With the holiday season here, we all have a lot of things on our minds. The holiday season can be filled with joy and laughter, but it can also be filled with stress and worry. For parents of a child with allergies, this can be a particularly challenging time. The holiday season is filled with parties, family gatherings, and other special occasions, which usually revolve around food and indulgence. These special occasions present many unknown challenges for a parent trying to manage their child’s allergy. Many holiday foods are laced with peanuts, wheat, eggs, milk, soy and other allergenic foods.
Some simple tips to help ease your mind and make the holiday season more enjoyable:
If your child will be attending a party, contact the host or person in charge of the gathering. Come up with a plan to ensure your child’s safety. You could also offer to bring a dish to pass that your child can have to share with others.
If your child has a holiday event at school that involves the sharing of food, speak with the teacher in advance or get involved in the planning committee to ensure there are allergen-free options available.
Pack safe food alternatives for your child so your child doesn’t feel left out if there aren’t allergen-free options provided at a holiday event.
If you are preparing a holiday food or meal yourself, involve your child in the planning, shopping and preparation. This will be a great opportunity for your child to learn safe cooking techniques, research recipes and check ingredients.
Get creative. Try fun new recipes to help celebrate the occasion. There are many cookbooks and recipes that alter or offer helpful ideas on how to accommodate for your child’s dietary restrictions. Try these websites for allergy free recipes and other great resources: www.kidswithfoodallergies.org and www.foodallergy.org .
Ensure that your child understands that restricting food allergens is a full time job and the holidays aren’t an exception. Discuss the risk factors with your child and prepare them to speak up when they recognize unsafe foods. This discussion should be had in advance to help minimize temptation and improve compliance.
Encourage meaningful non-food traditions. A holiday craft project can be a nice distraction from the common emphasis on food. www.pbs.org/parents/fun-and-games/activities-and-crafts/winter-holiday-crafts-for-kids/
If you will be traveling for the holidays be sure to plan ahead. Verify an airline’s allergy policy if your child has a severe allergy to ensure safety. Pack snacks and non-perishable foods to eat while traveling.
If your child has a life threatening allergy always have an EpiPen on hand in case of emergency.
Recommended books for young readers about Food Allergies by Mary Laverty, Family Resources and Services Coordinator, MLIS, CAS ESL, Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital
Medikidz explain Food Allergies: Superheros on a Medical Mission (2009) by Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair. Young readers learn what to expect, how to react and how food allergies are treated in this graphic novel. A great book for older kids and teens. Includes glossary, further resources, and index.
Kylie’s Special Treat: A Food Allergy Fairy Tale (2012) by Letizia Barbetta. A fairy tale about a girl who loves to paint, dreams of a prince, and has a food allergy. One day she receives an invitation to cook the prince a special treat. She happily bakes him her favorite dessert. Of course, it doesn’t include any of the foods she’s allergic to (milk, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts). Kylie shows the reader how she manages her food allergies with poise and confidence, follows her dreams and goes on to live happily ever after. A simple baking recipe, food allergy tips and resources for adults are included.
The Peanut Pickle: a Story about Peanut Allergy (2012) by Jessica Jacobs. Living with a peanut allergy is hard, and peanuts are everywhere! Ben ate peanut butter when he was young and he had a bad allergic reaction. At first he was too scared to speak up about his allergy and tell people that he couldn’t be around peanuts. Now, he knows that speaking up is very important, since he encounters food with peanuts at school, at T-ball practice, at birthday parties, and during the holidays. The Peanut Pickle will help children learn how to tell others about a food allergy and explain that they need a safe environment. It will teach them how to deal with difficult and awkward situations that inevitably arise when a child has a life-threatening food allergy. It also includes a guide for parents to help their children with food allergies.