Category Archives: Holidays & Food Allergies

Food Allergies & Buffets

Easter 2000

 

With the Easter holiday coming soon, the topic of food allergies and buffets is surely to be on any food allergy family’s mind!

The picture above was taken when Morgan was 3 years old, and we ate out for the first time at a buffet for Easter. We really weren’t thinking of all the issues that could occur! Have you ever done something that is so risky and only realized it afterward? Well, that’s how that Easter meal was for us.

We looked around at all the food and determined what was safe for Morgan to eat by asking a few questions like, “Does this food contain peanuts?” Then we served it up for him to eat. We didn’t think about whether the serving utensil had been used to serve other foods. Or whether the food service employee even knew whether the food contained peanuts or not!

There was an abundance of shrimp, crab and lobster being served at that buffet – all on Morgan’s severe allergy list at that time. We just steered him clear of that area, but many family members ate that food.

Despite all of our risky behavior, Morgan had no reaction. However, we learned later that we were lucky. Since then, we have not eaten at a buffet at either a restaurant or at someone’s house.

We have learned the following about buffets:

If there is anything along the buffet line that contains your child’s allergen – it could also end up in foods that are safe for your child. Serving utensils are frequently shared!

Asking a chef for the details about the food ingredients and preparation is the only way to know what is in a food. We have found that buffet foods are frequently made by an army of individuals in hotels, for example. One employee is very unlikely to know everything about every buffet food item.

If your family members want to eat at a restaurant buffet for a special occasion, bring a safe meal for your child!

When eating at a buffet at someone’s home, we allow Morgan to serve his food first only from what we have cooked and brought ! We have never felt comfortable with him eating food that other people have prepared, no matter how well-meaning they are.

We recently attended a luncheon at a local university that was hosting scholarship interviewees and their parents. Morgan had emailed ahead of time to request a meal accommodation free of his allergens – peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish. He never heard back from the kitchen staff about his request. Therefore, he asked me to bring him a safe lunch since he was interviewing all morning and didn’t want to bring a lunchbox to the interview! 

As we entered the luncheon hall, the buffet appeared to have mostly safe foods for all of his allergens. There was salad, bread, spaghetti noodles, meatballs and vegetables. Morgan asked the kitchen manager about his safe meal request. Her response was, “Oh you wanted the nut free meal.” Well, that wasn’t the only allergen, but that was a place to start! She asked another employee to advise Morgan about what was safe for him to eat.

The employee stated, “don’t eat the salad because it has nuts in it.” Morgan said, “I’m also allergic to sesame.” The employee said, “then don’t eat the bread.” Morgan then said, “I’m also allergic to fish and shellfish,” and the employee responded, “better not eat the meatballs then!” By then, the entire meal was not edible. He pulled out his sack lunch and dove into a safe meal. Lesson learned!

 

A Food Allergy Ah-ha Moment with the Holiday Meal

If your house is like ours at holiday time – managing food allergies with the holiday meal creates stress. Stress for us means arguments about what is safe for our son to eat, and what isn’t safe. Inevitably these stressful situations occur with extended family coming to our house for a holiday meal where we have entrusted others in the family to make safe foods.

holiday_dinner

Our son, Morgan, is almost 18 years old, so managing holiday meals isn’t anything new. We’ve concluded that eating at our house is a must. Other family members have dogs, cats, and others who have since passed away, were smokers. This is a recipe for disaster for our son and his asthma and allergies. The holiday meal is therefore the big issue to conquer.

We’ve always agreed that Morgan doesn’t eat food made by anyone else. Too many times well-meaning friends or family have tried to bake birthday treats or provide safe snacks for our son at a party. Unless the food has a label on it, we’ve always agreed that Morgan says “no thank you” and he eats the food we provide. We don’t know how others prepare food or what precautions they take in their kitchen. How well do they wash their baking pans? Did the spatula also pick up peanut butter cookies? There’s so many chances for errors in even the most well-meaning friend or family member.

But when it comes to family, it gets dicey. We can’t always cook EVERYTHING for the extended family and our family. That’s a lot of cooking and a lot of money to provide that much food. So, we ask them to bring certain foods, with a long list of “don’ts” attached: don’t bring anything with his allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish or shellfish), don’t bring anything that says “manufactured in a facility…” with any of his allergens, don’t make food at home – make it at our house in front of us – if you want Morgan to eat it. It’s a lot for others who don’t have food allergies to understand why all of this is necessary.

