From grandma’s chocolate chip cookies to the sweet cranberry sauce ladled across most of the plate, the holidays present special challenges when you and your child with food allergies travel to family gatherings.
Tracy Rife, RN, BSN, AE-C, asthma and easy breathing program coordinator at Akron Children’s Hospital, offers tips to help your child keep the holiday spirit while watching her health.
- Carry medications with you and make sure they’re up-to-date. Auto-injectors, in particular, have a relatively short shelf life.
- Keep an eye on little hands. Young children are curious and are attracted to colorful objects – such as candy-coated nuts. If something like that becomes a problem, ask the host if you can place the bowl out of reach. You and another adult might share the job of supervising your young child. By taking turns watching the child, each adult will have time to socialize.
- Review “the rules.” Before arriving at a holiday gathering, go over a set of food-related (and age- appropriate) rules with your child. One of the rules might be that he or she must check with you first before eating a food.
- Give friendly reminders. While the host is planning a meal, he may not remember the details of your child’s allergies – even though you discussed it with him in the past. Be sure to remind him about the foods your child needs to avoid well ahead of the gathering.
- Offer to bring “safe” dishes. Relieve anxiety by bringing food you know your child enjoys and will not trigger an allergic reaction.
- Send food ahead of time. If you’re flying to visit family or friends, prepare several allergy-free foods that travel well and ship them ahead to your host’s home – allowing ample time for them to arrive before you do.
- Ask about ingredients. Before your child digs in, find out what’s in that innocent-looking dip. If possible, check labels. (You might ask a host to save them for you.)
- Be wary of pre-basted turkeys. They may contain soy, wheat, dairy, antibiotics, hormones and other allergens. Instead, choose turkeys labeled “natural.”
- Don’t cross-contaminate utensils. When cooking meals at home, be aware that allergens can remain on utensils and cooking surfaces. Rinsing a knife used to chop nuts is insufficient. For highly allergic people, even trace amounts of a food can cause a reaction.
- Consider color-coded cooking tools. A bright red silicone spatula might indicate dishes containing fish, and a lime-green serving spoon might signal contact with nuts.