When you suffer from food allergies or are the parent of children with food allergies, the always impending question when holiday season kicks in is: “why is there food everywhere?” Here are a few Do’s and Dont’s of a gracious allergy-free holiday party…
You are told by your allergist to:
However, there are so many factors when it comes to delivering the message to friends and family members who only see you once a year. Where’s the limit between communicating with good intentions and looking like a control freak?
It may seem redundant, but 2 key steps to communicate one’s allergies properly are: avoid and teach.
Learning how to avoid the all too common cross-contamination reaction is very important, especially so, during festivities where “food” is the main attraction. Serving tools, dishware, napkins, trays, essentially anything that comes and goes from/to the kitchen can accidentally come in contact with an allergen if not previously inspected and communicated. The goal of a host is to entertain their guest(s) as best as possible so with strict guidelines and accurate communication set in place, your allergy-safe lunch/dinner party can go on without a glitch.
Teaching your child(ren) with food-allergies and friends/family how to properly read food labels can be a life saver. Nowadays many allergens (eggs, soy, milk, nuts, etc.) are mixed with other seemingly “safe” foods, so carefully examining every food label can avoid everyone an unwanted allergic reaction.
Bottom line is, despite your food allergies, the holidays can still be a happy and a healthy time of the year. Nonetheless, some planning ahead of time, education and a few tweaks on common traditions will be necessary for a merry old time!
In my house we don’t wash hands, we do better, we hand sanitize.
MYTH. Choose to say yes to washing your hands for the entire length of the Happy Birthday tune (after all that’s what surgeons do before putting on their gloves). Say yes to disposable hand wipes when it comes to wiping surfaces; No to hand sanitizers and sponges which spread bacteria instead of getting rid of them.
What’s a party without a bowl of nuts? And, I have removed all the peanuts from the nut mix.
MYTH. Cross contamination can be as dangerous as direct contact. It is always advisable to “preview the crime scene” and make sure that there are no allergic traps anywhere. Pulling the peanuts out of the store-bought nut mix or taking the eggs out of the Cobb Salad is not a safe option EVER. Once the culprit ingredient has touched a surface or any other food… and faster than you can say “oh no they can’t eat that!”, cross-contamination has already taken place. The safest best is to alert the food-allergy sufferer not to eat from that particular dish.
Shall I try to make “safe” versions of the holiday traditions?
TRUTH. Having food allergies doesn’t mean not being able to enjoy the delicious array of once-a-year foods. Simply, take your time to find allergy-safe alternative recipes to those loved traditional dishes, so everyone can enjoy the holidays.
Some recurring questions our doctors are asked (they were also addressed at the “Navigating the Holidays” webinar conducted by Kids with Food Allergies Foundation), and are mentioned here too!
How do I communicate graciously and with clarity what my child(ren) restrictions are?
Explain the restrictions with time, make the host comfortable, allow an open conversation, offer to bring your food if it would make things easy without compromising the hostess’ pride in her best turkey or mashed potatoes.
How do I address cross-contamination and skin contact with parents of small non-allergic children who will eventually play with my child without offending anyone?
Kids running and playing with “PB&J hands”, grandparents kissing and holding their grandchildren after having had a bunch of nuts from the adult’s room: skin contact can trigger not only reactions, but also those unpleasant family reunion discussions and misunderstandings if not diplomatically addressed. Food allergies come with you wherever you go, facing them and having to live with them can be stressful and scary at times, often at the very beginning when you realize that your kid’s life will always be different. To let festivities unfold in the most pleasant and memorable manner, the other parents will have to be informed with clarity what contact to an allergen can cause to your kid and the consequences that the whole party of guests will have to go through.
One last tip: do not forget to bring emergency medicines, whether it’s the inhaler or the epinephrine….oh yeah and don’t forget the kids either, we have enough “Home Alone” sequels to last us a lifetime!