It’s taken years of education and plenty of discussions, and more discussions, to explain the seriousness of food allergies, and what happens when a mistake occurs. Our extended family has gotten really good at understanding what’s necessary to keep Morgan safe. Yet, do they understand enough to cook for him?

That brings us to this year’s holiday meal and celebration, which occurred for us last night. My husband had been the communicator with his brother and the family. When there was a change in the main course from a turkey to a ham, I began to get frightened. I was feeling uncomfortable with Morgan eating the turkey to begin with because it was going to be cooked at THEIR house! Now, with a ham there’s the glaze ingredients to worry about. My husband and I began a discussion about the issue, and brought Morgan in to determine how to deal with this change of plans.

Then I had an AH-HA moment!

Why are my husband arguing over this? Morgan is old enough to be responsible for this issue. He eats out with his friends and can manage restaurants. Surely he can get on the phone with family members and negotiate a safe meal for himself. It’s time for my husband and I to take a step back from all this and allow Morgan to self-advocate.

The result? The ham was cooked at our house; Morgan prepared the glaze after reading the ingredients and everyone had a wonderful time!

For future celebrations, Morgan will be on the phone talking with family members about the meal prior to the day of the celebration. My husband and I can find something else to argue about  😉  and we promised to not second-guess Morgan’s decision about what he eats. It’s up to him to keep himself safe.

Problem solved with everyone in agreement. Amazing!

 

AllergicChild.com & Food Free Valentine’s Day Parties

Valentine’s Day is traditionally a day of chocolates and candies in celebration of the day. Too many of my son, Morgan’s, school parties were laden with treats. I rarely looked forward to helping plan the party.

There are so many ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day without food – or at least with safe foods for everyone! Here’s some ideas to help you plan a great safe party for all kids. Many of these ideas came from readers on our Facebook page here.

Love-you-loads-valentines-day-10369002-300-300

 

  1. Beading friendship bracelets
  2. Beading keychains
  3. Bingo
  4. Card-making party and exchange
  5. Balloon games (if no latex allergies)
  6. Fruit kabobs (check for allergies first)
  7. Pin the heart on Cupid
  8. Bowling for hearts
  9. Decorate a picture frame for parents
  10. Minute to Win it games
  11. Musical chairs
  12. Freeze dance

Morgan says: Well, Valentine’s Day has been a very interesting experience, especially with school. Let’s go with what worked first. In third grade, my teacher asked that all the Valentine boxes be put in the hallway. That definitely worked, so that there would be no problems with M&M’s and various other candies that were brought in with the Valentine cards. My fourth grade teacher asked that no candy be brought in, and said that she would supply safe candy. This definitely worked. We had a dance that year during the school day and everyone dressed up. It was great!

In fifth grade, my teacher asked that no candy be brought in and she would supply none either. She was tired of all the sweets brought into school.

What didn’t work? In second grade, a kid brought in peanut M&M’s as treats with his cards. That did not go over well. He was Chinese and knew only a little English though so that was technically a misunderstanding. He brought in his cards early, so my teacher was able to send the candy and the cards home and ask his parents to help him bring in something safe.

In 6th grade, I wasn’t in school on Valentine’s Day because it was a teacher workday in our district. Our classrooms didn’t have any parties. Students could sign up for a candy stick to be sent to a ‘special someone.’ I didn’t sign up for one or receive one. In 7th and 8th grade, this candy stick event didn’t go. Nothing really happened for Valentine’s Day, besides a hat day or a fundraising event.

In high school, there are no classroom parties for Valentine’s Day nor is there anything to purchase to send to someone.

Overall, it’s a great opportunity for food allergic children to practice self-advocacy.

Back to Mom:

Isn’t it amazing how many holidays and celebrations involve food? We never realized how much food is a part of the American culture until we had a child with food allergies. With Valentine’s Day we had to always be mindful of the various ways that our son could come in contact with his allergens.

Many children at our son’s elementary school brought in candy along with Valentine’s Day cards. Yearly, we reminded our son and his teacher to watch for unsafe candy coming into the classroom. It’s always best to prepare for such prior to the event occurring and to ensure your child’s teacher knows what to do!

We’ve found that many candies are not safe for the peanut, nut or milk allergic. Reminding teachers to ask students to bring in safe treats, or none at all increases awareness of food allergies when students and parents may not remember. One year when my son was in preschool, a parent was asked by the teacher to please bring in safe candies, upon which she commented, “you mean he’s still allergic?” Yes! Every day of the year, he’s still allergic!

We hope that you can enjoy Valentine’s Day this year safely and maybe without food being part of the celebration at school!

