As Thanksgiving approaches, it becomes one of my favorite times of year. I love everything about the holiday season, something that can be difficult for people with food allergies to navigate. I am extremely lucky that all my extended family members are so accommodating. However, I have had these allergies for over 23 years and there was a bit of a learning curve in the beginning. Below are some tips to help you get through this holiday season:
1. Don't be afraid to stand your ground.
If you are uncomfortable being around food you are allergic to, make that clear to your hosts. Offer to walk them through the severity of your allergies and try to offer up a few holiday alternatives you can eat. As my mom has always said, don't say something negative and leave it as someone else's issue. People will likely respond better to a situation when they realize all of the things you can still eat. You're used to living with this allergy, so that list of goodies might come quicker to you than your host, which is why it is worth sharing.
2. Find out any labels/brands before the actual holiday.
Showing up to a cousin's house only to have her use a brand you never heard of is tricky. If I plan on eating, I always try to find out any companies that are being used before the big day. This allows me to reach out to ask my usual food allergy questions and see if they are safe for me to eat. If I didn't know the brand until the holiday, I might not be able to find all my answers on Google, and the company's customer service will be closed for the holiday.
3. If you're more comfortable, bring your own food.
With extended family, I have found it easier to bring my own food to eat. My family members have always gone out of their way to ensure there are absolutely no nuts (my worst allergen) around if I'm at the house. However, cross contamination and good manufacturing practices can be confusing for people who are not dealing with this on a regular basis. I am there to be spending time with my family, not to be hung up on my food. Everyone understands why I bring my food and I'm lucky that nobody makes me feel uncomfortable. I'd rather eat my meal from home and be able to focus on my family and having fun!
4. Always bring a safe dessert.
My mom is basically the dessert queen. She has been making homemade versions of every candy, cookie, and cake imaginable since I was little. Wherever we go, we always bring a tray of desserts. This allows me to have something safe that everyone else is eating and not feel like an "outcast." I always understood my allergies, but when I was little, dessert was tough. That's why my mom always made the best looking dessert in the room! Now, there are so many alternatives you can buy, so if baking isn't your thing you can still provide something sweet and safe.
5. Prepare for the unexpected.
I often forget how tricky it can be navigating food allergies for a single day as it's my life. As careful as family members or hosts may be, mistakes do happen. They may accidentally put out their traditional trail mix without even thinking or have little chocolates sitting on everyone's plate. People are trying, but it is still hard to not get frustrated or upset. I always try to stay calm and just remind the host of my allergies. Majority of the time, they panic and feel incredibly guilty for forgetting. The allergen immediately gets put away, and we can move on with our celebrations. Most people I have come across want me to feel comfortable and safe in their home and appreciate when I speak up about my allergies.
6. Always bring your medications with you.
This one is so important. Auvi-Q or EpiPen, make sure it is with you at all times. Don't leave it in the car or at the bottom of a pile of jackets. Make sure they are somewhere easily accessible. I always know exactly where to find both mine and my mom's purse, each containing my Auvi-Q's, in case something were to happen. Being prepared is the first step in ensuring holiday safety.
I absolutely love spending the holidays with my family and really don't focus on my food allergies. Of course they are addressed every year, but we've adapted to focus on the time together, not just make it about the food. That being said, my parents host an amazing allergy friendly Thanksgiving, coming up with something new and creative for me each year. Stay tuned for this year's allergy friendly Thanksgiving recipes!