The following post is revised from one I wrote about summer road trips but the themes are the same: preparation will make staying with and visiting relatives over Thanksgiving go much more smoothly. Have the conversations now about what it will take for your allergic family members to be safe this holiday. If you are staying with relatives, please make sure to go over cross contact issues with them and ask if you can be part of the kitchen crew. I usually offer to make a few things so I know they are safe for my daughter to eat.
It's wonderful to spend time with family members at Thanksgiving, but of course food allergies don't take a holiday. However, safe feasting and celebrating can be done with some honest discussions and advance preparation.
Here are a few things that have worked for me.
- Call ahead. Don't just show up at your appointed time and expect everything to go smoothly. Especially if you're staying with relatives and even if you aren't, give a shout out and discuss the food allergy situation. You will want to give people a heads up about foods to avoid but also you want to reassure your family that you will help provide safe meals and won't leave it all up to them.
-Discuss the menu well in advance of the holiday. Lots of nut allergy/food allergy pitfalls lurk in Thanksgiving family favorites, so make sure to help plan how the menu can be safe and delicious. Can we skip the walnuts in the turkey stuffing and maybe make an apple pie instead of pecan? What about snacks, appetizers and side dishes? If a buffet will be served, served allergic people first, in the kitchen to avoid cross-contact. If at all possible, allergic people should at least be able to eat some of the main entree and side dishes, if not every dessert, etc. Compromise is needed here, so begin discussing foods early and give people time to plan. Of course, if you don't feel that the foods are safe or you strongly suspect cross-contact with unsafe foods, don't serve it to them. If you can make or buy some of your own safe foods for the feast, all the better. Which brings me to the next point...
- Bring or offer to make food. Pack enough non-perishable safe treats, either homemade or store-bought foods known to be safe, so that your allergic child is not left without good stuff during family meals or snack times. Stocking up will also save you and your family the stress of last-minute grocery runs or overheated discussions about "just one bite won't hurt" and "why can't he have the plain M&Ms?" etc. If you're flying and want to keep the load lighter, plan to shop or bake something when you get there.
- Be fun. Food is part of the social fabric that holds families together but it can also be divisive if you're dealing with food allergies, so don't let all the focus go to the food. Once you arrive, organize a family vs. family football game, go to a movie or museum or bring your favorite board game and engage everyone in a fun activity that doesn't revolve around food. Everyone will be having too much fun to comment on what your kid is or isn't eating.
- Plan activities that allow you to bring your own meals. If you're going on a day trip with the group, make sure you can bring some food so that you don't have to rely on the food allergy-unsafe food options.