It takes a village: 6 ways to support adults and children with food allergies this holiday season (and always)

All health conditions pose unique challenges, calling for support from other people in the community. One of the unique and challenging features of living with food allergies is that food surrounds us everywhere we go – especially in social situations. And with its emphasis on delicious and festive foods of all kinds, the holiday season poses special challenges for those with food allergies.

But if you’re a friend, family member, work colleague, or educator of an adult or child with food allergies, there are plenty of things you can do to make the season and its food-based events not only safer, but downright welcoming. Six of these are listed here for your consideration.

  1. Take food allergies seriously! Where public awareness of food allergies is concerned, a range of views and opinions exist – from those who are deeply concerned about friends and family members with allergies, to those who think it’s a bit overblown. If you’re in the latter group and happen to be reading this, we have only one thing to say: Well done on taking an interest in food allergy! By so doing, you’re taking a step toward keeping others safe – and possibly even learning how to save a life one day. We invite you to learn more about food allergies, and why it should be taken seriously. Check out our article on foodallergycanada.ca for more tips and reasons why it matters.
  1. Skip the chestnuts roasting on the open fire! In fact, hold off on serving nuts (and peanuts) altogether if someone with these food allergies will be visiting or dining at your home. This is especially important if young children with peanut or tree nut allergies are visiting, as little hands tend to touch everything. And although the smell of nuts or peanuts will not trigger an allergic reaction, an individual with allergies to these foods may still experience anxiety at their presence.
  1. Ask about food sensitivities of all kinds when inviting guests over for the holidays. Peanuts and tree nuts are only two of the top ten priority allergens in Canada. And of course, there are many other less common allergens. In addition, many other food sensitivities aside from allergies also exist – from Celiac disease to lactose intolerance. In other words, it simply makes sense to inquire about your guests’ dietary requirements before you begin to shop and prepare. This step alone goes a long way toward making guests with special dietary needs feel comfortable and welcome.
  1. Ask your guests with food allergies if they’d like to help you shop or be involved in food preparation. This step is possible if your guests live nearby. But even if they will be travelling to be with you over the holidays, there are ways to include friends and family members with food allergies in the shopping and food preparation that allow them to feel that their needs have been heard and accommodated. For example, taking photos of ingredient labels at the grocery store and sending them via text or e-mail, or sending a list of the menu items, including ingredient lists.
  1. Ask clear questions. Where food allergies are concerned, never assume that you have all the information you need to help keep your friend, family member, or colleague safe. For example, you may assume that a prepackaged sauce you plan to use is okay because it doesn’t contain one of your guest’s stated allergens. But you may or may not be aware of whether the sauce was processed in a facility that uses shared lines with other products that contain your guest’s allergens, possibly leading to cross-contamination. This is where it’s important to let your guest lead the way. In other words, when in doubt, be sure to ask. Safety, after all, is in the details.
  1. Consider supporting children and adults alike by donating to Food Allergy Canada. By making a donation to Food Allergy Canada, a nationally registered charity, you’re not only doing a kind thing prior to the holiday season, but you are also making a personal statement about the vital importance of educating, supporting, and advocating for over 2.6 million Canadians living with food allergies. Please consider making a difference in the lives of 1-in-13 Canadians by taking a moment to learn why you should donate to this worthy cause – a gesture that can truly help save lives.

To learn more about food allergy, visit foodallergycanada.ca.