Thanksgiving with food allergies 101: Advice and tips to have a successful day!

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Holidays, gatherings, and parties can be really difficult when you have allergies or have kids with allergies. Figuring out how to have a traditional holiday gathering can be difficult. It seems sometimes like every celebration and get together always centres around food and that can be really isolating when you have severe food allergies, like our kids do.

We Get It! We Live It!

Four kids sitting facing away from the camera in high bar style chairs at a window.

Large gatherings with food allergies is something we have lived for a really long time. We have been where you are many times. Felt the anxiety and stress that comes with each get together where food would be present. In that time we have come up with ways we manage our concerns while still being able to participate in parties, and gatherings.

We have 4 kids some of whom have had serious allergies since they were really little that meant we have to do things a bit differently. In addition to EoE and top 8 food allergies, one of our kids is ANA allergic to cantaloupe!! The fruit that is on EVERY fruit platter, fruit salad, and on all birthday party tables.

This meant our kids could never have any food with their friends and that grabbing a ready made fruit platter is not an option for us. We live the difficulty of navigating food allergies everday and would love to share advice and tips from our own personal experience with allergies.

We have boundaries we set with those we chose to spend our holidays with so we can keep our family safe.

What Can You Do?

At the end of the day you have to do what is best for you and your kids. Holidays like this often means that there is a tight wire you have to walk between doing what is best for your immediate family and managing the expectations of extended family and friends at large meal gatherings.

How do you keep your kids safe around foods that are potentially life threatening? What can you do to not be fraught with anxiety yet still enjoy being with your great aunt? How does one navigate the minefield of not offending the hosts but wanting to protect your child?

Finding Recipes That are top 8 or 9 Free

We have a collection of Easy Allergy Friendly Thanksgiving Recipes that are all top 8 or 9 allergen friendly. They cover the entire menu from mains and sauces to side dishes. Don’t forget allergy friendly desserts are also included in our ressource.

Easy Allergy Friendly Thanksgiving Recipes Cover showing 8 recipes and the article title.

Our Unsolicited Advice

We have compiled a list of our top tips for gatherings with food and how to navigate some of the issues and questions that come up. These are ways we have found useful when we have gathered with family and friends. We also asked members of Facebook Allergy Recipe groups we are a part of for their best tips and advice. We compiled the following list.

Here are our favourite Thanksgiving recipes and tips we hope will help you be able to enjoy the event.

Roast chicken Dinner

Thanksgiving Gathering Tips

There are a bunch of tips and tricks we have collected throughout the years that work for us. It can take a few tries and there is no cut and dried method that will work for everyone. These tips won’t work for everyone, nor will they solve every issue but we hope that through our experience as a family living with allergies we can help to smooth out a few of the bumps along the way.

1- Host the Party or Dinner Yourselves

It is a ton of work but when the kids are little and they eat anything that drops on the floor, they will take anything they can reach and put it in their mouths. This is sometimes the easiest option to have the gathering at your place but you know there aren’t any rogue goldfish crackers hiding in the couch cushions. It also means the kids will be able to crash in their own beds later that night.

It also allows the most inclusivity for those with allergies to be able to eat whatever they like on the table since you can set the rules about what comes into your house. Our kids are left out of every school celebration, after soccer treat, this is an opportunity to let them have the best holiday possible and the most relaxing with regards to allergies for you. It is a lot of work but less work than the stress and worry, constant vigilant hawkeye of making sure the kids are safe and the toll that all will take on you.

What if People Want to Bring Something?

People love to bring things but It isn’t necessary. If they insist there are a few non-food ways they can help out.

You can ask guests to bring the wine (if adults are allergic give them a list of brands that are safe for you), soft drinks, juices, a game to play, themed paper napkins, paper plates, the centrepiece, help with setting up, cleaning up, or washing up, if they would like to be included. For us, we would rather the guests all get together and put in what they would have spent on making a dessert, dish or bringing wine and chip in to make a donation of allergy friendly food to our local food bank, so we can help others.This year we are asking our extended family to do our least favourite job, the dishes!

2- If Not You Then Who? Determine Who is Hosting

The best solution for us is always to host as our kids have so many allergies. This isn’t always feasible with time, space, and the desires of anyone else in the family. Sometimes a cousin is going to want to host. If they do it is important to find out whose house the holiday dinner will be at and who is cooking?

Make a List of Your Allergens and Ways to Avoid Them

Be specific about your allergies and provide lists that have other names for your allergens. Not everyone knows that whey and casein are milk proteins that can trigger an allergic reaction. Make it concise and not too long to send to all those cooking. Check out the allergen lists at Food Allergy Canada, like this one for milk, for an idea of what kind of information to provide. The lists and labeling will vary by country.

Ask about any pets or smoking in the house that may be non food allergens or asthma triggers. Environmental allergens should also be mentioned and checked out. That way if you cannot go due to a severe animal allergy you know in advance and other gurests know not to bring their furry family members to dinner.

Talk to them about the precautions you need to take in the kitchen with allergens. Not everyone with allergies will treat them the same way as the next person with allergies will. Don’t assume that if they also have allergies it will be okay. Talk about it and then sort out the next step.

turkey dinner

3- Figure Out If You Are Comfortable Eating Food Made by Others

Your hosts and those who cooked may not be used to cooking for those with allergies. There is a huge learning curve to keeping allergens out of the foods you eat. They can get in the air, like flour for coeliacs. If someone isn’t used to baking dairy, egg, and gluten free they may only have baking tins or beans for blind baking pie crusts that they used on their last bake.

This is a risk only you can decide. Feeling guilty about eating the turkey a great aunt made isn’t worth going to the hospital over. Talk it over with your medical team and determine what the risks are for you.

Cross Contact Risks

Allergens can hide in the smallest and most innocuous of places. Wooden boards, like cutting boards or charcuterie boards for example, cast iron pots and pans, wooden spoons, toasters, are just a few places that are cross contact heavy spots in a kitchen that is not allergen friendly.

Thanking the Other Guests to Help Alleviate Issues

Discuss this with your host and explain why you may not eat anything even if it doesn’t contain your family’s allergens. Before everyone leaves, thank them for helping to make this a safe Thanksgiving for you and your family. It sends a gentle reminder that even though you may not have eaten what they brought even if they specifically left the pecans off the sweet potato casserole that you are appreciative of their efforts.

4- Let Guests Know What Foods Aren’t Invited

Send a reminder out to all those bringing dishes of your allergies, especially ones that are major contact or inhalation allergies. Even if you are not eating the food it is a good idea to have major allergens left out of the evening. Sending a text or email to all the guests to remind them that the kids have an anaphylactic nut allergy is always a good idea.

Don’t Expect Everyone to Understand Allergies

Not everyone has allergies or has ever had to worry about what is in which foods. The cousins may bring a box of chocolates or a nut mix as a hostess gift not realising that the hazelnut creams may land the kids in the ER. Send them all a reminder the day that your family needs a nut free environment and list a few foods or gifts that may contain them, especially if it is something that many may not realise is in lots of foods.

LIke Water over the Back of a Duck

Don’t be discouraged with any negativity. Chances are there may be someone along the way over the years that feels the precautions are a bit too much. There is no such thing at Thanksgiving with food allergies. We always tell our friends, family, and kids that we would rather go the extra mile than to the hospital. We feel that we have done it right if no one is hurt by the food because we erred on the side of caution.

Eggless Meatloaf on a bed of lettuce and herbs.

5- Bring Your Own Food

Sometimes we feel like a broken record telling everyone we will be bringing food. We know not everyone tells people they will be bringing food. It isn’t like you are doing it because you don’t like their cooking. It is for medical reasons. We tell our hosts as our family of 6 may mean the difference in the size of turkey that is bought.

Set the Boundaries

Let your host know that this is one of the allergy precautions that allows you to be able to attend. Inform them that you will be making food for those in your family with allergies. On the rare occasion we eat anywhere but home we match what we make to what we bring.

It may be a small turkey breast or chicken breasts, stuffing, mashed potatoes for examplethat we bring to Thanksgiving with food allergies. They are all put in individual meal containers and clearly marked for the kids and not out of our sight.

Put Some Aside Before Sharing it

If you are supplying a dish to share at the table, put some for those in your family with allergies in a separate container. Nothing worse than the only thing they can eat having the spoon from the brussel sprouts cooked in butter plunged into the allergen friendly dish rendering your dish no longer safe for you.

Plan On Reheating

Pack a full meal in a sealed container that can be reheated and eaten from this container. Find out if they have a microwave to reheat this meal or if you will have access to the oven to heat it up. Make sure your container is appropriate for that heating method. Glass containers like this one are fantastic as they can be both microwaved or put in the oven.

Make sure to have a cover for the oven and microwave to reduce the chances of cross contact with allergens. For the oven aluminium foil may be suitable and for the microwave some dishes have lids that are safe for use in microwaves with a vent you open.

Five aluminium insulated soup containers on a wooden cutting board. The centre one has a handle and a plastic spoon in front of it.

6- Kindly remind people interaction rules

With illness and allergies it is never a bad idea for anyone to have to wash their hands before they hold, or play with your kids who have allergies. One of our kids is so allergic to cantaloupe that if you touch them or kiss their face after having eaten any they will have a severe reaction that can result in needing their epipen.

My favourite sayings we learnt from one mum is to have “hello hugs instead of kisses” and to “have clean snacking fingers if you are playing with the kids please”. Some of our readers who have babies with allergies have found printed shirts that say cute things like “Allergic please don’t feed” or “ I have allergies! Please ask before feeding me”.

7-Go over the rules with the kids

This one should probably be number 1. Setting the expectations with the kids and reminding them will help avert a ton of issues during the night.

Figure out your family rules

Everyone has different rules with their kids about what they can and cannot eat as their allergies may be different from ours. They may be able to eat from a raw veggie plate or fresh fruit for example. They may also not have any issues with minor cross contact whilst others may not be able to be in the room with some allergens. Your rules with your kids may differ from ours.

Tell the kids the family rules

We go over the rules, even though the kids have heard them “a million zillion times”, to quote them. Our rule is they have to pass everything they eat past one of us parents before touching it. We can determine if it is safe for them. It has to be in a professional manufacturer’s sealed package with ingredients printed on it. They are to read the ingredients to the best of their ability ( this was usually just looking it over before they started to read to get them in the habit). One of us adults will then read it again, as they are now able to read. Through consistency and repeatining the kids have remembered the rules well.

Back each other up

A second pair of adult eyes reviewing the item is always a good habit with distractions and drinks. We see if they can have it. If they cannot, there are sometimes tears. However, those  don’t last long as our children know we have treats stashed in our bag, just in case.

Another tip is to always have one adult watching the kids to make sure they are safe. Allergy exposure and anaphylaxis can occer very quickly. Take turns and make sure to confiem with the other designated adult to pass the responsibilty, never assume they know you are switching, talk about it and confirm. We like to call this get the thumbs up and give it back. When we tell each other we give a confident thumbs up to the other parent to show we heard and are now on allergy duty.

Being consistent

The other rule for us at Thanksgiving with food allergies is nothing is eaten if not in a package unless one of their parents gives it to them. This one is pretty cut and dried and stops the kids from accepting appetisers from uncle Harry who means well but forgot the vol-au-vents contain every allergen in them our kids have. This is also a rule they have at school and everywhere else they go so it isn’t a hardship for the kids.

It was one our kids all knew from a very young age and where the t-shirts with the allergy slogans are great reminders for the other guests.

Slow cooked leg of lamb in red wine on a bed of oinions and mint on a white plate. a pitcher of red wine gravy to the side.

8-Bring Your Essentials

This can be anything you’d normally bring with the little ones. From wipes to wipe anything down, a play mat, diaper bag, all the way to toys, etc. It also means to pack your allergy bags. Don’t forget the extra snacks and epipens.

Check out items like the eye catching place mats from Little Me Allergy. They are perfect to remind guests that not all items are suitable for your kids with allergies.

Bring your emergency response medications, know your allergy plan, and know where the closest hospitals are, especially if you are not in your home. Being prepared never hurts. Nothing is worse than being out and realising you forgot your epipens.

9- Don’t Let Anyone Get You Down

Lastly, never feel bad that you have done all you could to protect your family. Being overprotective is an opinion and the person it comes from may not understand why exactly you do what you do. The risk of offending someone is not worth risking the life of someone with allergies. We read somewhere that “nothing ruins a celebration like anaphylaxis” and I agree. That is just our take though.

Letting the comments get to you is really hard. Know you aren’t alone and that every allergy parent and person with a food restriction has been through that too. Together we can help change the world to be more inclusive at celebrations. Pop on to an Allergy Facebook Group, like ours, and vent about how Aunt Mildred didn’t get that you cannot “just try a little bit of the appetiser”.

We get you.

Check the Allergy Resource Pages

Don’t forget to look at the expert advice from the Allergy Resource Websites such as:

FARE – Food Allergy Research & Education

FAACT – Food Allergy & Anaphylasis Collection Team

Our Resources Page for more sites.

They are a font of information to help formulate plans on how to safely celebrate Thanksgiving with food allergies. We have a full allergy resources page with more links and information on it.

Discuss with your medical team any suggestions and advice they have. Doctors, allergists, and registered dieticians can be indespensible for times with large gatherings like this.

Don’t Forget to Check out our Recipes!

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We have to remind everyone that we are not medical professionals or dietitians, so these tips and advice are not balanced for nutrition not are they medical advice, they are for information purposes only. Please discuss any dietary concerns, changes, or proper meal plans with your medical team.

Always check the labels for any products to make sure they are right for you. We also encourage you to contact the manufacturers in addition to checking that the process of manufacturing is also safe for you, and that there aren’t shared lines. One product or ingredients may be safe for one person but not another. Always check the products and ingredients before purchasing.

Before taking any risks with foode not cooked at home by you discuss it first with your medical team. Identifying possible risks and how to avoid them is an important part of your medical plan for managing Thanksgiving with food allergies.

This article originally appeared on TheAllergenFreeKitchen and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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