What allergy families wish you knew…in other words, how not to be an ass at Christmas time.
So, Xmas is a fun time, right? Weeeeeellllllll…..not so much, sometimes, for those dealing with allergies. I’ve lost count of how much money, petrol and time I’ve wasted this season already running around trying to find allergy-friendly alternatives for all sorts of things to make sure my kids feel completely included. It can be really fun, and it should be really fun…so I’ve engaged the help of a bundle of families to compile a list of do’s and don’ts at Christmas time (or any other time, really!).
*disclaimer: obviously these lists aren’t necessarily my own opinion or personal experience….
- remember to keep the packet if it’s a store bought item so we can check the ingredient lists
- ask what the child with allergies can eat, even if their family brings food for him, and make an effort to make or provide something suitable. The feeling of being included is priceless, especially in the silly season.
- offer allergy-friendly food to the person with allergies first, in case it gets cross contaminated by others.
- if you are unsure, ask! They won’t mind…trust me.
- wash your hands and face after eating and ensure your children do too. Cross contamination by contact is very real and really takes the fun out of Christmas!
- Bring high amounts of tolerance and acceptance with you.
- Eat your own meals in front of us without feeling guilty…going without just makes it a bigger deal.
- learn how to read ingredient lists. For example, dairy is listed in a number of different ways….”milk proteins, milk solids, whey proteins” are just a few.
- understand there are limits on food-labelling.
- listen to parents and respect their judgement as a parent, whether you agree or not.
- give out allergy advice, even if you think it’s coming from a good place or you mean well. We get this all the time, and it’s particularly unhelpful! It also increases anxiety as to whether food might be laced with something nasty.
- tell someone a food is fine for them: tell them what it contains and let them make up their own minds.
- assume ‘lactose-free’ is fine for those with dairy allergy. It’s not.
- be offended when we ask for a list of ingredients.
- get upset when we don’t let our children eat something you have created, however painstaking the process was. Don’t ask why, just realise we aren’t trying to be horrible, we are just trying to keep our children alive and healthy.
- expect us to pick the offending food out! Allergies just don’t work like that….
- give any food to children without asking their parents/caregivers first! This includes lollies given out in shops.
- allergy to foods can and does kill. It can be very serious and parents are often hurting inside so please be sensitive.
- While allergens may be listed in bold on packaging, this is generally not mandatory, so always contact the manufacturer if you aren’t sure.
- just a ‘little’ bit DOES hurt! And has to be one of the most irritating things to say to people affected by allergies. It makes me instantly mad!
- a lot of time goes into adapting recipes to be allergy-friendly, it’s not always easy to make them at all, let alone be tasty. This can leave allergy parents feeling pretty exhausted, especially at Xmas time when they are expected to bring ok food to many different functions/parties/gatherings.
- that this is not a chosen life…we are not trying to be difficult or create drama. It is not fun most of the time!
- planning and organisation is key to succeeding with allergies, so advance notice is always appreciated. Also for this reason, remember we are not trying to be ‘control-freaks’ or ruin the moments of spontaneity.
- Allergies are real and we are not ‘helicopter’ parents. We would have to be completely sick in the head to make this stuff up.
- Travel is very very stressful, so don’t be offended if trip invitations are refused.
- cross-contamination and contact with allergens are a real problem for a significant population of the allergy community. Example: a child may react to mashed potato when the person peeling them didn’t wash their hands properly and had touched an allergen prior to peeling the potatoes. These people may need to avoid products containing traces and ‘may contain’ warnings.
- having allergens around increases anxiety for many parents.
- making an alternative to the traditional festive food, such as Pavlova (for the New Zealand readers).
- food-free parties at school. Families have the choice not to attend with friend’s/family’s parties but that choice is removed when dealing with celebrations at school.
- thinking of allergens as rat-poison. You wouldn’t give that to your children, so why do the same to others?
- not putting out bowls of nuts and peanut-laden food.
- be very careful when deciding to make allergy-friendly food if you are new to this….double, triple, quadruple check with the people involved. It is very awkward to have to refuse something special someone has made which they say is allergy-friendly. And sometimes, it just tastes plain horrible which is also really awkward!
- we can’t always get food ‘on-the-run’, so if we say we need to go…then that’s what we need to do. This also makes travel ridiculously stressful. There is a limit to how many hot chips one poor kid can stomach.
- providing just water as a drink. That way the child with allergy doesn’t feel left out.
- catering for allergies, rather than relying on the families to bring everything. If this isn’t possible, please respect the family’s decision not to attend or to bring their own family meal.
- providing nut-free desserts, including coconut. Coconut is a very popular health food at present and often used as an alternative in allergy-friendly cooking, but many people are allergic to it.
WHAT YOU MAY NOT KNOW:
- Hand-sanitiser doesn’t remove all food proteins. Hands need to be washed very well with soap and water.