The holidays are here and we want to help you make it a safe and successful one! In this post, you can read our holiday tips for travelling, dining out, and on how to make your holidays a safe and enjoyable one with young children who have food allergies. You’ll also get a personal view from one of our youth contributors on what it’s like to travel with food allergies.
Travel tips for the holidays
If you are travelling this holiday season, be sure to check out the travel tips from the International Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Alliance. There are more than 20 international food allergy organizations as a part of this alliance, including Food Allergy Canada.
You’ll find important tips when travelling with food allergies, including current regulations, medication availability and policies, emergency services, food labelling, meal planning and dining out.
You can also visit the Food Allergy Canada site for travel tips.
Holiday tips for families with food allergies
Beatrice Povolo, the Director of Advocacy and Media at Food Allergy Canada, and a mother of a child with peanut and tree nut allergies, offers some advice on how families with food allergies can enjoy the upcoming holiday season.
Q: What tips can you give parents of a newly-diagnosed child about preparing for the holidays?
A: Food is generally the one common factor when it comes to celebrating around the holidays and unfortunately it can be quite daunting for parents of a newly-diagnosed child, especially as they start learning about how to keep your child safe.
With a bit of planning, your family can continue participating in different events, whether it’s holiday parties or family gatherings. Communication and understanding how to manage food allergies within your own family is essential. Before attending any functions, make sure you and your partner discuss how to manage your child’s allergies to make sure you are on the same page. This allows you to be united in your approach when facing offers of grandma’s cookies and Auntie Linda’s casserole that they insist is safe for your child (even though they don’t really understand the severity of your child’s allergies and how to avoid cross-contamination).
If the family rule is that your child only eats foods that you have brought, then having this discussion ahead of time and having a planned response can help you navigate family gatherings with minimal conflict and stress. There are many other tips like always bringing safe food options for your child, and talking to the host ahead of time to discuss the menu in advance, giving them tips on safe food preparation and safe food options. You can also ask that allergenic food (e.g. trays of peanuts and nuts, shrimp rings, etc.) be kept out away from toddlers who may reach for these foods.
What really helped my family was not saying, “We’re coming over for dinner. Do you have something that’s safe for my son to eat?” Rather it was, “Thank you so much for inviting us. As you know, my son has food allergies, and if it’s okay with you I’ll bring his own snacks and food.” Always offering to be part of the solution is the best advice I would give.
Q: How can parents raise food allergy awareness among family and friends during the holidays?
A: Although there is more awareness of food allergies nowadays, they’re not always top of mind, until they affect you personally. The key is to not be afraid to speak up and say something – whether it’s to family, friends, co-workers, or at school. Generally, people are willing to help, especially when it’s a family member or a friend.
Tell others about your child’s allergies, what they can and cannot eat, and how severe the situation could be if your child is exposed to their allergy trigger. You want to keep a balanced approach so that people aren’t afraid to include your family. But at the same time, they do need to understand the seriousness of the allergy and how they can help reduce the risk of a reaction.
Ultimately, managing your child’s allergy is your family’s responsibility (you as a parent and your child) however, having the support of friends and family goes a long way in making it easier for you and your child.
Q: How can parents empower their child and prepare them for the holidays?
A: The level of preparation really depends on the maturity of the child and having age-appropriate conversations with your child before you go to a function is very important.
Help prepare your child ahead of time by practicing how to ask questions about ingredients and food choices. Encourage them to talk to the host themselves to find out what options are safe. And let them know how proud you are of them for learning how to manage their allergies on their own.
Remind your child that the same day-to-day rules still apply:
- They should always ask you before eating anything.
- They should not share any food, cups, or utensils.
- They should always carry their epinephrine auto-injector with them – if they don’t have it with them, they can’t eat.
- They should tell you and others immediately if they are feeling unwell or think they are having a reaction.
Check out additional tips on making the holidays easier to manage.
Dining out during the holidays
Celebrations and togetherness are what the holidays are all about and many of these festivities may take place at restaurants. Make sure you’re prepared and read up on our dining out tips for the holiday season and all year round.
Personal story: Food allergy travel – the key is to plan ahead
Written by Shivangi S., a young adult who contributes to Food Allergy Canada’s WhyRiskIt.ca blog
For about 14 years of my life, the word “travel” had a very limited meaning for me. I mean, how could someone at risk for anaphylaxis from eating peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish/seafood, wheat/barley, and buckwheat safely travel, especially to countries where you can’t even explain your allergies in the same language?
Well, when you really think about it, there are actually quite a few ways. The key is to plan ahead.
Then, there’s also the natural anxiety that comes along with travelling with severe food allergies. I can say that this fear has not gone away for me. However, I can confidently say that you can manage this anxiety by planning ahead.
For me, planning ahead started in 2005, when I discovered the world of cruising. I was quite skeptical at first when my parents brought up the idea of boarding a cruise ship for 7 days – I mean, what if something happened and I was stranded on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean? But, before I knew it, I was boarding the 140,000 ton MS Navigator of the Seas.
From this trip, I learned a couple of things:
- If you’re travelling on a cruise ship or any other type of organized trip, inform the company, or organizer, of your food allergy weeks in advance, as well as while you’re on the trip. They will need the extra time to prepare, just like those of us with allergies need time to plan.
- In the context of cruising, my parents called the cruise line ahead of time and provided them with information about my food allergies. Some cruise lines even have a “special needs form,” which must be filled out prior to sailing. Additionally, immediately after boarding the ship, we spoke to the Maitre’D, and discussed lunch and dinner options with our wait staff the night before. This gave them enough time to ensure that they had ingredients to make food that was safe for me, and had informed the appropriate crew members about my allergies. This also allowed them to have lunch and dinner ready for me, without me having to wait for them to make it from scratch every day – which helped me enjoy more of my vacation!
