Let’s face it, the holidays are often the very opposite of the opening lines to the song “Silent Night.” And for families with food allergies, the holidays bring a unique kind of stress. There are so many parties, get-togethers, and gatherings. And they all include food. There’s so much food.
For the non-allergic person, it may be easy to forget the stress that comes with the food. For allergic families, it’s easy to go off the deep end with worry. So I’ve compiled some tips to help us all find some middle ground in an effort to not only survive the holidays with allergies, but even thrive through the season.
For those with allergies
Prepare, prepare, prepare—Call your hosts ahead of time to find out what will be served. If there are items that are unsafe for the allergic person in your family, prepare a safe alternative and package it up. I will often do this ahead of time and freeze the item so we can just grab and go in the rush out the door. If you’re staying for an extended period, prepare a grocery list of favorite safe foods and plan to hit the store as soon as you make it to town.
Bring your meds—Always, always have your prescribed medications with you. For us, that means bringing our Auvi-Q™ with us, along with an inhaler and single serve Benadryl packs. Of course, if we’re flying or driving for long periods, we’ll pack more.
Double-check the labels—Especially with items and brands that are unfamiliar, ask your host to set aside packages they will be using so you can double-check the labels for allergen statements and possible cross contamination.
Be gentle—You’ve been through this before. Your host may not have been, and is likely less familiar with the whole idea of reading labels, finding safe foods, and taking care to avoid cross contact. Bring your experience and all of the gentleness and graciousness you can carry with you. Be prepared to answer questions kindly. As the Proverb says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh answer stirs up anger.”
Bring your sense of humor—Feeling a little stressed about travel and holiday happenings? Take a moment to find your sense of humor. It’s a great way to let off a little steam. Need some help in that area? Read Roo’s list titled You Know You’re a Food Allergy Parent If…and enjoy the gif’s she included.
For those hosting allergic individuals
If hosting for an extended period—Ask for some safe foods and brands to have on hand for the visit. Each time we visit my family, my mom asks me to email her safe foods (including brands) that she can have on hand when we make it to town. So I email her enough to get us through our first day there, and then we will go to the grocery store together to stock up for the remainder of the visit.
Set aside packages and labels—We really appreciate being able to review labels for possible allergen statements and cross contamination to the point where we’ll dumpster dive for that information. We don’t expect you to know how to read labels the way we’ve learned to through the years. You have enough to think about as you prepare to host. But setting aside any packages of food you’ve used would be thoughtful on your part and so appreciated by us.
Ask us for help—When it comes to accommodating food allergies, we know how overwhelming it can be. Remember, we’ve gone through the learning curve of finding alternatives and the safe brands of the foods you may want to serve. Outsource some of the items you’re not sure about to us. If the two options are to: A) Stress you out and cause tension in our relationship, or B) Ask us to pitch in to make this an enjoyable, inclusive experience for all, we would choose “B” any day of the week.
Be gentle—If we appear to be over the top anxious, we don’t need you to understand but we would be filled with gratitude for your kindness and gentleness in the moment. For many in the world of food allergies, eating any food outside of the house is a rarity. We know and understand the risks of this all too well; just since November 26, we’ve lost four of our own. These stories always remind us vigilance is necessary, so bringing your care and understanding to the situation is appreciated, more than you know.
Above all, I know that if I remember to pack my kindness with me wherever I go, I’m less likely to do or say something to strain relationships with my loved ones. Perhaps this in and of itself is all we need to enjoy the holidays together.