May 15, 2015

Don't let food allergies make you a Scrooge

Sherry Thompson knows the challenges of being a parent of a child with food allergies during the holiday season.

Her 3-year-old daughter, Sierra, was diagnosed with egg and milk allergies four months after being born in 2007. When Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled around that year, Sherry was still figuring out how to appropriately feed her baby daughter. So, the idea of having holiday meals at the homes of other people, even if they were family, was a little nerve-wracking.

The first holiday we had after learning about her food allergies was extremely difficult,"

 Sherry said.

Although Thompson's family has come a long way since then, she adds that the holiday season still presents obstacles because of Sierra's food allergies.

"We're actually going out of town this year, and the family that is going to host us is panicking about what they're going to feed us," she said. "I said, 'It's okay. Just make us some plain things. And don't include certain ingredients for some other things.' But obviously you want those certain traditional foods to still be in place.

"We're learning to adjust."

Dr. Drew Bird, who leads the Food Allergy Center at Children's, said Thompson's dilemma isn't unique. The holidays are typically difficult for all parents of children with food allergies.

"The holidays are difficult because of family gatherings or places where parents may not be cooking all of the food," Dr. Bird said. "It just creates a certain level of anxiety and a unique situation that they don't usually experience during the rest of the year because of being around people who they may not have seen in a while and who aren't familiar with their children's dietary needs."

Cooking class helps parents find solution

Part of the solution is that parents may need to make safe food and bring it along with them to holiday gatherings for their children to eat. The other part is informing family members and friends of different ways to cook meals so that everyone, including people with food allergies, can enjoy them.

But in order for parents to do either part, they first need to know how to make food-allergy friendly holiday foods. The Food Allergy Center recently hosted a holiday cooking class to teach them.

Teaching parents how they can make a pie or a stuffing or even just something simple like carrots that are safe for their child to have and tasty for everyone else is a big help,"

Mary Susan Spears, a registered dietitian at Children's who helped lead the class, said. "Then everyone can eat together."

Spears and Children's executive chef Chris Hensel gave a live demonstration on how to cook food-allergy friendly recipes like lemon and sage chicken and glazed dilled carrots. Then they let the parents sample their creations.

The recipes for every item they made – in addition to others like turkey gravy and sausage and grits dressing – were included in a special holiday food allergy cookbook that they gave to the parents in attendance and that is now available online. Alternate ingredients for common food allergens are listed in the recipes, and there are individual lists of substitutes for eggs, milk and wheat.

Sherry Thompson attended and said the cookbook will be especially helpful for her this holiday season.

"It'll be so nice to have the substitutes listed without having to think about anything," she said. "I won't have to go look up something or pull out a chart every time I cook something."