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16 Things to Consider During the Holidays if Your Family Member Has a Food Allergy

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Two of my kids have severe food allergies to gluten and dairy. No matter where we go, we have to be careful around food. We have had friends and family make special dishes for my kids, yet when I ask about ingredients, it turns out the dish is not gluten- or dairy-free.

I am “that mom” who asks to read labels, and if the packaging has been thrown out, we opt out for safety reasons. It took a while for our family to understand. Once, when my father-in-law was cooking fish for my kids, I told him they could not eat it because he used the same pan where he had used wheat flour to bread the fish for the other family members. I’ve also explained that even one sip of grandpa’s special malts is not an option for my kids. In the end, we often host most gatherings and are in charge of the menu.

At times I’ve felt we are “needy” or that we are being “difficult” or “rude.” Yet ultimately, my kids’ health is more important than hurt feelings. And my hope is that hurt will change to understanding.

With the holidays coming up, this can be a scary time for people with food allergies. We reached out to our food allergy community and asked them, “If you, your child or a family member has food allergies, what is one thing people should consider during this holiday season? What should they keep in mind if a family member has a food allergy?”

These were their responses:

1. “For a child with a severe food allergy, kissing, hugging or touching a relative can be dangerous as well! If you eat or touch a food that someone you love is allergic to, be sure to wash your hands and be conscious of any contact.” — Rebecca C.

2. “If you invite someone for dinner, simply ask about allergies. If you cannot accommodate, let us know so we can bring our own food!” — DeAnna W.

3. “Don’t be insulted if I bring my kid’s food! It is easier and less stressful for me to feed him safely than to face a potluck with fear and a billion questions.” — Janet H.

4. “Don’t be offended if I regift your homemade holiday treats that you brought to a holiday event or you gave to me as a gift. I really do think it’s a sweet gesture, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.” — Hayli S.

5. “Holidays can be the most stressful for [people with allergies]. We have a hard enough time all other days of the year, but at a family gathering, it is near impossible to nail down ingredients in foods. I want to have an enjoyable time with family, like everyone else, but the stress outweighs the enjoyable aspects. Please try to be as helpful as you can, so we can feel ‘normal’ and enjoy our time with loved ones.” — Gabi C.

6. “Cross-contamination is a huge threat, too. Just because the allergen isn’t in the specific food you’re offering does not mean that it is 100-percent safe.” — Sunny J.

7. “Don’t get offended when someone with food allergies will not try what you made. They are definitely not doing it to be rude but as a life-saving technique! Listen to them and take them seriously when they say they can’t eat something. People with food allergies don’t enjoy on missing out on favorite holiday dishes, but we have no option!” — Tabitha H.

8. “Please wash your hands, and don’t touch people when eating from snack trays. I’m highly allergic to seafood and fish. If you touch me I get sick. It’s not a joke. So think about others.” — Jennifer H.

9. “Even if you make something for us that doesn’t have our allergy in it, we still might not be able to eat it. A lot of us have to worry about cross-contact, and we don’t know how safe your kitchens are when it comes to the utensils or bakeware you used.” — Amelia H.

10. “What frustrates me the most is when people act like my allergies/intolerances aren’t real. I didn’t develop any issues with food until I was 15/16. I’m now 19 and can’t have wheat, barley, rye, cashews or almonds, and I’m not supposed to have much dairy either. I don’t expect anyone to cater to my needs, but it’s frustrating when people are like, ‘Oh there’s just a little bit of [insert one of my allergens here].” — Jordan H.

11. “Be understanding of the person who brings their own food. I have to do this because my diet is so complicated.” — Kathy Z.

12. “I do eat, I just can’t eat the same as everyone else.” — Lucy O.

13. “I have two safe foods. And react to strong odors. So I can’t even go to family functions. And most of the time even though I feel like I’m missing out on so much I choose to stay home because it’s [hard] seeing all that food laid out that you can’t touch. I know holidays and events and life revolves around food, and I know we can’t have holidays without it. I don’t expect people to. But then could we do something at another time that’s not all about food? People can go a couple hours without eating. I do. I wish people would put more effort into trying to understand.” — Dani F.

14. “Enforce using dedicated utensils for every dish!” — Kimberly M.

15. “If someone says they have an allergy, even if it’s uncommon, take them seriously! Family get-togethers are a nightmare because my allergy isn’t taken seriously (bell peppers). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to ‘just eat around it.’” — Cayla T.

16. “People without food allergies should consider that what’s ‘annoying’ or ‘inconvenient’ or ‘no fun’ for you, is potentially life-threatening for the person with food allergies. Even people with mild allergies or food intolerances can have sudden anaphylactic reactions, even if it’s something they’ve ingested previously with little to no problems. Having diet restrictions, or any medical restrictions for that matter, is hard. If you can make someone’s life a little easier, do so… or at least don’t make things harder. It will be greatly appreciated. Adjusting for dietary needs/restrictions isn’t really as hard as people make it out to be. Yes, you have to put a bit more thought into things, but it’s really not that big a deal. It’s the holidays, a time to celebrate life with your loved ones. Do the best you can to act with love, and remember: radical acceptance saves the day.” — Melina R.

If you, your child or a family member has food allergies, what would you add?

Getty images by DGLimages

Originally published: November 15, 2018
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