Food allergies don’t have to dampen the spirit of the holidays
Nov 17, 2016, 1:57:50 PM CST Sep 5, 2018, 10:10:50 AM CDT

Food allergies don’t have to dampen the spirit of the holidays

One mom helps her food-allergic child celebrate the holidays safely…and deliciously.

thanksgiving celebration tradition family dinner thanksgiving celebration tradition family dinner

With the holidays around the corner, most parents are looking forward to their child’s Thanksgiving feast, school Christmas parties and family meals. But for me and many others whose children have food allergies, it can be a scary and stressful time of year.

Life-threatening food allergies

Most holiday foods contain at least one of the top eight allergens – milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts. For example, Elliekate, my 3-year-old daughter, has a severe food allergy to eggs, tree nuts, peanuts and sesame. She cannot have the traditional recipes for most all holiday foods including sweet potato casserole, stuffing or pie.


If Elliekate eats even a trace amount of one of her allergens, it could cause anaphylaxis – a potentially life-threatening reaction. We always have two epinephrine autoinjectors (EpiPen) on hand. My husband and I have become professional label readers at the grocery store, and I call the manufacturer of every food she eats to ensure there is no chance of cross contamination, meaning the food cannot be made in a facility that has any of her allergens.

Dr. Drew Bird, director of the Food Allergy Center at Children’s Health℠, says parents need to remember two very important steps in preparing for the holidays.

“Carrying auto-injectable EpiPen and reviewing the Food Allergy Action Plan to recognize signs and symptoms which would indicate a need to give the EpiPen are paramount for keeping your child safe,” Dr. Bird said.

Preparing for a safe and happy holiday season

April Clark, Registered Dietitian in the Food Allergy Center at Children’s Health, offers these tips to ensure a safe and happy holiday season:

  • Offer to host and cook only dishes that are safe for your child or if it is pot luck, choose to take several safe dishes and avoid other foods.
  • Prepare your child’s plate first so there is no chance of cross contamination through switching of utensils from other dishes.
  • For school parties, plan to attend if your child is younger. If you can’t attend, talk to the teacher ahead of time and designate an adult and friend who can be sure your child eats only foods that are safe for him.
  • Create family traditions that don’t revolve around food such as reading a special holiday book, volunteering together, watching holiday movies, caroling and making holiday decorations.

The Food Allergy Center at Children’s Health has helped to make life easier by providing holiday recipes that include alternate ingredients for common food allergens.

I have started planning for this year’s holiday events that will revolve around food (which is most all of them). Elliekate will experience her first Thanksgiving feast at school, and her teacher helped to come up with a menu that will work for her. A mom and daughter in her class are coming to our house before the feast to help cook some of the recipes together. It means so much to me when people go out of their way to ensure Elliekate is included and stays away from a potentially life-threatening situation by bringing food that is safe for her. It is a great opportunity for parents to teach their children at an early age to think of others.

Table of holiday food

Heather Elise Duge is a freelance writer and native Dallasite who has enjoyed writing all types of stories for Children's Health during the past 10 years. She has a passion for sharing stories about the courageous children treated at the hospital as well as important issues that impact the lives of everyday moms. Heather and her husband, Richard, are the proud parents of two beautiful children: Elliekate and Jack.

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