Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nut-Free Tips for a Stress-Free Christmas with Nut Allergies

You can make these little guys. See the recipe section at the end of this post!

Holiday parties are in full swing now so I know that many of us are wondering how to cope and have fun at the same time.
My best advice: Keep things simple and stick to your food allergy rules about eating no matter what. It’s not always easy but if you are trying to avoid an allergic reaction, this is the best way to roll.

Important:  Never leave home without your epinephrine. If you have an emergency, epinephrine is a lifesaver. Keep it close by your child at all times -- know where it is. Some kids wear it but it should never be further away than arm's reach. Have two epinephrine auto-injectors with you at all times.
For those of us who are new to dealing with nut allergies at the holidays, just remember that no one is born knowing how to deal with a life-threatening food allergy. It’s a learning process, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t figure out everything perfectly right away. You will learn some things this year that will help you next year. You may even find some solutions that end up being your go-to methods. This gets easier, the more you deal with it.
Don’t worry if your approach does not sit well with others at first. You know what’s best, so be confident in your desire to avoid an allergic reaction and trip to the hospital! Be as upbeat as you can, bring foods to share and remember that food isn’t everything. Celebrating does not have to be confined to food.

Holiday Foods that are High-Risk for Peanuts/Tree Nuts 


Meat marinade
Pie and pie crust
Bread pudding
Gravy or sauces, sweet or savory
Turkey stuffing
Salads and salad dressings
Anything mixed: Casserole, stir-fry, sauté

Pannetone (Sweet Italian Chrismtas bread)
Dumplings or stuffed pasta
There are more, of course, so  it makes sense to be armed with safe food for allergic family members when you attend a holiday gathering.

Now here’s a big one, and it’s not very popular sometimes but it’s very important: Please avoid desserts that you did not make. Did you know that 43% of food allergy reactions are caused by dessert foods? No matter how good it looks, no matter how much your kids want it--if you didn't make it,or bring it, don't let them eat it. Desserts are so high-risk that it's just not worth it

It's difficult to have your child stand around and look at yummy-looking treats but a cookie or cake -- no matter how beautifully decorated -- is never worth a trip to the ER and a traumatic allergic reaction that threatens your health and life.

A couple of ideas: if kids are young, plan to entertain the little ones with a craft or game so that the focal point of the evening doesn't become a dessert table. Older kids can help you bake something and take pride in what they've created.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to bring a dessert. If you go this route, keep it away from any allergenic foods and keep it well-covered until serving time. Serve your allergic family members first to avoid cross-contact.
If you are not a dessert person, bring some Oreos or some other safe store-bought treat for your child. You can always offer a special treat later at home. That was my method when my daughter was younger and it worked. Let them know there is a pot of gold for them at the end of the rainbow later on and bring something extra to tide them over during the party—you won’t regret it! Here’s a link to some supermarket treats safe for nut allergies.

Parties and dinners

Communicate and evaluate. When the party is given by your or your family, you will likely be more assertive about how to collaborate on an allergy-friendly celebration. If you get an invite from someone who is an acquaintance or casual friend, you can’t expect that they will alter the menus. In this case, you might accept but tell your hosts (in a very nice way) that you will bring food for your child and offer to bring something to share with the group. Plus, don't feel pressured to attend every event. Finding a sitter or even skipping a party with too many food pitfalls might be a lot less stressful in the long run.

Offer to provide safe alternatives to holiday favorites. Does someone always want to make pecan pie or peanut butter blossom cookies, or Chex Mix snack with peanuts? See if you can make or bring an alternative. Leave the nuts out of the recipe or use a replacement. You might just introduce a new recipe that will become a new family favorite.

Be careful at the buffet table. Buffets are generally not a good idea for those with severe food allergies. They may involve “pot luck” items brought by several guests (no way to know about the safety of those dishes) and they present a cross-contact risk. Bring your child some safe foods and serve them a plate in the kitchen if you know your family or friends are hosting a buffet.

Bring a backup meal or snacks for your child. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may not feel that a meal or snacks at a party will be safe enough for your child to eat. In fact, this is usually the case for most foods served at any party, simply because we can’t always be sure about the origins of a food.  To save stress and minimize any risk or reaction, bring something safe (and tasty) for your child and serve it to them without a lot of fanfare. If anyone asks, use the situation to increase awareness: "Due to Henry’s severe nut allergy, we have to be very careful with his diet, so we brought some of his favorite foods.”

Peanut-free, Tree Nut-Free Christmas recipes:

From Skeeter Snacks, fun ways to make their cookies look festive for the holidays:

From Food Allergy Mama: Egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free (and can be GF) holiday spice cookies:
From Sugarcrafter: Pecan pie--without the pecans. So popular with NFM readers!
From Just a Taste: Christmas tree cupcakes using ice cream cones for the tree:
From SunButter: Peanut-free blossom cookies:
From The Nut-Free Mom: A roundup of my favorite Christmas treat recipes, including the snowman cupcakes pictured above!


Gratefulfoodie said...

Really, really cute too! I should be working, but you have such darling things posted, I'm being naughty!

Anonymous said...

As a 28 year old who has been severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts since I was an infant, I would recommend planning holiday parties that involve more non-food-centered activities. As a kid (and still as an adult), it was no fun to be singled out with "special food" or have to politely refuse everyone's food and answer questions about allergies. Instead of a potluck, consider going skating, bowling, spending time with Santa, etc.. It will be probably be much less stressful on your child and you.


Jenny said...

Thanks, Julie--totally agree with everything you said and it's nice to have your personal perspective. I would never encourage a potluck but sometimes that's what people get stuck with. As far as special food, that is not something intended to make anyone stand out. In fact, I never refer to anything I give my own daughter as "special food" or make a big deal about it, but I can see that some people might. My post was intended to help folks through the family meals that inevitably happen at the holidays, as well as the more casual parties where you might not know the hosts as well. Thanks again for your comments and Happy Holidays! Best, Jenny