Thanksgiving and Food Allergy Safety

The Thanksgiving holiday is almost upon us, and if you’re like us food allergies can take center stage! This can be a wonderful time of joy and sharing time with friends and extended family members. It can also be a stressful time worrying about what your child eats or what food is being served!

A plan of action before the day is a must.

We have spent Thanksgiving Day at home and at the home of relatives. I’ve found myself being more comfortable in the safety of our home because I know what foods have been made in the kitchen. If your child has pet allergies in addition to food allergies, as our son does, then all celebrations need to occur in a safe location. For years, that was at our house, because all the relatives had dogs or cats.

When we do go out of town, we have rented a condominium that is pet and smoke free, and then we invite the relatives there. If you don’t have these multiple limitations, you can still choose a safe location where the food can be monitored in its preparation. This might end up being at your house to ensure no cross-contamination issues.

Plan for the food.

We have found that it works best if we give our relatives a list of food items that our son cannot eat. We have explained to them the seriousness of the potential reaction, and that he cannot even touch peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, fish and shellfish. I can tell you that the best laid plans still aren’t followed in the cases of some families like ours! At times like this, we’ve found that it’s best to get out of their kitchen, and carefully monitor our son’s whereabouts. If possible, we remove the offending food item, especially if it won’t seriously damage the family relationships.

Make sure that you read all labels of any store-bought products.

Natural flavors can include almost anything. Call the product manufacturer prior to the day of Thanksgiving to ensure the product is safe. Waiting until the day of Thanksgiving will be too late, since most manufacturers are closed for the holiday! For home baked items we’ve found it’s best to make them ourselves. There’s always a chance of a peanut butter sandwich being in the kitchen while the other food items are prepared at someone else’s house. Where we would be careful about such a chance of cross-contact, people unaware and inexperienced with food allergies wouldn’t necessarily take such a precaution.

Traveling with Food Allergies

Traveling by car is easier than traveling by plane, especially if you plan on bringing safe foods from home. We’ve traveled many times by car, and brought a cooler of food. I’ve even heard of some families traveling with a refrigerator and microwave to ensure safe meals for a long road trip! Some airlines will announce a peanut-free flight; however I’ve heard from many families that giving the airlines the information about your child’s peanut allergies at the time of reservations doesn’t necessarily mean the flight will be peanut-free when you arrive at the airport. Various airlines have information on their websites stating they are peanut-free, yet I’ve seen these exact airlines serve nut and peanut products!

Find out what is being served on the flight when you make a reservation and request a peanut-free flight. Then be prepared to speak with the ticket agent and others when you arrive at the airport. Bring hand wipes, and even a twin sized sheet to put on the airline seat to protect your child from having any contact reaction. Traveling in the morning is better because the planes tend to be cleaner. Let the flight attendant know about your child’s food allergies. With so many people bringing food onto airline flights today, there’s a high likelihood that someone will bring on peanuts or nuts to eat while in flight. You may be able to change seats should that someone be seated right next to you! The flight attendant may also be willing to announce a peanut-free flight over the loudspeaker, or provide a 3 row buffer zone in front of and behind you.

My son and I have flown Southwest Airlines for the past several years, and have had very good experiences overall. While other flights are served peanuts, our flight is not. When we purchase the tickets online, there’s an area to mark a disability. Peanut dust allergy is listed in this area. When we arrive at the airport, my son is given a pre-boarding pass which allows us to pre-board the plane, wipe down his seat, tray table and surrounding area. He has never had an issue with any peanut residue left from previous flights, but if your child is HIGHLY sensitive this airline may not be your best choice.

Plan for the fun.

We try to focus as much on non-food fun for our son’s sake so that the entire holiday doesn’t end up being a long list of don’ts. We take a walk, play board games, and play cards. We make sure that every visitor is aware of our son’s allergies so that they can protect him from harm. Morgan’s allergies were better understood by the other children in the family– almost more than the adults – when he was young! The children wanted Morgan to be a part of the fun, so they were careful about their food choices.

We have more information about traveling and eating out with food allergies click here

Let me know what has worked for you on Thanksgiving by emailing me – Nicole at AllergicChild.com .

AllergicChild, Halloween Fun & Safety

Managing food allergies and Halloween isn’t always easy, but we have found ways to have fun.  Since it’s a holiday immersed in food, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and want to not participate at all. Our son never allowed the thought of not trick-or-treating to enter his mind! Therefore, we learned how to handle the holiday and keep him safe too. Here are some of our ideas to enjoy Halloween and also to keep it safe:

First, have your child choose a great costume.  The dressing up part was most of the fun for my son.  The candy was an afterthought.  We’ve made costumes and allowed him to be a part of this so that he can get really excited for this part of Halloween.

