A Friendly, Cheery, Helpful Holiday Reminder
Whether it is Thanksgiving week, Hanukkah, Christmas, or any other holiday you celebrate, holidays have a tendency to be food-focused.
I’m here with important reminders to food-allergic individuals, as well as friends & family of them:
- ♦ When in doubt, don’t eat it. If you are unsure if you should eat something pre-made or that someone prepared for you at a party or family event, please go don’t feel pressured to eat something if you feel hesitant and have a life-threatening food allergy. The risk simply isn’t worth your life, it’s better to avoid questionable foods.
- ♦ Bring a snack for yourself as a backup. Don’t feel bad or embarrassed if you need to eat it, that’s why you brought it. Remember that it’s much more enjoyable to eat a granola bar, a safe snack, or even your own cold leftovers than go to the ER due to an allergic reaction.
- ♦ Always have your epinephrine auto-injectors and antihistamines on-hand! It doesn’t hurt to let others know where they’re located as well, I always do!
- ♦ Talk to your family members and friends beforehand to make sure your allergen won’t be in any dishes. On Invisibly Allergic, I provide a safe list of brands/items that I give my friends and family to buy if you feel comfortable with that option. If it’s something like a friends-giving, I normally will only eat something I’ve brought myself, and I will wash any plates or cups myself before using someone else’s dishes, to be certain it’s all clean. If I’m really unsure, I may decide to bring my own disposable cutlery and plates from home or will bring my own sponge and drying towel to use when washing their dishes for myself. Since this is all based on your comfort-level, and where you fall on the food allergy spectrum, do what feels right to you. My mother-in-law and my own mom do not use peanuts/peanut ingredients in their homes, and they buy safe ingredients for the dishes I will be eating, so I feel comfortable eating at their homes or dishes they’ve made over the holidays, it’s lovely!
- ♦ Make sure no products with your allergen will be out and about (i.e. snack bowls, candy, dog treats)
- ♦ Read ingredients carefully, be just as thorough as you do at home. Sometimes you’re in a conversation and don’t want to double-check the ingredients, but it’s always a good idea to stop and check carefully before eating something. Even if you suggested the brand, you never know if there’s been a change. The rule of thumb is to check each product 3x – once at the store, once at home when putting it away, and once before eating. Or if you didn’t buy it, I make a habit of reading any new item ingredient list 3x carefully.
- ♦ If you offend someone, remember that their hurt feelings aren’t worth risking your life. Sometimes you may slightly offend someone who made a lovely cultural or family dish that you can’t try, maybe they put care into making sure it didn’t contain peanuts in it, but they still made it in their kitchen which could be contaminated since they eat PB frequently. Whatever the case, try to validate your feelings and be gentle to yourself with your inner dialogue, remind yourself being safe and healthy is always the priority, you have to put yourself first.
- ♦ Wipe surfaces you feel may be contaminated with your allergen. Don’t be afraid to bring wet wipes or use paper towels, washcloths, etc to wipe a surface if it looks contaminated with particles and dirty. With COVID just happening, I’m sure no one will even think twice! But if they do, you can tell them it’s a way to get some peace of mind from cross-contact.
- ♦ Deep breathing exercises are a great tool. I’ve recommended this before in my Resources tab, but the Shine App for Anxiety & Meditation is a favorite go-to of mind that really helps me calm down in times of stress, which for me, can often be around the holidays. Don’t be afraid to step away from family and friends and do a quick breathing exercise if you feel it could benefit you.
I will end this holiday reminder blog post by saying that I am anticipating going out to eat one or two times a year either in my home city or while traveling in another city! I will be gauging my trust with a few restaurants, communicating via e-mail, and making sure no peanut ingredients are in use. I want to clarify that I am never 100% comfortable in a restaurant setting, there is always a risk unless it’s a certified allergen-free space. Even after talking with them and knowing they don’t use peanuts in-house, you never know how serious they are going to take your allergy, or how well they know their ingredients and the facilities the ingredients came from. As usual, I am going to bring my normal backup snacks with me in case I determine I am actually not comfortable at the restaurants once we arrive. In this scenario, I will get a soda or drink instead, eat my own snack, and enjoy my reaction-free night!
Holiday Travel & Being Away From Your Home
If we go out of town, my husband and I do try to book hotels with a kitchenette suite included if we are there for longer than a day or two, to be able to have kitchen access as well, and then we bring all our own safe cutlery, kitchen dry clothing cloth, saucepans, sponges, dish soap, or whatever fits the situation! I talk about this more in my blog article on managing food allergies in a hotel. Not long ago, we stayed in NYC and (long story short) couldn’t secure a room with a microwave, but we were able to negotiate for a mini-fridge. This allowed me to eat things that needed to stay cold, like salads, yogurt, cheese sandwiches, etc. I find there are always ways to adapt to each situation if you think creatively and stay flexible and open-minded.
Making My Own Thanksgiving Meal
For example, this year I’m making my own safe Thanksgiving day meal when hosting my family, and am going to bring to the safe leftovers to a separate Thanksgiving day celebration on my husband’s side. Doing the cooking myself and bringing leftovers elsewhere makes it simpler for everyone and less risky for me. His family are always so nice and offers to heat my leftovers up for me, let me wash my plate beforehand, and all that. Sometimes I’ll bring my own plate anyway, but it feels good to be accommodated and considered.
Even though food absolutely takes over and dominates most holidays, events, and parties, my advice is to try to not let it get you down if you’re feeling left out. I’ve found I can have a fantastic time with or without the abundance of food! I like to remind myself of all the delicious safe treats I’ve been able to have and try, focusing on the positives, and not getting too down in the dumps. If I feel like I’m missing out on something I see at a party or restaurant, I’ll try to recreate it at home when I can! And don’t be afraid to talk to a licensed therapist, or friends and family about these feelings that may come up when you can’t partake in certain activities and traditions. It’s OK to feel all those feelings and frustrations while remembering the most important thing is YOU!
Have a wonderful holiday, wherever this post finds you, everyone!
PS- Last Thanksgiving I got a few treats from my local safe bakery Annie May’s Sweet Cafe to take with me out of town and to make eating desserts even easier to indulge in! Drool-worthy photos attached:
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