In my experience with having a son with multiple food allergies and skin sensitivities, everything new is a scary ordeal. Every new food, new lotion, new soap, new visitor, new school year, new milestone, new experience, new environment, and everything else you can have a new of. In addition to the new experiences, holidays and parties also add some challenges and worries. However, there are steps and precautions that you can take to ensure the special holiday that you deserve. The more prepared you are… the less likely it is that fear will enter the scene.
With my son’s initial anaphylactic reaction and learning of his multiple food allergies last December 2014, the holidays that year were a rough time for me. As I tried to process it all, I was fearful of everything. It was not an enjoyable time because of this intense anxiety and stress.
While a whole year has passed, many challenges still remain for us. However, this holiday season I plan to smile into it prepared and ready to enjoy this special time, having faith over fear….
Here are some tips on how to have a safe and special holiday season with food allergies:
1. Be prepared: If you are traveling far, check to see where the local hospital/urgent care is. Also, make sure to bring the proper medications and emergency plans. My son’s up-to-date “Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan” is always packed in my diaper bag with his EpiPens and Benadryl.
2. Pick your setting and population: Yes, I know that you cannot pick your family. However, if you have an option of where to celebrate the holiday, pick the place where people are most understanding of food allergies and the precautions needed. If you have the means to, even offer to host. (I am not there yet.)
3. Scope Out the Scene: Check out the place you are visiting and/or staying. Scope out wherever and whenever you child will be eating, wipe down the surfaces all around, and scan the floor. Since babies and toddlers love to put objects in their mouths, it is important to make sure that there is nothing unsafe to start. From our experience, you would be surprised what food products are often around.
4. Communication/Setting up the Meal: Before the meal begins, have a plan in mind. For example, plan ahead where your child will sit, eat, and when this will occur. In addition to wiping down the surface, we bring Mickey Mouse place mats, his own plate, and utensils.
5. Announcement: To help with those guests who are not aware of or educated about food allergies and your family’s situation, make an announcement that your child should not be fed any food. At a family BBQ in the summer, a person in our extended family came over to my son with her plate of cake, cheerfully and innocently asking, “Can he have some of this?” With my son in my arms, I jumped back as her spoonful of cake was way too close for comfort. Therefore, an announcement before eating begins is a great precaution to take. Sometimes, people just don’t know or understand.
6. Washing hands/Kissing: This is another part of the reminder or announcement. Our family has been great with accepting this request. Even though I take many precautions for my son’s safety, I do also make sure to brush my teeth always before kissing him. We also ask everyone who is with TJ, (friends, family, daycare, etc.) to not kiss him on the face or lips if they have just eaten and especially if they have not brushed their teeth. I struggle with this because I know he deserves a million kisses every day and trust me, I want to be able to give him everything in life. However, right now, this is what we must do to ensure his safety, his health, his life. He is still too little to speak and therefore, it is even more critical. We show him love in soooo many other ways in addition to giving him lots of hugs. And of course we kiss him, when we know it is truly safe to do so. With that being said, inform all guests that blowing kisses is a must especially after eating has begun.
In addition to the kissing, it is important that people understand they must wash their hands after handling or eating food of their own before they hold or contact my son. After explaining the reality of cross contact with our family, we have been extremely blessed with their support and diligence with this. It makes my heart smile knowing that we have this support.
7. Plan Meals Beforehand: Since my son is only 18.5 months, we still make most of the food that he eats. Therefore, we plan ahead, making sure that we had enough of his food for the duration of the visit. If we are staying over, we also make sure that the place we were visiting has a kitchen with a refrigerator and oven to help with his food. If it is just a day visit, we bring our own cooler with his food. Because of the reality of cross-contact, we also bring his personal pots, pans, trays, containers, and utensils. (Whatever is necessary for the visit.)
8. Allergy-free Options (Safe Food): Pass on food that you are unsure of. For now, my son will only be eating what we provide. In the future as he begins to talk more and expands his diet, I do plan to make allergy-free versions of some of the main course foods. I look forward to this. However, this year we will stick to his safe foods that we will prepare beforehand.
9. Watching/Keeping in Eyesight: With young children like my son, my husband and I take turns watching him. Throughout the event, we have one set of eyes on him the entire time. This does not mean you are a “helicopter parent” instead it means you are the biggest, must-needed advocate.
10. Enjoy yourself: This is the step that I failed to do last holiday season. However, this year will be different. I find comfort and confidence in knowing that through our advocacy, my son will have an amazing, safe, and special holiday. Therefore, we will smile on to a happy and healthy Thanksgiving and Christmas.
(And when I get home, I will be celebrating by hitting up that bottle of wine. )
Read more about the following topics at the links below: