When there’s food allergy in your family and you’re attending a holiday dinner, the basic party rules apply: Talk with the host about your child’s food allergies beforehand; ask about menu plans and ingredients; and bring your own safe foods, including snacks and desserts.
There are also some behind-the-scenes things you can do to prepare your child:
1 – Help your child learn how to be a good guest.
Teach your child to always ask if a food is safe before eating something that didn’t come from home. Stage a few practice parties at home and role play. Going to a potluck or buffet? Practice this, too. At the party, ask the host if you can move your child through the buffet line first to reduce risk of cross-contact from shared serving implements. Children are more confident when they know what to expect at a party and how to handle themselves.
2 – Work with facts, not fear.
Schedule a well-visit with an allergist to talk about your child’s food allergy. Help make a list of questions to ask – then let your child do the talking. “Can I sit next to Cousin Jamie if we don’t share food?” “Will I get sick if Aunt Nancy kisses me if she has eaten something I’m allergic to?” Role play how to handle difficult situations like teasing or well-meaning people who don’t understand food allergies and think one little bite will be fine.
3 – Keep watch.
You don’t have to hover, but keep a watchful eye on what’s going on. Depending on the age or maturity of your child, you might want to avoid parties where children have separate play areas and dinner tables, but for family parties where everyone is all together, just keep your eyes and ears open. Make sure your child always knows you’re there for support, no matter what.
4 – Be prepared.
Carry two epinephrine auto-injectors – and keep them close at hand. Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis. If your child develops symptoms of anaphylaxis – hives; swelling of lips and mouth; dizziness or trouble breathing – use the epinephrine right away and call 911 to arrange to go to the emergency department for follow-up care. Here’s another role-playing opportunity – make sure the child is familiar with the epinephrine auto-injector and what will happen if it needs to be used. If you stay calm, cool and collected, your child will, too.
Reviewed by Neil MacIntyre, MD and Purvi Parikh, MD