7 Tips for a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving with Food Allergies

I can hardly believe Thanksgiving is just a couple of days away! Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays because it is all about spendingThanksgivingfeast time with family, reflecting on everything we have to be grateful for, and of course, enjoying a great meal. Despite all of the warm feelings that the holidays bring, the holidays can also be a little stressful with all of the travel and preparation that goes into pulling off a special get together.  When you add in food allergies, the stress level often gets ratcheted up a notch. The good news is you don’t have to let food allergies stop you from enjoying Thanksgiving.

Here are my top 7 tips for having a safe and happy Thanksgiving:

1) Come prepared.

It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it.  If you have a severe food allergy, make sure you bring epinephrine with you.  Keep your autoinjectors nearby and make sure you know when and  how to use them. Wear your allergy alert bracelet and inform your friends and family of your allergy.  It is also a good idea to train them on when and how to use the autoinjectors, especially if you have a child with food allergies. It is so important that you and other caregivers know how to implement your allergy emergency plan.

2) Communicate your needs.

If you have a severe food allergy, make sure your host (and anyone else who may be preparing your food) knows what your allergens are ahead of time so you both can plan accordingly.  This allows your host time to prepare a safe menu or at least let you know what dishes you can or cannot eat. You will also want to make sure that everyone understands what cross-contact is so that safe foods are not contaminated with foods that contain your allergens

3) Bring some safe food with you.

Once you know what is on the menu you can decide what dishes you would like to bring along.  You can offer to make a safe dish or two for everyone to enjoy.  If your host has decided to make safe dishes for you, you can still help out by directing them to allergy-friendly ingredients.  If allergy-friendly ingredients are more expensive or hard to track down, you might also purchase them for your host–this will save them time, energy, and money.

4) When in doubt, don’t put it in your mouth.

If you don’t know what is in the food don’t eat it.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions about ingredients and cross-contact.  I am not above asking family members to let me read the ingredient labels myself.  A  lot of the foods traditionally served at Thanksgiving typically contain common allergens such as dairy, peanut, treenuts, egg, soy and wheat.  The list of other potential allergens they might contain is endless, so never assume that something is safe to eat without checking.  Reduce the risk of a severe allergic reaction by sticking to simple foods and foods you know are safe.

5) Offer to help out in the kitchen.

One way to ensure that the food is safe is to help out in the kitchen and actually make sure it is safe.  I like hosting Christmas because I know everything is safe for my kiddos to eat. However, you can still keep a watchful eye on the food if you offer to help out the host. This way you know exactly what you are eating and you can help avoid cross-contact blunders like using contaminated mixing bowls or utensils for allergy-friendly dishes, stuffing the safe turkey with stuffing that contains egg, pouring gravy made with flour over the turkey, sprinkling nuts in the salad, etc. Another way to avoid cross-contact is to help out with clean up between dish preparation.  Offer to make allergy-friendly dishes first and then volunteer to wipe down the counters or wash mixing bowls between use.

6) Let those with food allergies be served first.

Serve the guests with food allergies or restrictions first so that the risk of cross-contamination is reduced (and to ensure they get decent servings of the safe food).  Make sure that you have enough serving utensils to go with each dish (yes, I have been known to travel with untensils). Set aside a small uncontaminated portion of food before eveyrone digs in just in case anyone wants seconds.

7) Be thankful.

Thanksgiving is all about showing gratitude so this is the perfect time to let your host know just how thankful you are that they took the time to prepare a safe and delicious meal for you and/or your family.  Learning to cook an allergy-safe meal can be quite the feat for someone who doesn’t normally worry about reading labels and cross-contact so be sure to let them know just how much you appreciate the effort. These are just a few of my top tips for having a safe and happy Thanksgiving–I’d love to hear yours.  Feel free to leave a comment and share your wisdom below. Stay safe and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

About Tiffany deSilva

Tiffany deSilva, MSW, CPC, is the Founder of Fantastically Free, a Make Difference Divsion of BrightFire Network, LLC. Tiffany is on a mission to help children, families, and adults live safe, healthy, and happy lives despite food allergies.

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