Easter will soon be here and so will family celebrations that naturally revolve around food! However, food allergy safe Easter celebrations are possible. I wanted to compile some of my best tips for holiday dining with the family.
Easter is tricky because a restaurant Easter Brunch is often part of the festivities. Please be extra careful at a "buffet" brunch. Risk of cross-contact is astronomical and many brunch dishes contain tree nuts. Sometimes bringing some safe foods for your child is the best thing you can do when faced with this issue. Don't take a chance at buffets. If you know you will be going to a brunch, call the restaurant now and see if you can have a "safe" item prepared separately in the kitchen.
Now, onto the at-home celebrations! Last year, I received the FAAN spring newsletter and I want to share a few of their allergy free Easter tips:
1. Instead of decorating real eggs, paint, decoupage or bead wooden eggs available at craft stores or online. Plastic eggs can also be decorated using stickers, ribbons and permanent markers.
2. Fill baskets with small toys, cars, dolls, crayons or mini stuffed animals, instead of putting the focus on food.
3. Organize an Easter egg hunt using plastic eggs. Fill them with coins or stickers or even coupons for activities such as roller skating or movies, instead of candy.
I also want to address family meals because of course, they are part of the fun but you've got to be careful. Here's what works for me:
1. Communicate about the allergy early and often. Whether you plan to attend a dinner outside of your home or you are the host family, you want to put the word out now about your nut allergy concerns. Things to discuss would be safe brands of bread for stuffing, gravy sauces or sauce enhancers or mixes, stuffing recipes in general (many contain pecans, pine nuts or other nuts), desserts and cross-contamination when cooking or baking. You want to give people plenty of notice about the food to help ensure safe choices. Many times people set their menus and decide what they plan to bring to a dinner early, so go on, make that call today!
2. Offer to provide safe alternatives to family favorites. Does someone always want to make pecan pie or peanut butter blossom cookies? See if you can make an alternative pie or offer to make the cookies using SunButter (sunflower seed butter) or soybutter. Or, introduce a new recipe that may become a nut-free family favorite.
3. Be careful at the buffet table. Buffet tables present cross-contact problems, since serving spoons may be used for more than one food. You may ask to serve your child first to prevent cross contact, or prepare a separate plate for your child in the kitchen.
4. Suggest an alternative to "mixed nuts in a bowl" and peanut-laden Chex mix-style snacks from the party. Yes, these are a big hit with many family members, but see if you can bring an alternative snack. These are particularly dangerous because younger allergic children may grab these items and eat them before you can stop them. Also, people spread the nut dust and residue around with these snacks. If your child touches the hands of someone who was recently snacking on this, and then eats something "safe," a reaction can occur because they will then ingest the nut allergen along with the "safe" food. This just happened to the child of a friend of mine, so be careful.
5. You bring (or make) dessert. Desserts are one of the top foods to cause allergic reactions, so don't chance it. You make the dessert. It may seem like a lot of work but honing your dessert-making skills is a must if you're a nut allergy caregiver. Also, everyone loves desserts, so if you make a good one you'll be one of the "heroes" of the dinner! :)
6. If you're really concerned, bring a safe meal for your child. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may not feel the meal is safe enough for your child to eat. That's OK--it happens. Just bring something extra for them and serve it to them without a lot of fanfare. If anyone asks, use the situation to increase awareness: "Alex can't eat the dinner because of her nut allergy." You never know--this simple statement could result in more cooperation from others for the next celebration.