Holiday gatherings often center on food. Our favorite treats symbolize connection and celebration. But for families managing food allergies, this heightened emphasis on food is stressful. And when food becomes the symbol of our affection for each other, it’s about more than just the menu.
When new eating habits meet treasured holiday traditions, it’s tough for everyone – from the grandma whose traditional peanut butter blossom cookies are suddenly off the menu to the dad trying to prep his daughter with multiple allergies for a holiday party buffet.
If you’re managing food allergies, here are a few ways to reduce the emotional stress and keep meals safe this season:
· Host the gathering at your place where YOU control the environment. You might choose to let people bring their favorite dish; separate “safe” dishes from “unsafe” ones.
· Make your traditional favorites using safe ingredients. Avoiding dairy and peanuts? Substitute almond or sunflower butter in those peanut butter blossom cookies. Start a new tradition by baking together.
· If you’re a guest, call your hosts in advance to ask about the menu. Be open about your food allergy; ask to bring a safe dish. When you have safe foods available, that gives you peace of mind and lets you focus on family and friends.
· Be aware of well-meaning family members eager to share a special safe dish with you. Tell them you appreciate their time and effort; then ask to see the labels of the ingredients used.
· For kids with allergies, talk before the party about what safe foods will be available and avoiding foods at risk for cross-contact, like a buffet. Ask your host if your child can dish up first. Encourage your child to take enough the first time through the line, or ask the host if safe dishes can be placed in a separate area.
· Don’t go hungry. Give your child a snack before you go so they’re less tempted to grab food when you’re not looking.
· “No Epi, No Eatey!” Always have your med kit with two epinephrine autoinjectors and antihistamine. Review how and when to use the auto-injector with family and friends so they know what to do in an emergency.
Relieving some of the stress around food-centric gatherings and creating new traditions together can make the holidays more enjoyable . . . for everyone in your circle.
The Food Allergy Support Group meets the second Monday in February, May, August and November at Northfield Hospital. For information, contact Kristi Winkels at 507-646-1410 or firstname.lastname@example.org.