems.

This column is intended to provide general information only and not medical advice. Contact your health care provider with questions about your child. Dr. Peter Dehnel is a board-certified pediatrician and medical director with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. Send questions to