During the holiday season, many families look forward to a big Thanksgiving feast, school celebrations and special seasonal treats. But for parents of a child with food allergies, celiac disease or Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE), the holidays can be a stressful time of year. Learn how to navigate food allergies during the festivities to ensure your child has a happy and healthy holiday season.
Holiday meals and the top eight food allergens
Many holiday foods contain at least one of the top eight allergens: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts. This can make it difficult for kids with food allergies to enjoy holiday meals.
Even a trace amount of an allergen could cause a child to go into anaphylaxis – a potentially life-threatening reaction. That is why it is important for parents of children with food allergies to be extra cautious around the holidays.
J. Andrew Bird, M.D., Director of the Food Allergy Center at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern, says parents need to remember two very important steps in preparing for the holidays.
"Carrying an 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," says Dr. Bird.
For children with EoE that are following an elimination diet, avoiding their allergens can be just as important as those who are at risk for anaphylaxis. Sticking to strict elimination and not taking chances on meals and treats that may contain their allergen is an important step in following their care plan for the treatment of EoE.
Celebrating the holidays with food allergies
Food allergies do not have to dampen the spirit of the holidays. April Clark, a 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. If it is a potluck, choose to take several safe dishes and avoid other foods. Bring your own serving utensils for your dishes.
- Do not allow your child to eat any food that you do not have a list of ingredients for.
- 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 make sure your child eats only foods that are safe for them.
- Send a safe treat for your child in case they cannot have any of the provided food items at the party.
- Communicate to your child ahead of time about your plan for staying safe during the holidays. If your child knows they will not be left out of the fun and will still get to indulge in tasty treats, they will be more willing to follow the rules and keep themselves safe!
- 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.
Start planning for this year's holiday events that will revolve around food. Your child's teacher may be willing to provide a special menu or dish for the class party. If there's another child with a food allergy, think about planning a play date that incorporates cooking an allergy-friendly meal for both children. This way, they have fun while navigating their food allergy.
You can also consider submitting a link to this article for your school's newsletter.
Navigating food allergies is challenging year-round but can be even harder during the holidays. Two tips to help: carry an EpiPen; review your Food Allergy Action Plan.
Download your guide to allergen-free lunches
Looking for tips to pack allergy-friendly school lunches? Download the Parents' Guide to Allergen-Free Lunches for kid-friendly recipes that are free of the top eight food allergens. Download now.
The Food Allergy Center at Children's Health & UT Southwestern, located in Dallas and Plano, Texas, treats children and conducts research on pediatric food allergies.
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