Chestnuts roasting on an open fire….
Few songs transport us to the warmth of the fireplace and family as comfortingly as the first line of “The Christmas Song.” And yet, the song’s first word may remind us that the the holidays are a time of anxiety and caution for families with food allergies.
During the holidays, we are reunited with friends and family we may only see once a year, often over delicious potlucks with family recipes and homemade treats. These exciting events can be difficult to navigate if you have a child with food allergies. Home-cooked potluck meals often bring with them the eight major food allergens, and it can be difficult to keep track of allergens across different dishes. Friends and family members may not always be sensitive or aware of food allergies and their severity, which can pose another problem for your child’s safe eating during the holidays.
With a few key tips for hosts and guests, an allergy-friendly holiday meal can be achieved. For the past seven years preceding the annual Thanksgiving with family, my friends here in Chicago have enjoyed a Friendsgiving dinner. Children now comprise nearly half of our guest list, and we’ve started using a Google spreadsheet to keep track of dishes, dietary preferences and allergies. The column for food restrictions predominates, and we note any food allergens that our favorite dishes might contain. Eggs, milk and tree nut allergens have graced our party in the past, although now we are down to just tree nuts. Our table is still a glorious feast, just a safer one. Families with food allergies have options, but without support, the only choice may seem like staying home. With a little effort, friends and families can make sure that everyone can attend holiday festivities relatively free of anxiety and stress. Whether you’re the host or a guest, here are some tips to ensure you have an allergy-friendly holiday gathering.
Tips for An Allergy-Friendly Holiday Gathering
- Hosts should solicit dietary restrictions from their guests and communicate this to everyone before the event. Often a simple ingredient substitute can keep a family recipe delicious yet safe.
- Cooks should label their dishes and list ingredients and possible food allergens, especially at potluck-style events. Use our print-friendly allergy alert to label your dishes and make your guests feel at ease. Be sure to mark which of the eight major food allergens your meals contain.
- Hosts and cooks should be mindful to avoid cross-contamination of utensils, plates, cooking surfaces and even eating surfaces. A thorough cleaning with disposable wipes is necessary to remove allergens from surfaces.
- Guests can offer to bring allergy-safe foods to potlucks and can even send them ahead of time if traveling. If your child has a food allergy, consider bringing a meal or a dish that you know they can enjoy. Services like Nurture Life make fresh, wholesome meals for babies, toddlers and kids that can be delivered to your home or to your holiday destination.
- Ingredient labels and recipes should be kept on-hand in case a family with food allergies wishes to check the allergens.
- Guests can bring non-food items such as flowers, beverages or balloons if they’re unsure of what to cook.
- Families with food allergies must remember to have Epinephrine auto-injector twin-packs with them.
These suggestions may be jarring for hosts or guests who have never dealt with food allergies, but the support you offer will go a long way in the safety of your friends and family. It’s important to label the dishes you’re serving with the allergies they contain. Print out your food allergy labels here for your holiday potluck or dinner party.
The holidays can serve as a pivotal time for education about food allergies, their severity and how to prevent exposure. Learning these simple interventions can decrease risk for our allergic friends and relatives and lower the stress on their families. Let’s all have a delicious and safe holiday season!
Dr. Steve Handoyo is a Clinical Associate of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the University of Chicago. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please visit his University of Chicago page or call 773.702.6169.