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It’s that time of year again: turkey basting, stretch pants, eggnog, and ugly Christmas sweater parties. If you’re hosting a big holiday meal this year, you’re likely accommodating at least one guest with a food allergy or intolerance. If you have a food allergy or intolerance yourself, you’ve probably perfected a gracious way to decline treats you’re unsure about.
Whether you’re the holiday host or the one with a food allergy or intolerance, here are a few tips for a safe and allergy-friendly holiday season.
Make some Yuletide noise.
Don’t be shy about your dietary restrictions. Send an email to the host letting them know you have a food allergy and ask if any of the dishes will contain ingredients to which you’re allergic. If they’re making any dishes with those ingredients, politely request that the host use different serving spoons and cutting boards to prevent cross contact. Obviously, your approach may vary depending on the severity of your food allergies, and how long you've been managing them.
If you’re the host, send an email to your guests well in advance asking if anyone has a dietary restriction or food allergy. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to avoid peanuts or peanut butter in your dishes—peanuts are the number one trigger of food-related anaphylaxis.
Offer to prepare part of the meal or cook with the host.
If it’s a potluck-style meal, offer to bring a dish or two—this way, you know there will be at least one dish that’s safe at the table. Plus, the host is happy because that’s one less dish they need to prepare! You can also offer to cook with the host. This way you’re helping the host with the meal and monitoring the kitchen to make sure food prep is safe for you or your loved ones.
If you’re hosting, and food allergies are unchartered territory, do a bit of homework: 15 minutes on the web learning about food allergies is a worthwhile investment in keeping your friends and family safe. And as a host, knowing the ingredients in all of the dishes served is a great way to avoid unwittingly putting your guests in harms way.
Keep safe snacks around.
If you’re an adult with a food allergy, you probably carry your own snacks around with you at all times. But if you’re a child, and you’re hungry, all bets are off. Those unlabeled red sparkly bonbons next to the Christmas tree can be pretty enticing! Rather than attempt to monitor all the cookie plates, remind your child to not touch any food without first asking for your permission, and keep safe snacks in your purse so that if your child gets hungry, sparkly treats are less tempting. Note: I was the child that ate the unidentifiable red sparkly holiday bonbon, much to my parent’s displeasure. Fortunately, the cookie was safe.
If you’re the host, try to find out if any children will be there with a food allergy and read all ingredient labels to make sure you’re not serving any foods that could unintentionally cause an allergic reaction. It’s a great practice to ask how the family approaches label reading—do they eat packaged foods that carry “may contain” or “processed in a shared facility with...” warnings about their allergen, or do they avoid them entirely?
Do not roast chestnuts on an open fire.
Not to be the holiday fun police, but if you’re hosting a holiday party or meal and you are not 100% positive that tree nuts are safe for all attendees, you may want to sub out the chestnuts for marshmallows or another fun treat. Along these same lines, consider subbing the bowl of mixed nuts for another quick grab snack such as popcorn.
For reference, the following foods are not tree nuts: nutmeg, water chestnuts, and butternut squash.
Be careful of unwanted guests.
In our Thanksgiving blog post last year, we relayed the story of Harry & David’s gourmet food shop crashing Thanksgiving with a cranberry sauce that contained walnuts. The family member that added the sauce to the table had failed to read the label and identify tree nuts as an ingredient. This holiday season, make sure that all dishes and ingredients are accounted for on the table before you dig in—always read labels!
Hopefully these tips will help make the holidays a little more merry and bright for those with a food allergy or food intolerance.
We hope you have a safe and happy holiday season.
-Abi & the Allergy Amulet Team
Let’s face it—when you have a child with food allergies, Halloween can be a scare. On the one hand, your neighbors are doling out candies that could unintentionally harm your child; on the other hand, you can’t simply tell your child that they’re barred from trick-or-treating. After all, we want our children to experience the same tradition of trick-or-treating that we enjoyed as kids!
As a Certified AllerCoach and mother of a daughter with food allergies, I’ve learned over the years that you have to get creative on this holiday. With a little planning and forethought, children with food allergies can have fun partaking in Halloween’s tomfoolery without the health risks.
Here are six ways to help make a food allergy Halloween a success:
1- Trick-or-treat inside your home. This option works well with young children. Plant family members and friends behind different doors in your house, and when the child knocks on the door, someone pops out to hand them a treat that’s safe to eat. We did this last year and my kids loved it!
2- Neighborhood trick-or-treat hacks. This option could be approached a few different ways! One approach is to research candies ahead of time that you know are safe for your child (e.g., sweet tarts or gummy bears). This way, your child is coached on which candies are safe to eat and which to turn down. They can also do a candy swap with friends at the end of the night and trade those candies they’re unable to eat for ones that are safe. This was the approach our CEO Abigail Barnes took as a child—she recalls that her brother and father benefited generously!
Another approach is choosing specific houses ahead of time that you know will have safe candies available. This requires a bit more work as you may have to call neighbors and friends to see what treats they plan to offer. Alternatively, you can plant safe treats at these houses.
One other strategy is to place a few safe snacks in your child’s trick-or-treat bag ahead of time so that if the kids start snacking while trick-or-treating, your child has some safe go-to snacks at the ready.
And follow the teal pumpkins! Thanks to the Teal Pumpkin Project, houses that display a teal pumpkin at their door are an indication that non-food treats will be available.
3- Wear costumes with gloves. There are so many costume choices out there that include gloves, which is a great safety precaution to take—especially if your child has a very sensitive food allergy. Gloves provide a barrier between their hands and the candy, thereby minimizing cross contact. So whether they want to be Spider Man, The Green Lantern, or Elsa, they’ll be covered.
4- Get yourself a Switch Witch. My kids love our Switch Witch, who they’ve fondly named Esmerelda. The Switch Witch and The Magic of Switchcraft book encourages families to leave their candy out on Halloween night for the Switch Witch, who comes and replaces these candies with non-food treats for them to enjoy. This is a great option for kids with special dietary needs or for those families who simply want to promote healthy eating!
5- Start a new tradition. Some of my favorite holiday memories as a child were the traditions my family created together. Instead of trick-or-treating, maybe go see a scary movie or start a Halloween scavenger hunt in your neighborhood and encourage neighbors and friends to get involved! You can also host a Halloween bash at your house, where you can control what food is served.
No matter how you celebrate Halloween, the most important thing is to manage your child’s expectations and set ground rules ahead of time. This will help ensure your child’s safety, while also letting them take full advantage of all that childhood has to offer.
We wish you all a spooky and safe Halloween!
- Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team