It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Unless you are living the holidays with food allergies then it can be the most STRESSFUL time of all!
The holidays are full of gatherings with friends and family, which can make navigating it safely a challenge for those who haven’t done it before.
After I was first diagnosed with my severe food allergies and asthma, things changed in how my family approached holiday traditions. I vividly remember my mom on the phone with my grandparents trying to explain that just “brushing the nuts off the cake” doesn’t mean that Laura can eat it!
However, I was very lucky in that after a bit of time and gentle explanation, my family adopted this new way of eating and I was able to participate in family functions and holidays with food allergies.
Friend gatherings can be a little trickier as you are not always sure about what will be served or where they are sourcing their food from. On the other hand, friends have been some of my biggest allies in my allergies and have gone above and beyond to make sure I feel included.
Here are some things to keep in mind when surviving the holidays with food allergies.
How to Talk About Your Allergies
It’s important to communicate with people about your allergies, especially if you are living with severe food allergies.
You can start the conversation by saying how excited you are to attend an event! Share with them how much it means to you. Then mention how you have a food allergy that you wanted to make them aware of and if they would be willing and able to prepare food in a manner that would be safe for you.
Mention that food prep is just as important as the food itself. Cross contamination is a risk to anyone with food allergies. Ask them to wash their hands, food prep surfaces, and food prep kitchen utensils before and after they prepare your allergy safe items.
Ask if they would prefer for you to bring food safe for you to eat.
If this is a potluck, ask if they can share the word about your severe allergy to all those participating so that you are safe. Labeling food with ingredients can be a helpful thing! In my experience, potlucks are always a risk so I tend to bring 2+ items that I have prepared myself so I know they are safe to eat.
Finally, thank them for taking the time to include you in the festivities and keeping you safe at the same time!
Host a Party Yourself!
Perhaps the most reliable method of ensuring your safety is to host the holiday gathering yourself. This is what I/my parents have done for the past 20 years. Everything from the menu creation, cooking, and prepping is controlled by myself, meaning that I am safe during the holidays with food allergies.
This can be a little tiresome year after year to host all of the holiday gatherings, but I will be honest in that it is the only way that I feel truly safe and free to eat.
For some great recipes to make hosting a breeze, check out my collection here!
Talk to the Host
If you are attending an event at someone’s home, contact them as soon as you receive your invitation and share your concerns about your safety with food. Remember that for the majority of people they don’t have to worry about allergies and may not intuitively understand all that goes into living with them. Speaking from a position of trying to help the host will be the attitude most appreciated – no one wants to be yelled at for not preparing something correctly.
Ask what the menu will be to see if there will be a huge risk right away, for example, if a host will be serving lobster and you are allergic to shellfish. If such an event does occur, you can politely ask if they would be open to a menu change so that you can still attend.
Bring Your Own Food
Ask the host of an event if it is possible for you to bring some food to share with everyone that is safe for you to eat. This can be a great compromise if you are attending an event and are not sure about the menu! Plus, you get the chance to show off your cooking skills and introduce everyone to a new way of preparing some favorite dishes.
If traveling a long distance, send some travel friendly items by mail if you can. Cookies do great when packaged this way!
Looking for something tasty to bring? My ultimate gluten free + vegan chocolate cupcakes travel perfectly and so easy to put together!
If Eating Out at a Restaurant
Sometimes gatherings take place at a restaurant for work or school. Begin by searching the restaurant online and see if they offer any menus for you to review before attending. You can also call the restaurant and share your concerns about eating there safely at your event. Most places are willing to work with you to ensure you have a good time but remember to be within reason. No seafood restaurant is going to be able to state that you will be 100% safe if you are allergic to crustaceans.
If Your Child Is Allergic at Social Functions
Kids present a special challenge for allergies, as I’m sure you well know. When the holidays are approaching, make sure to communicate with your child’s teacher and parents of their friends about food allergies and how to keep your child safe.
It can be helpful to make an index card with the following information on it when your child attends parties and other social events:
Name, Emergency contact name and number, allergies and their reactions, medicines to give, and when to call 911
You can also ask your child’s teacher if it is possible for you to attend the event as well, if your child is still small and learning to navigate the world with food allergies. This way you will not only be on hand to read labels and note what things are safe and not safe, if in the unfortunate event your child does have a reaction, you are right there to help them right away.
Finally, a tried and true method that I have lived with for years is to eat before I go or eat after I return. This way I can still enjoy seeing friends and family but not have to worry about cross contamination or risk any allergies at all.
Remember, always be sure to check labels, ask for recipe cards to check ingredients, and carry your medicines with you.