My son usually had a Halloween/dress up party at preschool and elementary school for which he always brought his own snacks.  Some of these parties were elaborate events with a huge amount of food brought into the classroom. This is where I found that being a Room Mother was vital! I was able to help plan the party and ensure that only safe foods were brought in. Also, I attended the party to ensure that nothing unsafe was brought in. You’d be surprised how many parents have forgotten about nut-free snacks being required in the classroom by the time Halloween comes around. We learned to ask the teacher to send out a reminder notice prior to the party day asking for only nut-free food to be brought in. Letters at the beginning of school regarding a nut-free classroom can be but a memory to parents who don’t deal with food allergies daily.

As my son aged, we found many teachers were no longer willing to have a bunch of sugary snacks brought into the classroom at 9 am for kids to gorge on before lunch. We had many teachers give guidelines for the snacks such as only one sugary treat, and everything else had to be fruits or vegetables! Boy did we love that kind of teacher! I never trusted even the most well-meaning parent to bring in safe food for Morgan. Cross contamination in their kitchen could occur, even if they were supposedly making a safe treat. We always provided Morgan’s food for these events, or I brought the foods for the party and showed him which ones he could eat.

The rest of the class had nut free snacks that another parent provided.  I have brought special treats for my son to pass out to his friends from Vermont Nut Free Chocolates or from one of the other safe allergy food companies listed on our site here. It was very exciting for the class to have candy that he could enjoy too. This especially helped in the preschool years.

For Trick or Treating, we purchase only food that he can eat to give out at our door or we give out mini-Play-Doh or plastic rings and spiders.  When he was younger, and we would go out Trick-or-Treating through our neighborhood, he would occasionally ask for a nut free snack from a neighbor!  Most of the time people thought that was cute, and didn’t really understand.  We’ve asked him to just say thank you regardless of the food he receives. Our agreement has always been to not eat ANYTHING until we get home! I know of some food allergic families who will give out safe candies to their neighbors and tell them what costume their child will be wearing so that only safe foods will be brought home. This can work great especially if you know your neighbors well!

Once home, we pore over the candy he receives and begin to put it into piles.  The candy that we know has nuts in it goes into the pile to give out to other trick-or-treaters coming to the door.  In this way, this candy doesn’t stay in the house where an accidental mix up can occur.  Added to this pile is candy that he doesn’t like, and candy that doesn’t have a label on it.  If we don’t know the candy and it doesn’t have a label on it, we don’t allow our son to eat it.  What is left over is the candy he can eat.  This is candy or treats that we know are safe.  Raisins and Dum Dum lollipops were some of his favorites as a little boy.  There usually isn’t much candy in this “safe” pile, so I allow him to exchange some of his candy for safe treats or pennies/nickels/dimes that I have on hand. Be especially careful to read labels on all candies. Some ‘regular’ size candy bars are safe, but the Halloween size ones are manufactured in a different facility and therefore may not be safe.

My daughter doesn’t have peanut allergies; however most years she gave away her peanut candy also.  She felt better doing this, and we allowed her to make her own decision.  We kept her candy separate, with her name on it in a separate cabinet from my son’s candy.  For any candy that she kept that could cross with peanuts in the manufacturing process (such as M&M’s), we ensured that she ate these outside of the house.

This year, with Morgan a junior in high school, there won’t be any Halloween parties at school and therefore no extra foods brought in. The kids are allowed to wear costumes, but the day isn’t centered on parties. I must say it’s a welcomed relief to have him in high school!

Remember that Halloween is just one day, but vigilance is required. Make sure to discuss with your child what your expectations are about foods brought into his/her classroom. Discuss a plan for the day and what you expect in terms of your child eating safe foods at school parties. We found that talking about scenarios prior to the day helped Morgan to deal with the unexpected like unsafe foods brought into the classroom.

I also had already cleared with the teacher that if an unsafe food was brought into the classroom that he/she would deal with the parent and ask that the food be taken back home. A parent’s hurt feelings are preferable to a child going into anaphylactic shock.

Overall, try to have a fun day!

Halloween & Food Allergies

Managing food allergies and Halloween isn’t always easy, but we have found ways to have fun. Since it’s a holiday immersed in food, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and want to not participate at all. Our son never allowed the thought of not trick-or-treating to enter his mind! Therefore, we learned how to handle the holiday and keep him safe too. Here are some of our ideas to enjoy Halloween and also to keep it safe!

