The holiday season is here! For most families, this is a time to come together, enjoy each other’s company, and celebrate with a big meal. But for families who have children with food allergies, it can be a very stressful and trying time of year. We live in a food-centered world, and it can be hard for food allergy families to feel comfortable and relaxed at a party where allergens are present. Will their child grab something from the appetizer table? Will Aunt Sally try to fatten them up with some unsafe food? Will their cousins contaminate all of the toys with their messy hands? Or will they feel left out when dessert is served, and they don’t get the same thing as the rest? These are just some of the many thoughts that plague food allergy families as they approach the holiday season.
So how can holiday hosts help? First of all, let’s acknowledge that hosting a holiday event is a lot of work! There is planning, shopping, cleaning, and cooking that all has to be done before the big day. It can be difficult to think about adding in one more task or having to change what you are used to doing. However, if you plan ahead, you can be a food allergy ally and help your food allergy guests feel safe, comfortable, and accommodated in your home! Here are four easy ways you can help:
1. Ask Questions
If you know you are going to be hosting a family with food allergies, it is always helpful to be the first to reach out and open the line of communication. Being the first to say something can be awkward for the parent of a food allergic child. They worry that they will be perceived as overprotective or viewed as an inconvenient guest. So let them know that you are accommodating by touching base in advance with some general questions such as:
- What is your child allergic to?
- What precautions do you normally take when you attend parties?
- Are you comfortable if I cook for them, or would you prefer to bring your own food?
- Are there any store bought items that I can have on hand that your child enjoys?
2. Remove Allergens from the Menu
At busy holiday parties, it is so easy for mistakes to be made. Even the most diligent parents can get distracted from watching what their food allergic child is doing or touching. Plus, there is the added threat of that token older relative who just loves to hand out food to children. So make the environment extra safe by removing your guest’s allergens from the menu. Nobody will miss the mixed nut bowl if they know they are keeping a little one safe! If removing allergens from the menu doesn’t work for your party, then think about making a designated kids snack table with all safe snacks. Then make sure to let everyone at the party know that there is a child with food allergies and to be mindful.
3. Think Ahead and Prepare
It also helps to give your house a good “once over” if you know you will be hosting someone with allergies. Most hosts clean like crazy before having company over but go a step further and make sure to check the couch cushions for runaway snacks and to use antibacterial spray on any surfaces where there has been food.
Another thoughtful gesture is to have an allergen-friendly dessert. Dessert is often a sad time for children with food allergies. While everyone else eats cake and ice cream, they are usually left with whatever mom scrounges out of here purse that resembles a treat. Luckily there are some great local bakeries that do an amazing job in preparing safe and yummy treats for all:
- The Bake Station – Southfield & Farmington Hills
- Heavenly Cake Balls – Metamora
- The Allergy Table – Rochester
- Sugar Kisses Bakery – Berkley
- Motown Freedom Bakery – Royal Oak
- No More Bellyaching – Brighton
4. Be Able to Adjust as Needed
Even the most diligent hosts will miss a detail. If you aren’t living the food allergy life, it’s hard to know all of the ins and outs of how to cook for someone with food allergies. So it might be the case that your guest shows up and sees something on the menu that they aren’t comfortable with. Perhaps their child has a sesame allergy and you didn’t know that hummus is full of it? Or maybe another guest is bringing a salad to pass and didn’t get the “No Nuts” memo. If something like this happens, just adjust the menu and roll with it! Usually there is an overabundance of food at holiday parties, so putting one thing away for another day won’t make much of a difference.
There are 32 million people living in the United States who suffer from a food allergy. And as we have seen in recent years, food allergies are drastically increasing in children. So if you are someone who likes to host events, chances are you will run into the predicament of hosting someone with food allergies. Challenge yourselves to step out of your comfort zone, adjust your menu, and make your holiday event safe and inclusive for all!