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:

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It’s Not Too Early to Teach Your Preschooler How to Manage Food Allergies

I had a “proud mom” moment yesterday when I picked up my 4-year old daughter from Pre-K yesterday.  She told me that her class had cucumbers andfantasticallyfreekidswithdough ranch dressing for snack yesterday.  I felt a brief lump in my throat because although my daughters have outgrown their dairy allergies they all have an anaphylactic egg allergy.

To my relief, she also told me that she informed her teacher and her friends that she could not have ranch dressing because she is allergic to egg. Whew!

I was impressed that she remembered that ranch dressing often contains milk and egg ingredients.  I was even more impressed after she told me that her classmate told her that the ranch dressing was okay for her to eat but she insisted that she could not eat it.

That shows a lot of awareness for a young 4-year old, which brings me to my point:  It is never too early to teach your preschooler how to manage food allergies.  They soak things in like a sponge and grasp concepts quickly.  While I would never expect a child to be able to handle food allergies with the same level of maturity and skill as an adult, it is beneficial to teach them how to be their own self-advocates when you are not around.

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7 Tips for Eating Out with Kids with Food Allergies

Eating out with young children can be stressful.  Add in food allergies and it can be down right anxiety-provoking!  Sometimes it can be quite a Kidatdinnertablechallenge to find a safe place to eat, especially if you are dealing with multiple food allergies.

Eating at restaraunts and other establishments is a big part of our culture and not participating in social acitivities that involve food can feel very isolating.  So how can you and your family minimize the risk of an allergic reaction while still enjoying the opportunity to dine out once in a while?

Here are my top 7 tips for eating out with the kids:

1) Do your research before you go.

Search online to find restaurants that are allergy-friendly. There are websites dedicated to making your search a little easier.  I particularly like www.AllergyEats.com. They have a great mobile app that comes in handy when traveling. Always take a look at the menu before heading out.  It saves you the hassle of getting to a restaurant only to learn that there is nothing on the menu for you to eat.

I always look for menus with simple dishes. I love when a restaurant has a kids’ menu because those dishes are pretty simple fare.  To limit the risk of cross-contact, avoid eating at places that use your particular allergens in a large number of their dishes. You will also want to avoid buffet-style restaurants and self-service food areas that are prone to cross-contact between foods, such as salad bars.

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5 Non-Food Ideas for Rewards at School

I am a strong proponet of rewarding children for good behavior, working hard, reaching their goals, etc.  I am, however, a little concerned by the frequency in which we reward children with food.

From a food allergy perspective, using food as a reward often alienates children who may not be able to consume it.  I cannot tell you how many timesReward Stickers  schools reward children with pizza and ice-cream parties.  What kind of message is this sending to all of our children? It certainly isn’t one of inclusion. Children with food allergies might think that they are not worthy of receiving a reward; after all, the school didn’t take the time to make sure everyone could enjoy the reward.

Secondly, this teaches all of our children that food (particularly junk food and sweets) is a reward.  This link between reward and food is concerning because it can and does lead to emotional eating, which is not healthy.

So how do you reward children in way that ensures everyone can participate?  Why not consider non-food rewards?

Here are some non-food ideas for rewards at school:

1) “Caught Being Good” coupon book.

Last year, my daughter’s teacher had the brilliant idea (without prompting from me) to reward each child with “classroom bucks” through out the year whenever they did something good in class. By the end of the year they had earned a full “Caught Being Good” coupon book which contained activities they liked to do, such as bring in a toy from home, read their favorite book, etc.  They had a lot of fun and it truly taught the value of hardwork.

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