- Plan ahead
- Bring dry foods that are easy to put in your carry-on luggage (in case of the off-chance that your checked luggage gets lost). For instance, foods I commonly bring in my carry-on luggage include dry pasta, bread, muffins, etc. This does two things: 1. Helps me feel comfortable and safe with the food I’m eating, and 2. Gives me a back-up for days where finding allergen-safe food is difficult, or for any unforeseen delays or changes in my planned itinerary.
- In cases where you’re not sure where lunch or dinner will be – plan ahead and bring food with you for those meals. Again, in the context of cruise lunches and dinners, I provide the gluten-free dry pasta or bread to the kitchen staff on the ship, who can then add an allergen-safe sauce or toppings for me. The muffins, and other foods like Rice Krispie squares, are a couple of ideas for snacking throughout the day. For days at port, I either use my thermos from home to bring food with me, or bring a sandwich that’s safe for me to eat.
After 2005, we began cruising 1-2 times a year, and what I once thought was impossible, suddenly came within reach; I got the chance to visit Europe in 2012, and then again in 2014, both times on a cruise ship. It was then that I began using “allergy cards,” which I had in English, as well as in Italian (thanks to my good friend’s mom, who speaks fluent Italian). I even used pictures of my allergens on the back of the Italian cards to be extra safe. These “allergy cards” helped to reduce the risk of miscommunication, and gave me extra comfort that the wait staff were noting my food allergies correctly. The wait staff also appreciated it, as they could give the kitchen the card for their reference.
In 2009, my dad and I also began taking baseball road trips. If you know anything about me, it is that I am the biggest Toronto Blue Jays fan that you will ever meet. My dad and I have a bucket list of 162 baseball-related things that we want to do, which includes visiting all 30 MLB ballparks. This obviously entails travel as well – usually via car. I apply the same tips and techniques from cruising on my baseball road trips – I plan ahead. The one difference is that we generally stay in hotels with kitchens which gives me the flexibility to make my own meals.
Ultimately, by planning ahead, you set yourself up for safe travels. This doesn’t mean there aren’t still risks – but planning ahead helps mitigate those risks significantly!
Read more about being allergy safe when travelling. You can also take a look at a few services that offer allergy translation cards, visit allergytranslation.com or selectwisely.com for details.
Allergy-friendly recipes for the holidays
Enjoy the following three recipes contributed from a few families in our community.
Gingerbread People Recipe (From Theresa Kingma’s cookbook, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free Kid Pleasing Recipes and Tips)
This recipe was contributed by Stephanie who leads our Metro Vancouver Anaphylaxis Support Group and helps with our newly diagnosed program. Thank you Stephanie!
This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and peanut/tree nut free.
- 2 1/2 cup flour (use gluten-free oat flour if making gluten free)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 cup dairy free margarine/shortening
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup dark molasses
- 1/4 cup water
Raisins, “safe” candy, frosting with safe icing (mix 1/2 cup dairy free margarine with 2 ½-3 cups icing sugar and dash of rice milk)
Whisk together flour, salt, ginger, baking soda, and allspice. Set aside. In a large bowl, blend shortening/margarine, sugar, molasses, and water until thoroughly combined. Add dry ingredients to shortening mixture and stir until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours (or overnight).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to ¼ inch thickness. Cut with people-shaped cookie cutters. Lift carefully with spatula. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake until set, about 8-10 minutes. Cool. Decorate with frosting, raisings, or safe candy.
Split Pea, Roasted Ham Hock and Vegetable Soup and Rolled Buckwheat Crepe Recipes
Contributed by Julia B., a mom of two children, one with food allergies and one with FPIES — the following is written by her.
Over the holiday season and the cold winter months, a new challenge presents itself for the FPIES diet, how do I prepare foods that can satisfy my kids, keep their bellies warm, travel and store easily for family visits and feel festive and special (especially the sweets!).
My goal is to have a series of ‘one pot wonder’ recipes to have on rotation while I take the extra time needed to make unique holiday desserts and slow roasted dinners.
Here are two recipes that I use for my family. If cooking for an FPIES diet, please review all ingredients carefully as one can have FPIES to any food.
Split Pea, Roasted Ham Hock and Vegetable Soup – ingredients and instructions:
This recipe works for a grain, dairy, soy, seafood, nut, nightshade, chicken, egg and preservative free diet. Place all the following ingredients into a slow cooker or pot.
- 1 roasted ham hock (not smoked but baked and be sure to check the ingredients for any milk enzyme, additives or preservatives). In Toronto, I have had success finding pre-baked ham hocks at the St. Lawrence Market.
- 2 cups whole yellow peas (or split)
- 2 carrots peeled and diced
- 2 celery ribs, diced
- 1 medium sized onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 8 cups of water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried savory herb or tarragon
Bring to a boil and simmer for 2-3 hours adding water if necessary. Remove ham hock and dice the meat. Place cubed ham back into the soup and discard bones. Garnish with parsley.
Ingredients and instructions for Rolled Buckwheat Crepe:
*Buckwheat is a gluten-free grain
I make these in sweet, savoury or plain versions. As an accompaniment to the split pea soup recipe, I make a very basic version:
- 2 1/2 cups white buckwheat flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 tsp aluminum-free baking soda
Mix all dry ingredients then add 2 cups of water, slowly as mixing. Let stand for a few minutes.
Pour batter into hot pan and tip pan around to spread batter to create thin layer. Cook only on one side until bubbles appear and surface is dry. Spread your favourite cheese, nut, seed or fruit butter and roll or just roll plain and dip!