If you have a child with a life-threatening food allergy, you know the importance of planning ahead and carrying an Epi-Pen. You probably cook allergen-free meals or eat out at trusted restaurants, making day-to-day life a little easier on you and your child. However, as Thanksgiving and other holidays that involve a lot of eating approach, food allergies can become a more pressing daily concern. The family is snacking on the fly, attending parties with unfamiliar food and joining in family gatherings with well-meaning relatives who might not completely understand the severity of your child’s allergy.
The doctors at Willows Pediatrics are very familiar with food allergies, and several have family members with life-threatening allergies. Here is their advice as to how to prepare for, and navigate, the “eating” season.
First and foremost, always carry your child’s Epi-Pen and keep it nearby. Don’t leave it at home (where it will be of no use in an emergency) and don’t leave it in the car (where it can be rendered ineffective by extremely cold weather). Likewise, if you are dropping off your child at a party, leave the Epi-Pen with a responsible adult and take the time to train him or her on how and when to use it.
Second, if you are attending a party or family dinner, calling ahead to ask the host for the menu is always a good idea. If you think there won’t be enough (or any) “safe” foods for your child, it might be necessary to bring a separate meal for him or her. Remember: cross contamination in home kitchens is a serious concern. So, for example, if nuts are used in one recipe being served that night, there is a chance that nuts may have come into contact with other foods being prepared. (Cross contamination is also a concern in a buffet setting. If the event includes a buffet, we encourage parents to ask if their child can walk through first—before spoons from an allergen-laden dish are inadvertently used in a dish that is supposedly allergen-free.)
Third, if you feel it’s appropriate, educate others on the seriousness of the allergy. Talking to friends or relatives about your child’s allergies can be a huge stress-reliever. Many people simply don’t understand food allergies and therefore don’t take them seriously. Sharing information about the foods your child is allergic to, what might happen if an allergen is ingested, and what to do if that happens can make everyone more comfortable. As they say, knowledge is power. (On the other hand, if you know Aunt Evelyn or Grandpa Joe just don’t – or won’t -“get it,” it’s important to be appropriately cautious.)
Fourth, educate your child. Even young children can learn to ask permission before trying a new food. When you arrive at an event, give your child a tour of the foods being offered and show him or her which ones are safe. (If you brought your own food or snacks, be sure to tell your child.) On this topic, we like the following advice from allergicliving.com:
With food allergies, you have to ask questions and get over shyness when someone else – from Grandma, to auntie, to a waiter, to a teacher or a colleague – wants to serve food to you or your child with this allergy. We teach kids to respect adults and authority, but with an allergic child, it’s important to teach them not to eat foods that others offer – unless mom or dad has pre-approved or (when they’re older) unless they’re sure of the ingredients. For adults, get over embarrassment; be certain to ask about ingredients, and learn to do this in an efficient, confident manner.
Although it’s a lot to think about, dealing with food allergies in advance is definitely the safest way to handle them during the holidays. Being aware of your surroundings, being educated, and being prepared will make every holiday meal with your child a little less stressful and much, much safer. For additional tips and advice, visit the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network’s website.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving! And let’s all give thanks for our children and their health!