Avoiding Food Allergens at a Holiday Party

Avoiding Allergens at a Holiday PartySo you have a kid with food allergies, and you’ve got things under control at home. You are very diligent, very careful. You do his grocery shopping, you prepare his meals, you are in complete control of what goes in his body. So what happens when you have an upcoming holiday party? You don’t know what the menu will be, and even if you bring food from home, surely your strong-willed toddler will want what he sees others eating. Tackling the holidays with a food intolerant or allergic kid certainly puts a spin on your daily plan, but it can be managed by planning ahead.

First step, call your host. Find out what the menu will be. When you explain you have a child with a food allergy (they will most likely already know), the host will undoubtedly be as helpful as possible with filling you in. They are your family/friends, so don’t be shy to ask. From there, you have a few options.

1. When at all possible, make a dish to be shared, so your child sees the food is for everyone and not just him. In a young child, it will increase the likelihood that he eats it, and in older children it will make them feel less singled out. For example, holiday meals generally involve casseroles—potato casseroles, vegetable casseroles. If your child cannot have dairy, bring a casserole of your own without the cheese and cream soups. You know your substitutes, so pull them out and make a great dish to be shared. If cross-contamination is a concern, bring your own serving spoon and don’t be afraid to gently remind people of your situation.

2) For bulk dishes (think mashed potatoes) which wouldn’t be a practical make ahead option to be shared, ask your host to keep some plain before mixing in other ingredients and then prepare your child’s with your substitutes. I revert to my family/friend statement. It would be wasteful for you to prepare an entire pot of this. When preparing your child’s plate, grab a serving of the “safe” potatoes that you’ve left aside. Mashed potatoes look like mashed potatoes. They’re on everyone’s plate, including your child’s, thanks to the quick extra step.

3) Offer to bring a dessert. Desserts always seems to be the trickiest part, as it’s a holiday staple, yet poses the most opportunity for allergens to be present—eggs, nuts, dairy. My soon to be 2-year-old lacks the enzymes to break down lactose (sugar found in milk products), and she also has fructose malabsorption, which means her body cannot digest fructose. She cannot eat healthy things like fruit. But it also means she can’t have high-fructose corn syrup which is in most packaged foods, especially desserts. And what’s a holiday party without yummy dessert? The dessert menu is typically less predictable, because it tends to be one of those things that guests offer to bring. Because of this, I offer to bring a few desserts that are in my “secret stash” of recipes that are safe but also a huge hit with my daughter. I exclusively reserve these for situations when desserts she cannot have are plentiful. She loves my no-bake cookies consisting of quick oats, coconut oil, natural dairy-free cocoa powder, and peanut butter (she does not have nut allergies). Did you hear the “no bake” part? I make them in a jif and I freeze a few dozen so I can pull them out for these occasions. Even better, she doesn’t have them often, so when she sees them she wants them! Again, kids gravitate to the main attraction, so instead of making a few to keep in a container tucked away in the diaper bag just for her, I bring enough to have on a platter as part of the dessert presentation. If she sees others grabbing for them, all the better in her little mind!

Do these suggestions require a few extra steps? Of course. Will you be contributing more to the various parts of the meal than the other guests? Most likely. However, you can do most of the prep work ahead of time, and it will save you from watching your toddler have a melt down when he can’t have anything from the table. Will there be a few bumps along the way? Possibly. But you are there, and you’re there as a family, and there will be enough safe foods for your child that are not much different from everyone else’s, and you might even get a compliment on your cookies from an unsuspecting Uncle Fred who doesn’t like healthy desserts. Happy Holidays.

Michele Ogniewski is a mom of a little girl with digestive problems, who works hard at balancing a safe diet with everyday life. 

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