I just love the holiday season. Once November hits, I find myself in a better mood all around. I love Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's - all of it. I don't really love the snow, but I definitely love the time with family and friends.
The one difficult thing during the holidays, however, is the food. Who's going to make what...Who's turn is to to bake this or that...and how do we make it safe for everyone to enjoy?
Well, with my extended family, I am normally the one who provides anything that needs to be allergy or sensitivity-friendly. My family always asks what is safe to have, and they do their best, but sometimes I just have to make an alternative or the special dish - especially if it is a more difficult one to make. Sometimes we even make allergy/sensitivity-friendly treats together. It all depends on how busy we are. It all takes weeks of planning, but it is always worth it.
I decided that I would give you all some tips on how to celebrate the remainder of the holidays safely, especially if you're new to the food allergy/sensitivity world.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions! If you are the one providing the meal for food allergic/sensitive people, ask what is ok and what is not. They will appreciate it, I promise! And if you are the one with the allergies/sensitivities, ask what will be on the menu, and be prepared to bring an alternative. It is always better to be safe than sorry!
- Don't be afraid to get together WITHOUT a meal! If there are severe food allergies that make a meal together just impossible, make alternative plans. There is still plenty you can do without food. You can exchange gifts, just watch a movie or play games, make crafts - there are so many options! Be creative! Don't let food allergies or sensitivities rob you of family and friend time when they don't have to. Yes, you'll still have to make sure surfaces are clean, hands washed, etc., but it can be done - and should! Enjoy the time you CAN have - even if it isn't what you ideally wanted. Any time with family and friends is worth it!
- Plan in advance as much as possible! The more details you work out ahead of time, the less stress there is. Work out all the details you can, including an alternate plan in case of last minute changes due to weather or illness. It is so worth the effort to plan ahead! Trust me - there will be a lot of questions about menu choices and such, and the more time you have to work out the kinks, the better!
- Plan for the worst, hope for the best! By this I mean, have your Epi-pens handy, be prepared to clean up the area or leave early if needed, be prepared to bring that last minute "safe dish", but hope they won't be needed. People make mistakes - even those that love you. Something may get overlooked or forgotten. Triple check that the ingredients used were the ones agreed on. We once had a dinner at a friend's house when I suffered from my food allergies. We'd planned for weeks. She'd worked so hard to make sure everything was soy-free, peanut/tree nut-free, and fish/shellfish-free. At the last minute, she decided to use a cooking spray for the pan she made the allergy-friendly rolls on, and lo and behold, the spray had soy in it! She was mortified. I just smiled and told her it was ok - there was plenty of other things for me to eat, and everyone makes mistakes. We were able to have a great time, despite the rolls, and I know you can have similar experiences, too.
- Enjoy yourself! I know how hard it is to relax and enjoy yourself when there is food all over the place, especially if some of it contains your allergen(s), so I won't ask you to relax. Be diligent! You HAVE to be. However, you can still enjoy yourself. Remember that you are with those who love you and care about you and wish you no harm. Give them the chance to prove that. Don't ruin your joy with "what if"s. Be aware as you always are, but try to enjoy the time with friends and family, too.
For some more great tips on how to enjoy the holidays safely, I highly recommend reading this article by Emma Hueber from ConsumerSafety.org called "What's Really in that Fruitcake? Food Allergy Safety During the Holidays". It's excellent, and there is even a great free printable to help you in your meal planning, and that you can display so that people know what's in each dish! Awesome!
At the end of the article is a survey that I really hope you'll take a few moments to fill out, too. It has to do with food allergen labeling, which I believe is so important! We can never get those labels to be exactly what we need unless we make our voices heard, so let your voice be heard! What better time than now? Here's a direct link to the survey, as well: Food Allergens Survey. Thank you for taking the time to participate!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!
May the holidays find you happy, healthy and safe!