Why do we apologize for our food allergies? And a few holiday dining tips.

Why do we apologize for our food allergies? This is a question, admittedly, I should ask my past self. We’ve all done it—felt we are inconveniencing a party host, a schoolteacher, a waiter at a restaurant, and felt bad for being “that person”. Having food allergies means you have to be careful what you touch/ingest/inhale, so by default, a lot of questions come in new scenarios. What’s in this dish? Was the food prepared on a freshly sanitized surface with no other foods? Can I see a comprehensive ingredient list? Were the school snacks pulled straight from the box or a previously used container?

Here’s my PSA for the day: we (myself included) should stop apologizing for our food allergies. They are not something we, or our children, can control. And because of the possible severity of a reaction, we have to not only be prepared for an emergency, but also take certain precautions to prevent an emergency.

The inspiration for this blog post actually came from my hamster wheel starting to spin as I see Christmas party/family gathering invites start to trickle in. The holidays can be a very fun time, but can cause some additional anxiety for those that manage food allergies and intolerances. In the spirit of sharing holiday joy (and wanting to partake in it!) I’ve compiled a short list of ways that we CAN participate in gatherings safely, while taking some of the stress off our hosts. Win for everyone!

1.     Offer to provide part of the meal.

This is something our family does often. Recently we were invited to watch a baseball game (go Royals!) at a good friends house. Our friends were making one main dish and a few sides. We asked if nuts would be present (because my daughter is severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts) and offered to bring a side dish and main dish as well. Win for the host to have someone else bring food, and win for our family because we knew at least two of the dishes would be totally safe for our child.

2.     Offer to cook with your host. 

We recently had a family dinner at my brother’s house. He wanted to ensure the meal would be safe for our daughter, while accommodating everyone’s culinary needs. We went to their house early, so we were able to double-check all labels. We then helped my brother and his wife by cooking WITH them. That way they weren’t stressed that they might accidentally feed our child something that’s not safe for her, and we pulled our weight by helping prepare the meal!

3.     Homework is helpful when eating out.

Some families prefer to celebrate holidays by having someone else cook instead of doing the work themselves. With the right planning, eating out with food allergies and intolerances is very manageable—though it may require a bit of legwork.

It’s always ideal to work with the organizer of the event to pick a restaurant you know is a safe choice for you and your family. Once a location has been selected, it’s a great idea to review the menu online ahead of time. Pinpoint some choices that may be safe for you or your child, and call the restaurant to verify. The manager or chef should be able to tell you what their allergen safety practices/policies are, and what menu items will be safe choices. Many restaurants are implementing dedicated allergen menus as well! When you arrive at the restaurant, remind your server/the manager of your allergies and provided a chef card like this FARE option:  http://www.foodallergy.org/document.doc?id=219 This allows for a secondary touch point/reminder for the kitchen staff.

4.     Keep safe snacks nearby at all times.

Anytime we go to a family/friends house or out to eat, we always take some of my daughter’s favorite foods with us as backup (ones that are easily transportable, that is). That way if we ever doubt the safety of a food, we always have go-to’s on hand. There have been times where these have come in handy, as you don’t want to compromise safety or end up with an empty tummy! Anytime this backup plan has involved my daughter’s favorite allergen-friendly strawberry cupcakes, I never hear a complaint:) 

These are just a few holiday tips in hopes that it lessens the anxiety and increases the joy for those living with food allergies and/or intolerances. And remember, food allergies aren’t something to apologize for—with some careful planning and willingness to pitch in, we can all enjoy a beautiful holiday season together. 

Warmest wishes this holiday season!

Meg