First, have your child choose a great costume. The dressing up part was most of the fun for my son. The candy was an afterthought. We’ve made costumes and allowed him to be a part of this so that he can get really excited for this part of Halloween.
We have read The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) book, “Alexander Goes Trick-or-Treating” many times. This is a good book to begin discussing ways to deal with Halloween and food allergies. (This book may be purchased online by visiting the FAAN website here.)

My son usually had a Halloween/dress up party at preschool and elementary school for which he always brought his own snacks. Some of these parties were elaborate events with a huge amount of food brought into the classroom. This is where I found that being a Room Mother was vital! I was able to help plan the party and ensure that only safe foods were brought in. Also, I attended the party to ensure that nothing unsafe was brought in. You’d be surprised how many parents have forgotten about nut-free snacks being required in the classroom by the time Halloween comes around. We learned to ask the teacher to send out a reminder notice prior to the party day asking for only nut-free food to be brought in. Letters at the beginning of school regarding a nut-free classroom can be but a memory to parents who don’t deal with food allergies daily.

As my son aged, we found many teachers were no longer willing to have a bunch of sugary snacks brought into the classroom at 9 am for kids to gorge on before lunch. We had many teachers give guidelines for the snacks such as only one sugary treat, and everything else had to be fruits or vegetables! Boy did we love that kind of teacher! I never trusted even the most well-meaning parent to bring in safe food for Morgan. Cross contamination in their kitchen could occur, even if they were supposedly making a safe treat. We always provided Morgan’s food for these events, or I brought the foods for the party and showed him which ones he could eat.

The rest of the class had nut free snacks that another parent provided. I have brought special treats for my son to pass out to his friends from Vermont Nut Free Chocolates or from one of the other safe allergy food companies listed on our site here. It was very exciting for him to have candy that he could enjoy too. This especially helped in the preschool years.

For Trick or Treating, we purchase only food that he can eat to give out at our door or we give out mini-Play-Doh or plastic rings and spiders. When he was younger, and we would go out trick-or-treating through our neighborhood, he would occasionally ask for a nut free snack from a neighbor! Most of the time people thought that was cute, and didn’t really understand. We’ve asked him to just say thank you regardless of the food he receives. Our agreement has always been to not eat ANYTHING until we get home! I know of some food allergic families who will give out safe candies to their neighbors and tell them what costume their child will be wearing so that only safe foods will be brought home. This can work great especially if you know your neighbors well!

Once home, we pore over the candy he receives and begin to put it into piles. The candy that we know has nuts in it goes into the pile to give out to other trick-or-treaters coming to the door. In this way, this candy doesn’t stay in the house where an accidental mix up can occur. Added to this pile is candy that he doesn’t like, and candy that doesn’t have a label on it. If we don’t know the candy and it doesn’t have a label on it, we don’t allow our son to eat it. What is left over is the candy he can eat. This is candy or treats that we know are safe. Raisins and Dum Dum lollipops were some of his favorites as a little boy. There usually isn’t much candy in this “safe” pile, so I allow him to exchange some of his candy for safe treats or pennies/nickels/dimes that I have on hand or other safe candy. Be especially careful to read labels on all candies. Some ‘regular’ size candy bars are safe, but the Halloween size ones are manufactured in a different facility and therefore may not be safe.

My daughter doesn’t have peanut allergies; however most years she gave away her peanut candy also. She felt better doing this, and we allowed her to make her own decision. We kept her candy separate, with her name on it in a separate cabinet from my son’s candy. For any candy that she kept that could cross with peanuts in the manufacturing process (such as M&M’s), we ensured that she ate these outside of the house.

This year, with Morgan in 10th grade, there won’t be any Halloween parties at school and therefore no extra foods brought in. The kids are allowed to wear costumes, but the day isn’t centered on parties. I must say it’s a welcomed relief to have him in high school!

Remember that Halloween is just one day, but vigilance is required. Make sure to discuss with your child what your expectations are about foods brought into his/her classroom. Discuss a plan for the day and what you expect in terms of your child eating safe foods at school parties. We found that talking about scenarios prior to the day helped Morgan to deal with the unexpected like unsafe foods brought into the classroom.

I also had already cleared with the teacher that if an unsafe food was brought into the classroom that he/she would deal with the parent and ask that the food be taken back home. A parent’s hurt feelings are preferable to a child going into anaphylactic shock!

Overall, try to have a fun day!