Every year at this time, I have a text or email conversation with various relatives about Christmas parties, food, and food allergies and I thought it might be helpful to other parents of children with allergies or if you happen to have a friend or loved one with food allergies, to see how we deal with it.
Christmas is a particularly dangerous time of year for people with peanut/tree nut allergies. I mean think about how much food there is everywhere, all the time! And cookies and baked goods are very high on the list of dangerous foods for people with nut allergies. And there are lots of traditional holiday foods that involve nuts. Roasted chestnuts! Walnut stuffing! Pecan pie! Almonds on green beans! And so many nutty cookies! So we do have to be extra careful.
We are, however really really lucky to have had our family members on both sides of the family be nothing but careful, understanding and accommodating. Aa’s family has even given up pecan pie at Thanksgiving for us!
It’s tough because while O is still so young, if it’s at all possible, we prefer, if we can arrange it, to be in as nut free as environment as possible. And of course, we realize this isn’t convenient for other people. But at age 3, (and when he was younger) O is pretty good but he isn’t always the best listener. I don’t feel 100% confident that he won’t snag a cookie without asking. And additionally, if he were to eat something and start to feel sick, I’m not sure he would know to tell us or be able to accurately able to tell us what his symptoms were. And finally, when kids are little and cute, people like to smooch them. And if someone ate one of those delicious peanut butter thumbprint cookies with the hershey kiss on top (can you tell I miss those?) and then smooched him, it would not be good.
So for now, our family has been kind enough to eliminate all obvious peanuts and tree nuts from holiday festivities so that we don’t have to worry as much. It has been a learning curve though so I wanted to share my holiday tips for both parents of kids with nut allergies and tips for people who might have someone visiting their home who has an allergy. And as always my advice should never replace the advice of a doctor. If you have questions about how to handle your food allergies, or what you can or cannot eat etc, please speak with your physician. This advice is only based on my personal experience and I am not a doctor.
Holiday Tips for Hosts of Allergic Guests
1. Ask questions!
The food allergy discussion always goes better when it’s a dialog. If you have questions, please ask them and don’t worry that they’ll be “stupid.” We (parents of allergic kids) love when people ask questions, it puts our minds at ease. It also makes us worry less that we’re annoying you.
2. Please don’t take anything personally!
If we ask you if you wouldn’t mind not serving your famous green beans almondine or peanut brittle, please remember, it’s not because we think you’re not a good cook. Our #1 priority is the safety of our child. Period. End of Story. If you are able to accommodate requests like this, it makes our life sooooo much easier and we appreciate it more than you can possibly know.
3. Please don’t offer to bake for us.
This goes hand in hand with #2 because this offer is always meant to be helpful and is offered with so much kindness. It kills me to have to turn people down when they go out of their way like this. But on the advice of our doctor, O doesn’t eat baked goods that weren’t made in a nut free environment. It’s NOT because we don’t trust you. So again, please don’t take it personally. It’s that the opportunity for cross-contamination for nut allergies and baked goods is really high.
Let me give you three examples. Say someone makes some buttered toast for breakfast and they love that Brownberry Health Nut bread. Then later they go to bake cookies and use the rest of that stick of butter in the recipe. Now all of the cookies are potentially contaminated. And yes maybe that seems like a miniscule amount but some people have allergies that really are that serious.
And here’s another example, suppose someone made chocolate chip cookies with walnuts two months ago. They used the same 1/2 cup measuring scoop to scoop the nuts and then the flour. Now all of the flour is contaminated and they might not even remember doing it.
And my final contamination hypothetical, suppose someone is making jam thumbprint cookies. On the face of it, there are no nuts in the recipe. But if they used the jam jar from their refrigerator and they have EVER made a PB&J sandwich in their house, that jam jar is actually really really dangerous.
So again, it’s not that we don’t trust you. It’s just too risky.
4. Save boxes and bags!
After you put out those tortilla chips and dip for snacks, hang onto the bag and container so I can take a peek and make sure it’s safe. Again, it’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that I have a lot more experience reading labels and want to be sure.
5. Give everything an extra wipe!
Not that your house isn’t clean already! I definitely don’t mean to imply that! Just, for everyone’s peace of mind, give everything an extra good wipedown and make sure your kitchen and any surfaces food might touch are clean and free of any crumbs or food residue, especially if you have eaten or cooked with nuts recently. Put any nuts or unsafe foods away where a little one won’t be able to reach them. And if you have a small child yourself, be extra careful to clean toys and high chairs if you are a family that eats a lot of peanut butter. That stuff is sticky!
6. Know how much we appreciate you being accommodating!
I always try to tell hosts this repeatedly. But it can never be said enough. As the parent of an allergic child, I totally realize that having us over is not really convenient and probably kind of scary. But by helping us make the environment as safe as we can, you are helping my child have as normal as a childhood as he can AND you are protecting him from something potentially life threatening. Unknown situations can be totally terrifying for me and I literally worry about food safety all. the. time. Any help and understanding I get is so so so appreaciated.