|You know what I'm talkin' about....|
That being said: I don't know of any other holiday that strikes more fear into my heart when I'm not the one preparing the meal. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but Thanksgiving season is arguably the most "nutty" time of year and I don't mean the long lines at the grocery store and erratic drivers on the road.
No, I'm talking about tree nuts and peanuts being pretty much everywhere. Even if they are not an actual ingredient, so many of the seasonal packaged foods that come out this time of year have a cross-contact allergy warning on the label. Snacks, pretzels, stuffing, Williams-Sonoma gravy base (I LOVED that stuff, so that one still burns me), pumpkin bread mix, pies, candy, cookies, baking ingredients: the list is endless.
Then there are the bowls of mixed nuts that are a holiday tradition at so many homes. Hey, I get it. Before life with tree nut allergies, I would partake. But nowadays, seeing the anaphylaxis I've seen and knowing what a I know about cross-contact, I'd rather see a live snake on the snack table.
Special, chosen diets are another issue that is cropping up more in recent years. Many of us have family members or friends that have taken on a chosen diet (and please, I'm not talking about a medically-recommended one) that they approach with near-religious fervor. Trying to explain that you haven't chosen your allergy-restricted diet but, instead, it has chosen YOU, is an often headache-inducing discussion. Unfortunately, many of the new trendy diets these days are nut-centric, often prompting a discussion about whose dietary needs are more important or valid. Good times.
When It's Not About the Nuts
Every year around Thanksgiving I get blog comments and e-mails from family members of people with nut allergies or other allergies who want me to settle their family disputes. I'm flattered to be asked, but to paraphrase one of my favorite lines from a classic Thanksgiving movie: "How can I settle your family dispute? I can't even figure out how to use the can opener!"
Food is very emotional and traditional. My husband and I both come from a long line of people who love to cook, bake and eat and who have very strong food traditions. I understand that tradition is important but I also believe that you can maintain your traditions and still have a family meal together. How you work this out may be individual to your family.
One question I get a lot is: should every single thing on the table be "safe" for the allergic person? The answer is: it varies. I can't tell you that because I don't know your specific situation. But some questions to consider are: Is the child very young and doesn't know not to eat something? Is the parent of the allergic child able to provide some food to share (this is my favorite approach). Does eliminating this food throw off the meal completely for everyone else or can the menu be adapted with relative ease by the cook or cooks? Does the host/cook even know how to make an "allergy-safe" meal? As you can see, you have to consider what you're dealing with personally.
Even if you can get people to agree on not serving a certain food or using a certain ingredient you may be interpreted as someone who simply needs to be humored. That's frustrating because it's so not true. I don't know many people who relish the role of being spokesperson for food allergies at every holiday meal, me included. It just goes with the territory and maybe if I'm lucky, someone will listen and think differently. Or maybe not. That I can't control.
We don't choose the food restrictions for our children. The medical condition -- that is, a life-threatening, diagnosed allergy -- dictates what is safe for a child to eat. I follow our doctor's orders. Here's my "choice:" avoid a food or traces of it, or wind up in the ER or worse. When thought of that way, it's a no-brainer that I'm going to have to try and figure out what's going into the food. If I can't determine it, we avoid it.
On the flipside, I know everybody looks forward to the traditional Thanksgiving feast. I do, too. Sometimes we have to work around things and sometimes people have to work around us. It can be done, provided you can talk about it.
Working It Out
Finding a solution is going to be different for everyone. Your child may be allergic to one thing; they may be allergic to 12 things. So obviously, that will dictate some of your approach.
Here are some past posts where I talk about solutions for dealing with food allergies at Thanksgiving.
Nut Allergies at Thanksgiving
Food Allergy and Family Meals
Food Allergies and America's Ultimate Food Fest
Since I've been hearing from many readers lately about family and food allergy strife with regard to the holidays, I felt the need to vent a bit. However, I've also been very encouraged by stories from readers as well as the people in my own life who do their best to help us out during a very stressful time of year for our family.
We're all doing our best, so let's remember that. Work together if at all possible and be thankful for the gift of food and the blessings of family.
For more on talking to family members about food allergies and dealing with life in general with regard to nut allergy management, check out my e-book, "The New Nut-Free Mom: A Crash Course in Caring for Your Nut-Allergic Child."
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