Including Food-Allergic Families at the Holidays

Nov 18, 2017 | Food Allergy Awareness | 8 comments

Kids & the Holidays…

Most of us look forward to spending time with family and friends during the holiday season. Along with all the holiday cheer, there are often a lot of beautiful and delicious appetizers and entrees at the center of these gatherings.  These food-centered events, however, can pose some challenges for people with life-threatening food allergies, particularly children.

While kids, tweens, and teens with life-threatening food allergies are learning to self-advocate, they are also trying to fit in with the rest of us. They want to have fun, go with the flow, and not draw attention to what makes them different from others.

We all want to be included, especially at the holidays.

Just like anyone else, food-allergic kids and their families want to be included – they want to come to holiday celebrations and parties and all things fun!  Sadly, they’re often left out for various reasons:

  • Maybe it’s too scary to have someone in your house knowing that they could have a life-threatening reaction?
  • Maybe there is too much planning involved?  After all, planning a regular party or gathering is a serious amount of work even when you don’t have to worry about potentially harming a guest.
  • Maybe food-allergic friends will feel left out if they can’t eat anything you plan to serve?

These concerns are valid, and the food-allergy community gets it. But here’s the thing:  Families with food-allergic kids will do anything, and I mean ANYTHING, to make your life as a host as easy as possible.  They just want to come and spend time with you.  It’s not about the food for them – it can’t be.

5 Easy Ways to Include Families with Food Allergies:

1. Understand that many food-allergic families will want to bring their own food.
As a host, you may want to reach out and accommodate a guest with life-threatening food allergies, and that is so nice, but realistically, it’s often just not safe.  This type of food preparation requires extensive knowledge of food allergens, cross-contamination, understanding food labels, and researching production facilities.  Let them bring their own food!  They want to!  They need to!

2.  Consider excluding life-threatening foods with oils and residues.
Kids with life-threatening food allergies can be terrified when close to their food allergen.  This is understandable considering the food could kill them.  Certain foods, like peanuts and tree nuts, have oils and residues that can be transferred from fingers to surrounding objects and surfaces.  For highly-sensitive children, just touching this oil or residue can set them up for a life-threatening reaction.  Consider putting the bowl of nuts away for the afternoon or evening.

3.  Designate dishwasher-safe utensils and dinnerware for your food-allergic guests.
This may seem silly, but a lot of us like to bring out our best dinnerware over the holidays, and, oftentimes, we prefer to not take any chances with Great Grandmother’s finest.  But for people with life-threatening food allergies, the only safe way to remove allergens from plates, glasses, and silverware is to run everything through a dishwasher cycle.

4.  Place allergen-free dishes off to the side to prevent cross-contamination.
Sometimes buffets or even just passing platters around can cross-contaminate a dish that was perfectly safe for your food-allergic guest.  Putting the dish off to the side (perhaps on a separate counter) with a designated serving spoon can help prevent this from happening. To keep everyone safe, it’s important not to mix up serving spoons and make sure nothing falls into the allergen-free dish.

5.  For a children’s party, the parent of a food-allergic child may need to attend.
At a certain age, kids’ parties become a drop-off situation, but kids with life-threatening food allergies may need to be accompanied by a parent.  Parents will likely just hang out in the background, wipe down potentially hazardous surfaces, and have an epinephrine auto-injector on hand in case a life-threatening reaction occurs.

Be inclusive by giving families the option to attend.

Food-allergic families just want to be invited, and the last thing they want to do is inconvenience others.  And as much as they want to be a part of the celebration, most food-allergic families won’t come if they think there is any risk involved.

Have a Happy & Safe Holiday Season!