When I first started writing this post, I had given it the tentative title of “5 Tips for Surviving the Holiday Season with Food Allergies,” but that just didn’t sit well with me. It nagged at me for a little while before I realized why—I don’t want my readers to just survive during the holiday season, I want them to THRIVE.
Holidays are special, and wonderful, and although you may need to go about things a little differently when managing one or more food allergies, you can still have a lovely, heartwarming, memory filled holiday season that you will cherish for years to come.
We have many, many allergies in our family that we need to be mindful of during this (and every other) time of the year, but I have come to the beautiful realization that I no longer feel like I, or my child, is missing out.
Here are a few tips for managing your family’s food allergy during the holidays. I hope that this advice will help you find a little extra joy during this special time of year ❤️
1.) Know that it is ok to say no: Every year, right before Thanksgiving and Christmas, I hear a lot of the same concerns from other food allergy moms. They are stressed about taking their severely allergic child to their relatives’ homes, or are anxious about having non-allergic friends and family over to their house during the holiday season. There are a lot of reasons that someone managing food allergies might be anxious about holiday get togethers. Maybe there’s a relative that refuses to acknowledge a child’s allergy, so they might attempt to feed said child unsafe food. Maybe there’s someone that has been known to absentmindedly offer a child food, without considering the potential for a reaction. Perhaps the knowledge of how much “unsafe” food will be present at a certain event is creating stress about indirect exposure to allergens. Maybe they have tried to make a particular event “safe” in the past, and it didn’t work out as planned. I have heard all of these reasons, and more. There’s simply no getting around the fact that mingling with others during the holidays can be stressful for those with allergies, as it requires us to leave our comfort zone, and even take risks. All of this is to say this: It is ok to say no. Only you know and understand all of the variables in play when it comes to the specific allergies you are managing. Whether it pertains to you, or your child, no one knows better than you the extent, and severity of your allergies, and consequently there is no one better suited to ascertain the degree of risk in any given situation than you. If you are seriously worried about your (or your child’s) safety at a particular holiday event it is ok to turn down the invitation. If the thought of visiting a particular relative is causing you copious amounts of anxiety in regards to your (or your child’s) allergies, you do not have to go. If you are worried about inviting someone into your home because of the way they have handled your (or your child’s allergies) in the past, don’t invite them. Food allergies can literally be a matter of life and death. If you are worried about your (or your child’s safety), you can always say no. There is no obligation, familial or otherwise, that presupposes our obligation to our own physical and mental wellbeing, or to that of our children.
2.) It’s ok to stay home for the holidays (even if that isn’t your norm): As mentioned above, there may be reasons why someone managing food allergies decides to avoid certain expected social gatherings during the holiday season. Some allergy sufferers may find themselves in the situation where they do not feel they can safely attend any holiday get togethers. If this is you, that is ok. There is nothing wrong with spending these special days at home in the company of your immediate family. You may even find that you appreciate those intimate moments with your loved ones more than the hustle and bustle of rushing from house to house that many of us are expected to do.
3.) If you have concerns regarding your allergies when out and about, don’t be afraid to be vocal about them: If you will be participating in social celebrations, and have allergy concerns, voice your concerns to those relevant to the situation. This may mean talking to a party’s host or hostess, relatives, friends, and or other event attendees. Regardless of who it may involve, don’t be afraid to discuss concerns, or even ask for help. You might be surprised how far a little transparency and diplomacy can go towards achieving understanding.
4.)Know that food does not have to be the focal point of your celebrations: We are an EoE family. My son and I both have an allergic disorder called Eosinophilic Esophagitis that limits the foods we can safely eat. There are many people with this (and similar) conditions, that have little to no safe foods. For these individuals, the holidays can become a heartbreaking time of year, when so many of the things we associate with them are off limits. This doesn’t have to be the case though. There are lots of awesome ways you can still celebrate without focusing on food. Take Christmas, for example. There are so many things you could do on or around Christmas Day to get in the spirit of the season without food. You could watch cheesy Christmas movies, go to a light display, have a holiday movie or game night, read aloud your favorite Christmas books, make crafts as a family, or make a candy free advent calendar (just buy a fill-your-own advent calendar and fill it with non-food treats). If you are Christian, you can focus on the religious significance of Christmas to your family. As Christmas Day approaches, your family could enjoy decorating your home together (putting up the Christmas tree, hanging Christmas lights, etc.), and stockings can be filled with non-food treats. The possibilities are endless. There may be some things that you cannot do because of your allergies, but despite that, there are so many things you can do. If are feeling down about all of the things you (or your child) is missing out on during the holidays, try shifting your focus to the things they are able to do, and don’t be afraid to start some new family traditions in the process! 🙂
5.) Plan Ahead: If you are traveling with food allergies, make sure you have food packed for while you are on the road, or for during your stay. If you plan on eating out at all, research dining options ahead of time (it may be necessary to call or email restaurants in advance to see if they will be able to accommodate your specific dining needs). Make sure you have any necessary allergy meds with you at all times (this is so important—if you don’t remember anything else from this list, please remember this), especially if you carry an epipen. If your allergies are severe, it might also be a good idea to know where the nearest hospital is, just in case you need medical attention. If you will be making a lot of your own food, try out recipes in advance. If you will be cooking for family, budget and meal plan accordingly. If you need to talk to friends, family, hotel staff, caterers, or anyone else about your allergies, contact them ahead of time. Basically, plan, plan, and plan some more. You might not be able to plan for everything, but generally speaking, the more you plan ahead, the less stressful things will be the day of.
Whether this is your first holiday season managing food allergies, or you have been at it for many years already, I hope you will have found this post to be helpful. Either way, I would love to hear from you in the comment section below.
Do you have any tips for managing allergies during the holiday season? Does your family have any special holiday traditions you would like to share?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts, and as always, thanks for reading! 💜