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Food Introduction Anxiety and Fears

peanuts in shells

With research now showing that delaying the introduction of allergens to infants may increase the risk of developing allergies, there's been a purposeful focus on "letting the babies eat" - which is a catchy phrase to help remind parents of this important data (links to useful data at the end of this article). 

What happens when food introduction anxiety and fear enter the equation (which they likely will because these are normal emotional responses to a perceived and/or actual threat, such as an allergic reaction)?  

Maybe you're the parent/caregiver of an infant and want to introduce allergens, but are scared to. Or perhaps you have a toddler and while you haven't been diligent about introducing new foods along the way, you now want to, but find that your nerves are getting in the way of actually following through. 

While it's outside of my professional scope to provide any medical guidance, it's within my scope to offer tips to help navigate the fear and anxiety impacting your ability to follow through with introducing new foods. With that said, this important disclaimer needs to be made before moving on to helpful tips:

Guidance given here is for educational purposes; please consult with your own allergist and/or physician for guidance specific to your situation, including determining which foods are safe to introduce and when.

Now, let's get to 3 practical tips to help you introduce foods even with fear present! 

Tip 1: Make "Bite-Sized" Goals:

Especially if you're feeling that you're "behind" on the goal of introducing new foods, you may set such high expectations that you'll get derailed before you even start. Maybe you're pressuring yourself to introduce as many foods as possible, as quickly as possible! But if you find that approach only leads to more avoidance of food introductions, then it's not a workable approach for you. Here's what may help if this is how you're feeling, whether you're working on infant food introduction or introductions with an older child:

  • Develop a food introduction timeline with your allergist and/or physician, including how often to introduce foods and which foods to introduce when; use this as your compass rather than trying to guess your way through it (which will likely increase fear and anxiety)

  • Stay in the present moment, only focusing on the food you're currently introducing

  • If you get derailed, explore how you got off-track and focus on encouraging yourself to get back on the food introduction ladder (you just need to get on that first step to reconnect with your bravery and use that as momentum to keep moving forward!)

  • Don't hesitate to reach out to your allergist and/or physician if you get off-track or have any concerns. (And, no, you're NOT bothering them with such questions!)

Tip 2: Practice Self-Compassion: 

We tend to be judgmental of ourselves when we are unable to follow through with tasks we feel we should be doing. This may lead to thoughts of "Why aren't I brave enough?" and "I'm not being a good enough allergy parent!" And once we jump down that judgmental rabbit hole, it may actually feel harder to introduce foods since we're now dealing with fear AND judgment! Here's what helps if you find yourself experiencing self-judgment: 

  • Develop compassionate self-talk statements to say to yourself when you're feeling down about the struggle to introduce new foods. This can include statements like: "I am not feeling ready YET, but I'm working towards that!" or "I can do hard (and scary) things!"

  • Give yourself grace! It's not easy to do things that we feel are threatening - if it was, then we'd all be doing it already. 

  • Connect with the collective experience of food introduction. You're not the only parent/caregiver finding it hard to introduce new foods. Reminding yourself of this can help normalize how you're feeling.

  • There's no need to compare yourself to how other allergy parents/caregivers are navigating this task - it won't feel helpful! Everyone's situation is specific to them - including their allergies, how they feel, and how they navigate through food introductions.  

Tip 3: Focus on Your "WHYs" for Food Introduction:

Yes, one big WHY for introducing allergens early and often is to help with allergy prevention, but there are likely other reasons why you're wanting to do food introductions. These WHYs become important reminders that help us push through the times when we're anxious, and help us stay on track when it feels hard to do so. To determine your additional WHYs for food introduction, ask yourself these questions: 

  • What will I and/or my child be able to do more of if I introduce more foods and potentially expand food options? 

  • What is not introducing foods costing me and/or my child? (ie. what are you not able to do that you want to; is it causing stress; is it impacting relationships/family or quality of life?)

  • What goals am I looking forward to once I start working through these food introductions?

BONUS Tip for Toddler Food Introduction: 

Start off super simple - by making food feel like a fun topic to explore! With foods approved for introduction, focus on helping your child learn about them. Start by finding books that include the foods and spotting them in stories, pointing them out at grocery stores, and if approved by your allergist/physician, touching them* - basically anything that helps them become open to trying the food. Then build from there! This sets a fun tone for food introduction, and is one way to get your foot on the first rung of that introduction ladder.

*[Discuss with your allergist/healthcare provider whether touching allergens prior to introducing/ingesting it is recommended or not, especially if your child is at higher risk for developing food allergy, or is managing eczema and other allergic conditions].

So here are the takeaways about managing food introduction anxiety and fear:

  • Fear is a normal emotional response to food and allergen introductions when an allergic reaction is a perceived and/or actual threat

  • We can introduce foods while feeling scared - the fear doesn't have to be gone in order to do so

  • Work with your own allergist and/or physician to determine your food introduction plan

  • Break the overall plan into bite-sized tasks, focusing only on the food you're currently introducing

  • Don't compare yourself to others when it comes to food introductions - give yourself grace and work at your own pace

  • Stay connected to your WHYs - why it's important to push through the fear of food introductions

To read more on the topic of food introduction, check out these resources: 


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