I’m happy to have Kara Salazar on the blog today to give us some perspective and encouragement with 6 ways to welcome a guest with food allergies during the holidays!
Our son gave me a title I never thought I would carry: Allergy Mom.
Our allergy life journey started in 2015 when our then 2 and half year old son had an anaphylactic reaction to cashews. Food allergies do not really run in our family so we had zero previous experience with food allergies. Our allergist was not much help either other than telling us to avoid the food he is allergic to and gave us a folder with information on the top eight food allergies. In the doctor’s office it did not sound too complicated, just do not let him eat peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, corn, oranges or apricots… Then we got home and reality set in as I started reading more information about food allergies and soon realized we were in for a complete life style change.
One of the biggest challenges for us is going to someone else’s house for any special occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas because there will be food, and lots of it. We try to plan ahead and bring food for our son so he will have safe food to eat, but we have had hosts ask us what they can do ensure their home is a safe environment for him.
With the holidays around the corner, maybe you are hosting a friend or family member with a food allergy. Here is a list of some things you can do to ensure they have a safe dining experience at your house:
1. Talk to your guest before hand
If you know you have a friend or family member with food allergies, talk to them in advance to see if there is anything you can do to make their time in your home safer for them. Every person’s reaction to their allergy is different; for instance some people cannot even be in the same room as their allergen, others can be in the same room but cannot touch anything their allergen has touched. Everyone reacts differently to their allergens so its important to have this conversation. Allergies are not a “one size fits all.” For our family, even though our son has multiple food allergies, he is only severely allergic to cashews so we ask for food not to contain cashews and if they have cashews in the house to lock them up out of children’s reach. He can be in the same room as cashews, but he is known for sneaking tastes of food so it’s in his best interest if he does not have easy access to them.
2. Plan your menu and recipes
Don’t wait until the last minute to plan your menu. Some allergies are harder to avoid than you would think. Like, did you know there is wheat and soy in a can of cream of chicken soup? Or there can be dairy in lunchmeats? So plan your menu ahead of time, double check the ingredients to be sure they are allergy friendly so you do not get caught off guard at last minute. If there is a dish you really wanted to make but you’re not sure how to make safe and still tasty with substitutions, ask your guest for some ideas. Chances are they have probably already encountered the same issue and can offer some great suggestions.
3. Check your ingredients
I cannot stress this one enough. As a rule of thumb, you should check the list of ingredients 3 times. Once when you are in the store, once when you are putting your food away and again when you get ready to actually prepare a dish. If the allergen is in the top eight (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, or wheat) then the ingredient should be in bold print or say contains (blank allergen) below the list of ingredients. (Food manufactures currently do not have to say if a product was produced in the same facility or on shared lines as the top 8 allergens.) When in doubt, snap a picture of the ingredients and send it to your guest to confirm it does not contain their allergy.
4. Labels and serving ware
Label your foods, and list if it contains an allergy ingredient. By doing this it lets all your guests know what each dish is, but also helps take the guesswork out for those with allergies. Also have clean, dedicated serving ware for each dish. This will help eliminate the possibility of cross contamination between dishes.
5. Do not be offended
For our family, we cannot trust anyone to prepare food for our son except ourselves, so we bring our own food for him to eat. We truly appreciate our friends and family’s willingness to go out of their way to prepare a safe meal for him, but his corn allergy alone is very difficult to avoid and it takes him days to recover if he ingests it. Some people cannot eat food if it is cooked in a pot/pan that has previously been used to cook their allergen. So please do not be offended if your guest brings their own food. I promise as a member of the allergy community, we would much rather be able to come to your home and eat all of your delicious food you took your time to plan and prepare than to have to prepare a meal at our house and pack it before coming over.
6. Have an emergency action plan
This may sound drastic, but if your guest had a reaction would know what to look for or what to do? Familiarize yourself with the signs of an allergic reaction; for a list of major and minor allergy reactions check out foodallergy.org. Also, ask your guest if they carry an epipen, where they keep it if they do, and know how to use it. And in case of a minor reaction have some Benadryl on hand.
If you complete these 6 simple steps you and your guest should have a great time together, and everyone will go home happy and healthy.
My name is Kara, I have been married to my best friend for almost 10 years and we have 3 beautiful, fun, amazing kids ages 6 years, 4 years and 1 month old. To maintain my sanity and have some quiet time I enjoy training for half marathons or triathlons, reading and recreating some of our family favorite foods safe for our son with multiple allergies to eat.