Ten tips for celebrating the holidays with food allergies

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The holidays can be a stressful time for people with food allergies. There are a million parties that are centered around food and drink. It’s a joyous time of year but it can also trigger anxiety around planning safe events. This post is dedicated to sharing ten tips for celebrating the holidays with food allergies.

Usually, I’ve been the one to host holidays at home. However, this year we travelled to Minnesota to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s family.

We stayed with my sister-in-law and her family of four. I was a bit nervous about travelling for the holidays and staying somewhere new but our Minnesota family is super organized, cooperative and loving so I felt confident that we were in good hands.

Travelling with food allergies always requires a great deal of planning and effort. Staying with someone new to celebrate a major holiday with food allergies requires you to plan a step further, making it imperative to work together with family or friends to create a safe and inclusive holiday experience for everyone.

Unfortunately, this sounds easier said than done. It becomes challenging especially when some family members may not fully understand that allergies are serious and can be life threatening.

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I’ve learned that I can only take the approach of educating others around me instead of feeling frustrated or hurt that people just don’t get it. From there, you have to make choices based on your comfort level, prioritizing the safety of your child.

Here is how we planned for our Thanksgiving holiday:

  1. Send a detailed email to the host: listing your child’s allergens. Even if they are aware of the allergens,  sending a list every time is a helpful reminder. Some people use a google doc or spreadsheet to share with family.
  2. Create a meal plan: for each day you are away. Plan and share it with your host especially if you’ll be eating and/ or cooking meals together. We make an Excel spreadsheet.   Even if we don’t have all the specifics, creating a tentative meal plan may help to minimize accidental exposure to allergens because you’re not scrambling at the last minute to figure out where to get safe food and potentially make unsafe choices.
  3. Bring specialty food items: we pack food such as Sunbutter, spices, chocolate, and bread. Our first stop off the plane is to a grocery store.
  4. Research safe eating out options: when we travel our safe “go to” restaurants are usually Chipotle or In-n-Out. However, sometimes we try to find other dining options by researching menus, calling ahead to the restaurant and bringing an allergy chef card. Here is an example of an allergy chef card.
  5. Ask for accommodations: my daughter is contact reactive to her allergens so when we stay in someone’s home, we ask that her allergens be removed. Usually I ask for these items to be kept in a top cupboard or garage. If this not possible, ask for what you need. For example, keeping items separate may help in minimizing accidental exposure.
  6. Cleaning: after removing her allergens, I ask the host to wipe down counters & appliances (a clorox wipe or soap with a clean sponge is best) and clean / vacuum the rest of the house preferably before our arrival.
  7. Work together: If someone else is cooking the holiday meal, we go over all ingredients ahead of time including spices, oils etc. Even though my daughter may not eat the food, she still has to be around it so working together to ensure ingredients are safe is important.
  8. Ask family or friends to save labels or send pictures of labels: so that you can confirm all ingredients and manufacturing processes are safe . Do not expect your family to understand how to read labels, especially if they do not have to read them each and every time they purchase food like we do.
  9. Contribute a dish:  Your host will be thrilled! Usually we serve portions of our dish first and then place it on the table. However this year,  we asked our daughter if we could make her a “special” meal. She doesn’t like turkey anyways, so we made her a chicken teriyaki rice bowl. She was able to eat grandma’s apple pie because we went over ingredients before hand which were safe.
  10. Use simple, whole ingredients:  Create a menu based on specific dietary requirements using simple, whole ingredients and review each ingredient together.  When cooking for friends who have multiple food allergies, I’ve found it’s best to use whole, clean ingredients which are safer to manage. Don’t change or add ingredients last minute unless you check with your allergic loved one first.

After reading this you may think, planning a trip away for the holidays seems daunting for both the host and the family of allergic children. Is it worth it?

It’s challenging but yes so worth it!. Seeing the joy on my daughter’s face is priceless.

The downfall is that it’s still challenging to not feel anxious. I’m working on different ways of reducing my anxiety but having a plan is helpful. Also remember that your host may be feeling nervous too but allergy parents are so appreciative of all the effort that goes into including our little ones.

My husband and I take turns to keep an eye on my daughter so that we can socialize. I try to remember to breathe and focus on all that we’ve done to ensure her safety.

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In the end, we strive to find a way to make it work because for us it’s important for our little girl to experience the joys of travel and time spent together with family.

Happy Holidays ❤️

  • *Notes:
    1. Talking to your kids before hand even as a reminder about parties and safety around food has been very helpful for us. The more involved they feel, the more empowered they will become in managing their food allergies at parties.
    2. Be prepared: make sure your meds & EPI pens are up to date and not expired before traveling. Also make sure everything is accessible.

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