The holidays and their food-oriented traditions can cause extra challenges and stress to families with food allergies. Massachusetts General Hospital for Children’s Food Allergy Center experts Nancy Rotter, PhD, a pediatric psychologist, and Elisabeth Stieb, RN, share their surefire tips for ensuring families with food allergies experience a happy and healthy holiday season.
1. Focus on the fun that is possible rather than anything the food allergies cause you to forego.
2. Create new holiday traditions. Swap cookie/pie baking parties for decoration-making parties. Plan fun holiday activities that aren’t focused on food. Try themed scavenger hunts, craft activities, or holiday-themed dress parties.
3. Read the labels. Holiday-themed foods often have allergenic ingredients added. Many companies sell “holiday” versions, so previously safe products may have different ingredients for a limited time. Also, some holiday foods have hidden, unexpected ingredients. Read all ingredient statements with every purchase.
4. Plan for the unexpected. Make sure your child’s teacher has a stockpile of safe treats for that unscheduled school celebration.
5. Notify your host/hostess in advance. Don’t be afraid to venture out for holiday parties and events. Be honest with your host/hostess, but not alarmist. If you feel the host/hostess may not be able or comfortable cooking an allergy-free meal, bring your own food.
6. Have a backup plan. Anticipate that food surprises and temptations will occur. Talk with your family and friends ahead of time, but have a backup plan. The plan could include a special allergy-free treat – or be sneaking off to for some extra video game time, or an early departure.
7. Get others to help. You’re surrounded by friends and family, so feel comfortable asking them to share the responsibility of watching your allergic child around food. Switching off or having extra eyes to keep watch will help parents feel more relaxed and let you have fun too!
8. Host your own party. Hosting allows you to offer only safe foods.
9. Be prepared. Always carry your auto-injectable epinephrine, antihistamine, food allergy action plan, safe foods and any other medications prescribed. Traveling by air, boat or train? Make sure all your medications and safe foods to eat in transit are in your carry-on bag.
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