Yesterday we had our last family Christmas of the season. This was our first holiday season dealing with all of Asa’s food allergies. Group settings and parties are constantly scary and full of anxiety when you are living with food allergies. You’re eating meals that other people cooked, you’re usually surrounded by allergens, and it’s hard to keep track of if people washed their hands or wiped off their mouths after the meal. Kids are running around and you never know what they are going to put in their mouths. You try to watch your kids vigilantly, but even that is daunting when they are trying to play with their cousins and you’re trying to catch up and chat with your family. Food labels aren’t usually available to read when it comes to home cooked meals – especially ones that people have brought with them from home to contribute to the potluck-style dinner. It can be exhausting. Thankfully, we made it through multiple events with only one small skin reaction that we are pretty sure she got as a result from a kiss on the cheek. A little hydrocortisone cleared it up quickly. It could have been way worse.
But as we were driving home last night, my husband and I were talking about how thankful we were for multiple people that we spent time with throughout the holiday season and the way they handled Asa’s allergies. And it got me thinking about things you can do that go a LONG way to people with food allergies or parents of kids with food allergies. So I complied a list of things that you can do to be supportive of your friends and family with food allergies during social events:
1. Ask questions.
Simply taking time to understand their food allergies goes a long way. I love when people ask me questions about Asa’s food allergies. It lets me talk about it without having to bring it up myself; it allows me to get some of it off my chest. And, hopefully, it also educates others during the process! Even asking little things like how we found out about her allergies or how severe her reactions are tell me that you care enough to want to know more. Asking about the things we deal with day to day makes us feel not so alone.
2. Be inclusive with your food.
We were super lucky to have several family members make things just for Asa or bring alternatives for her. Yesterday we had someone bring a salad but also bring along all the ingredients individually so that we could check the ingredients and give her food accordingly. She even brought vegan dressing for the salad! (It was delicious by the way.) At Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law literally brought the container for every single ingredient she used! It was a good thing she did since one ended up containing an allergen (see my former blog post called “Every Label. Every Time” for that story). We had both of our parents cook with alternative ingredients to accommodate her at all the holidays this year. My mother-in-law even went as far as making a dairy/egg free pumpkin pie from scratch that included evaporating her own almond milk (like… what?). It was awesome. There is nothing that makes you feel more valued and loved than when people take the time to make you and your kids feel included.
3. Help keep the person with food allergies safe.
This one may sound like a no brainer, but doing everything you can to personally keep the person safe is huge! Wash your hands. Don’t double dip. Be cautious. My mom made an announcement before the meal at both Thanksgiving and Christmas with extended family to remind them of Asa’s allergies and ask them to wash their hands and mouths after the meal. This took a lot of stress off of me. When you have a kid with allergies, it’s easy to feel like a nag who has to constantly lecture people about what they need to do around you. Someone else making that announcement for me meant more than my mom knows (Shoutout, Mom!) and it helped keep Asa safe during the festivities.
4. Don’t feed anyone’s kids without asking!
I’ll say it again for the people in the back. Don’t feed anyone’s kids without asking! In general, giving snacks and treats to kids that aren’t yours without asking probably annoys more parents than you think. But to a kid that has food allergies it can be deadly, especially if not caught in time. So please, just don’t do it.
5. Talk to your kids about food allergies.
This one can be huge. Kids just don’t always know better. They share food without thinking. They don’t always wash their hands unless we make them. They constantly share germs without even knowing it. But they can also share allergens without knowing it too. So talk to your kids about food allergies. Make sure they understand that they can be deadly. (We don’t shy away from this word in our house. I need everyone to know the severity of it!) Make sure they wash their hands after eating. Keep snacks that contain another’s child’s allergen away when you are near them. One of the kindest things that my friends or family have done for me is to only pack “Asa friendly” snacks when they know we are going to be together. Eliminating the allergen from the kids means there won’t be any accidental mishaps. And it takes away the fear and anxiety that a parent has when they know other kids are snacking on things that could send their child into anaphylaxis.
By no means is this list exhaustive. There are a lot of other things you can do to be supportive. But it’s a great place to start! Again, never be afraid to ask questions! There are no stupid ones, and like I said earlier, just asking lets us know you care!