Holiday celebrations are frequently a source of apprehension and frustration for families managing food allergies.  However, there are a number of things that you can do to reduce the overwhelming responsibility.  If possible, begin making preparations for holiday oriented events well in advance of the engagement. Advance preparation will significantly reduce the amount of stress and anxiety associated with holiday gatherings.    

Determine how and where you will be celebrating the holidays.  Food is generally a focal point of any holiday event, so ascertain any risks for your family.  There are many factors that you may want to take into consideration, including but not limited to:

  • Who will be preparing the meals?
  • Will the food allergic member/members of the family be able to safely consume any of the menu items?
  • Will the food allergic individual be in the area of food preparation?   If so, does the person react to  airborne proteins?  Cooking and warming food does release airborne proteins. 
  • How will we manage any residues or cross contamination issues?
  • Will foods be permitted into other areas of the home?  If so, this may pose a risk, especially for small children who could consume crumbs that have fallen onto the floor.  Or, if small children will be eating foods in other areas, they will most likely deposit residues onto other surfaces throughout the house.
  • Will we be traveling?  If so, how will we handle meals during transit to and from our destination?   And, once we arrive will I have access to a cooking facility to prepare safe foods?

Discuss your holiday menu plans with the allergic child, and encourage them to assist in planning, shopping and preparing safe foods.  Allowing your child to make decisions about the foods will alleviate some of the disappointment that may be associated with eating different food.  Re-iterate to your child the reason for making adaptations to his/her menu is due to a medical condition and is necessary for his/her safety.   Despite dietary restrictions, your child will most likely be able to participate in many holiday festivities.  Establish holiday traditions that are not food oriented.  This will provide an opportunity to develop memorable activities, in which allergic individuals can fully participate.  For example, allow the allergic child (ren) to assume responsibility for selecting decorations, party announcements, or selecting activities (games, songs, or a holiday orientated craft project that uses only safe materials).   If you are not the host of the event, you may consider contacting the host and request that you will supply some special decorations for the event that your allergic child can select.  Explain your situation and the importance that your child feel included in the special day.   

If you will be the host, or will be transporting your allergic family member’s meal, plan to have a trial meal a few weeks in advance.  This will allot you the opportunity to practice making allergen free foods and make adjustments to recipes, if necessary.  Plan on purchasing any specialty products prior to the holiday week.  This will prevent the dilemma of arriving at the store to find a specialty item is sold out, and will not be restocked until after the holiday.  Don’t wait until the last minute to begin food preparation.  Some items like cookies and candy could be made a few days earlier and stored in the refrigerator or freezer.  Always prepare extra foods, since children tend to drop or spill food.  Having back up food will prevent your child from going without an item due to a mishap. Remember, advance preparation, creativity and careful planning are essential in making the holiday experience a safe, and enjoyable experience for the entire family.