Aren’t the holidays are already hard enough? Seeing relatives who don’t relate—? Now add to that bowl of mixed nuts or mashed potatoes a tree nut, peanut or dairy allergy and there is likely to be an explosion of emotions. Take solace in the fact that firstly, you are not alone. Secondly, there are some ways to avoid the sparks—like the moms who have shared their stories in “Flourishing with Food Allergies.”
Here are some things to try:
- Two weeks before the holiday: Once you know who is hosting, you should start the communication by calling or emailing. Explain nicely something along the lines of, “As you probably remember, our son/daughter is allergic to [nuts, peanuts, dairy, soy, egg] and so we want to make it easy for everyone involved so we will bring some allergy-free food for our child.” This will take the pressure off of the hostess and also serve as a reminder to him or her when they are deciding on whether or not to buy a bag of tree nuts or peanuts for the coffee table. This may also allow the hostess to pass along the information to others who may be bringing food.
- One week before the holiday: Talk to your spouse and child in a formal way (i.e. at dinner or when there are limited distractions). Explain that you are going to Aunt Allergy-Food for Thanksgiving and you have contacted her to remind her of the allergy and advise her that you will be bringing some food for your son/daughter. If there is to be frustration expressed between spouses, it is best to air it well before the holiday and give it time to settle back down, rather than the night before or the day of the holiday. This communication will also set the expectation for your child that they will have their own food on the big day.
- One day before the holiday: Talk to your child again, alone and confirm what food they want at the big event. Tell them that you want to make them happy and have the foods they want. Make sure you have that food purchased, prepared and a ready-to-go-cooled container. Explain to your child that he or she is not allowed to eat anything, unless they ask you first. Tell them there will be many snacks that may make them sick. This way, your child has an expectation of the situation and will not be so angry to find out that they can’t eat the food once they see it. Hopefully the fruit, vegetables and other some other safe snacks will make the child pleasantly surprised.
- On the holiday: Bring your child’s requested, favorite foods as well as some traditional food for the holiday such as a turkey breast that you cooked or some corn bread that is safe. Most children don’t like trying new foods so as long as their bellies and mouths are full with something they like, there will be fewer problems. By providing a new food or two (e.g. corn muffin, cranberry) their eyes and curiosity will hopefully be satisfied as well. Always remember to bring your child’s EpiPen and some antihistamine with your own spoon or measuring cup.
At the holiday—try to relax. Keep an eye on your child without chasing them around. If there is an obvious problem with food placement (a plate of peanut butter cookies on the coffee table) casually move them to higher ground with a smile and some grace. Undoubtedly someone (often the less sensitive sorts) will try to engage in a food allergy discussion, often right in front of your children. Try to be nice and excuse yourself if you sense they are the disbelieving type and will try to argue about the reality of it. If the holiday environment is too chaotic or if you sense there will soon be an catastrophe, then keep it short and be on your way.
Keep your children safe and yourself calm. Try to make it a Happy Thanksgiving.