Browsing the aisles at any store will remind us all the holiday season is quickly approaching. However, as a mom of two children with severe food allergies, the holiday season also brings added stress.
Every gathering is a risk to the safety of my daughters. As I eye those delicious home-baked cookies and appetizers, my mind goes to: Are any free of my toddler's allergens? Did a family member just eat that cheese dip and plant a smooch on the baby with a severe dairy allergy?
It is estimated that 4-6% of U.S. children have a food allergy—that equates to 1 in 13 children. The CDC defines a food allergy as a specific and reproducible immune response to a certain food. While the allergy varies among each child, reactions can be mild hives to severe and life-threatening, such as anaphylaxis.
Here are a few tips to ensure your allergic child is safe during holiday gatherings—while still having fun:
1. Plan ahead and communicate with everyone.
Speak to family and friends prior to the event about what your child might need. Educate them on your child's specific allergen and sources of food that will likely contain the allergen.
Inquire if it is possible to remove the allergen from the menu altogether. If that is not possible, discuss ways to keep it away from your child during the get-together. Possibly designate a "safe" section in the kitchen or place the food on a higher surface, where little fingers can't reach.
2. Bring safe foods with you.
I have found this to be essential in keeping my daughters safe. We are always toting coolers with safe food since you never know when the kids will be hungry. This eliminates the risk of eating something with an allergen, as well as cross-contact, which is when an allergen comes in contact with a food or item that wasn't intended to have it.
3. Monitor your littles at the gathering.
It is so important to maintain supervision of any child with food allergies to ensure they don't consume or come in contact with any allergen, especially if they're younger and don't fully understand the risk.
Educate your child on food safety rules and instruct them to only accept food from a parent or trusted person. You can also inform them that they must check with your prior to eating food as an extra precaution. If your child is old enough to understand the dangers of food allergies, discuss their specific allergen and include them in the safety plan so they know what to do.
4. Have a plan to remove your child from an unsafe environment.
If you are in an environment where your child's safety cannot be ensured, it is essential to remove them from the situation. Your child's health is the priority and loved ones should be understanding of this.
Perhaps you suggest rescheduling the gathering at another time and location, where safety can be maintained. Or, you ask everyone to eat in one room and your little plays in another one so they're not in contact with food.
5. Develop a plan with their pediatrician.
All children and allergens are different so it's best to develop a food allergy protection plan with your child's physician. Ask any questions you have regarding your child's allergens and ways to keep them safe during the holiday season. Their pediatrician can ensure you have everything you need in case of an emergency, such as an EpiPen, and walk you through some options to keep your child safe.