The holiday season is filled with lots of get-togethers, celebrations and seasonal treats. If you or a loved one has a food allergy, however, it can also be filled with a bit of anxiety. But don’t let having a food allergy sour your holiday cheer.
Whether you’re eating close to home or traveling across state lines, here are some tips to help you safely glide through the holidays.
Tips for avoiding allergens at home
Be the host. If you’ll be close to home this holiday season, why not host the event yourself? This way you can make sure the food served is safe and let guests know what they can and cannot bring into the home.
Educate guests. If guests will be contributing to the meal, make sure everyone who prepares, handles and serves food you will eat knows these steps to prevent an allergic reaction:
- Read food labels before preparing food. Kindly ask guests to share the ingredients list if they have any questions.
- Wash hands with soap and water before handling food to prevent cross-contamination.
- Prepare and serve food with separate, clean utensils to avoid cross-contamination.
Designate a special area for allergen foods. If there are multiple food allergens, it may be difficult to avoid all ingredients. In this case, try setting dishes you know aren’t allergy-friendly at a designated table along with specific utensils separate from the allergy-free table.
Label food. Make a decorative place card listing ingredients for each dish to make it easier for guests to identify any potential problems.
Tips for avoiding allergens when celebrating at someone else’s house
Offer to help the host. If you help plan the menu or shop for ingredients, you can choose items you know are safe. If you help cook, you can help ensure dishes are prepared without allergens.
BYOSF (Bring your own safe food). Offer to bring a safe dish or pack your own special meal. Your host will be thankful not to have to prepare separate food items. You can also pack allergen-free snacks to nibble on before the big meal.
Request that allergen-free food items remain separate. If the host can’t keep the kitchen area free of allergens, suggest ahead of time keeping the allergen-free food items in a separate location with their own utensils.
Serve yourself first. When it’s time for everyone to eat, get your or a loved one’s food first. You can choose safe foods before they can potentially become contaminated when others start serving themselves.
Tips for avoiding allergens when celebrating at a restaurant
Research safe dining options. If you’re travelling during the holidays, this can be especially important. Check out the local restaurants in the area you’ll be staying in and see if you can get ahold of menus and ingredient listings. You may want to consider chain restaurants as well, because very often they use the same ingredients and prepare foods the same way.
Bring a chef card. To help make sure the foods you are ordering don’t contain food allergens and the kitchen staff can reduce the risk of cross-contamination, you can bring a "chef card" with you to share with the chef or manager.
It’s OK to send food back. Mistakes can happen in the kitchen, so it’s perfectly fine to send food back if you requested your food allergen to be removed from the dish and it wasn’t.
For more information about dining out with food allergies, check out foodallergy.org for guidance.
Tips to keep in mind if you have young children with food allergies
Kids with food allergies, particularly little ones, don’t always know what foods contain their food allergens. You don’t want them running over at a party to grab a cookie only to find out it’s loaded with nuts and they have a life-threatening nut allergy.
Here are some ground rules you can discuss together to manage their food allergy:
- Only accept food from people who are aware of their food allergies.
- Prepare your child’s plate first so there is a reduced risk for cross-contamination.
- Communicate a plan with your child ahead of time for staying safe on holidays. Bring safe treats with you to the holiday party or set up a plan to get tasty treats after the party if they are unable to indulge at that time. They will be more willing to follow the rules and keep themselves safe.
One more tip: Always carry an EpiPen (epinephrine injection)
Even taking all precautions, there is always the possibility that you or a loved one accidentally ingests something you shouldn’t and experience an allergic reaction. Your health care provider can prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector if you are at risk for severe anaphylaxis.
If you are concerned that you or your child may be suffering from a food allergy, don’t wait. Schedule an appointment with one of our Banner Health allergists and immunologists who can help diagnose and treat you. To find a Banner Health doctor, visit bannerhealth.com.