Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Food Allergy Dilemas

The holidays and other food-focused celebrations can be a challenge for those with food allergies and special dietary needs. Most dishes are made from scratch by cooks who don't have to think about allergens or cross-contamination on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there is no rule book or etiquette guide to help us through these occasions. Here are a few tips that may be helpful this holiday season:
  • Prepare at least one special "safe" dessert for guests with allergies or special needs such as diabetes.
  • If you are serving foods that contain your child's allergens, make it clear to well-meaning relatives that only you will serve your child. Someone may decide to give your child gravy, not realizing that you have a gluten-free version set aside for your little one.
  • Traces of allergens on utensils have caused severe and even fatal allergic reactions. Allow your guests with special dietary needs to serve themselves first at the buffet with clean utensils before there is any chance of the dishes becoming cross contaminated. You might also allow your guest to prepare their plate in the kitchen if they prefer, and you can offer to set aside some safe second portions in labeled containers for them.
  • Ask about other guest's special dietary needs, and let your guests know exactly what you plan to serve. Save the product labels and recipe cards for your guests to view, and serve sauces and dressings on the side.
  • Don't be afraid to ask about the ingredients when attending dinners, and let the hostess know about yours' or a family member's special needs ahead of time. If need be, bring along a safe plate for your child. Especially if multiple food allergies are involved.
  • If your child has "only" a peanut or nut allergy and you're certain that he or she can consume dinner safely, desserts are a high risk food category with the majority of severe reactions coming from this food category. You can almost never have too many desserts so bring along a safe one to share.
Make the holiday about more than just food. Most children do not like to discuss their food allergies or special food needs on occasions like these. Gently let your friends and relatives know that there is no need to fuss over your child's special meal nor do they need to pity the child. Most kids just want to fit in. Focus on family traditions and activities, and enjoy the company!

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