Tips For Holiday Gatherings When Living With Food Allergies

Free From Holiday Tips When Living With Food Allergies by The Allergy Chef

Today I’m sharing some tips you can rely on as you meet up with others during the holidays. You can also squirrel this information away for other large gatherings where food is involved. After having to manage free-from holidays for over 20 years, I can honestly say, I’ve learned a few things. If this is your first time here, you can read more about Our Story here.

No matter where you are on your journey, I want to always encourage you to surround yourself with people who are rooting for you. Sure they may have a few too many questions sometimes, or maybe read about “the latest treatment” and rush to tell you. Yet, these are the people who care about you and want you to succeed. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be asking questions or searching out articles in the first place. These are also people you can open up to and set healthy boundaries with.

If someone in your circle of friends or even a family member doesn’t respect that you are an individual who doesn’t owe them anything and should be shown kindness, it may be time to reevaluate that relationship. We have too many responsibilities on our free-from plates. We have no room for toxic people.

Food Free Events Are Cool

So many social events revolve around food, and it can make everything feel mega stressful. There’s nothing wrong with having a holiday movie night, or a holiday LEGO build night. Serve light refreshments, or beverages only. The key is to keep the event under 3 hours or so. This allows people to eat before or after as needed.

With the release of the Home Alone House set from LEGO, this year, the holiday build is a no-brainer. Build the house whilst the original movie plays in the background, and you’re set for an evening of laughs and memory building with those who matter. If you’re new to managing food allergies or still nervous about group events, you might find our Social Scenarios Allergy Seminar as a useful tool.

Allergy Seminar: Social Scenarios

Other fun food-free activities:

  • Non-expensive gift exchange
  • Puzzle races (teams are great for this)
  • Board games (avoid Monopoly if you have *that* kind of person in the family 😉)
  • Painting (follow along with a Bob Ross video)

Communicate in Writing

Before an event, make sure you’ve communicated effectively in writing with the host of the event. This communication may contain a wide range of information such as what will be served, what others will be bringing, or what you can contribute to the meal. This can also include making sure others attending the event are aware of your allergies.

Let The Host Be Your Host (in any small way possible)

Some hosts will often feel bad about you needing to bring your own food. In this case, send them a photo of a product available in your area that they can purchase that’s safe for you. Be sure to include the ingredient panel so they can make sure they bought the right thing.

Taking that step is a really important one as it helps the host feel like they’ve included you and provided for you. It also does the same for you! The host clearly cares about your safety and feelings and wants you to be part of things too, so let them.

It can be as simple as a box of cookies or particular beverage. Partake Foods is a great brand that’s available in most stores. If you’re new to the brand, check out our review of their holiday flavors. Make sure they know to leave it unopened for you, as some hosts may want to put it on a pretty plate for you (again, SO thoughtful).

Consider a Special Table

If there are several people attending an event with restricted diets, work together with the host to have a special table that’s clearly labeled that houses the free-from foods. Make sure each dish is clearly labeled and has its own serving utensils. It’s also wise to have an adult taking care of that table, rather than having children (or adults in some cases) serve themselves.

Thanksgiving Meal

What Is or Isn’t On Your Plate Doesn’t Matter

Let this be the phrase that lives in your head rent free this year. Holiday gatherings for most people with a restricted diet is all about the mindset. We work ourselves up, thinking people are going to judge us for what we’re eating. But let’s be honest: if these are people who truly care about us, won’t they just want us at the table?

Sure, there may be questions, and this a great time for you to spread awareness. Be honest and let them know that the food they eat can make you really sick. You have what’s safe for you, and you still get to be part of the festivities. Bring a safe dish to share and show them that you don’t have to miss out on flavor. Our Thanksgiving Recipes document has recipes that can be shared at any holiday and might give you some ideas. Or, if you really want a classic holiday treat, make our awesome Gingerbread Cookies. They are Gluten free, vegan, and top 9 allergen free so they should be something many can enjoy.

If you’re surrounded by people who care, they will be happy to try your offering and make non-food related conversation instead of focusing on what’s missing from your plate. They might even find your food so delicious they ask for the recipe!

Giant Gingerbread Man by The Allergy Chef

Have a Clean Up Plan in Place

If a contact allergy is in play, have an action plan ahead of time. Think glitter. Everyone will have glitter (allergens) on their hands after the meal. Talk about clean up before the event so the host knows the expectations. Someone needs to wipe down surfaces before the person with the allergy roams free. You don’t want a trail of glitter from the table to the kitchen to the fridge handle to the bathroom to the playroom to the remote and so on.

Some of You Need to Plan to Arrive After The Food Has Been Cleaned Up

For those with contact or airborne reactions, arriving after food has been cleaned up may be the safest and easiest way to celebrate with loved ones in person. Remember the glitter? You’ll still need to have a clean up plan in place. This is also a safe option for those with little kids who have life threatening food allergies and aren’t able to communicate effectively about their needs (especially if it’s a LARGE family gathering).

Digital gatherings are also an option for those who don’t have a safe way to join in person.

Dealing With Rude Comments

First, let me say this: I’m really sorry that you have to deal with this. You didn’t ask for a restricted diet and, quite frankly, people need to keep rude comments to themselves. Like seriously? Grow up.

Second, you’re going to have to be a tough cookie. Don’t let people get you down, and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. You know my respirator? When I first started wearing it 5+ years ago, I was harassed in public. A LOT. I had to stand up for myself as a way to stand up for our whole community. It’s not easy. Yet, after a confrontation where you’ve stood your ground, it’s a great feeling knowing that you’ve at least dealt with things, kept a level head (hopefully) and possibly educated someone.

There are a few ways to go about handling a rude comment. These ideas assume that there’s some kind of malicious intent. If that is NOT the case, please kindly spread awareness.

Troll Type Comments: Why is what I’m eating such a problem for you? I didn’t ask you to eat any and quite frankly, I didn’t ask for your opinion either.

In Response to Comments About Your Child(ren): Did you know that my child can die from eating the wrong food? We don’t carry an epi-pen for fun. In fact, this year alone several children have died from food allergies because the food wasn’t properly labeled. Every three minutes, a person with allergies is sent to the emergency room with a life threatening reaction and I don’t want that for my child. I get that you don’t live with this everyday, and I’m happy for you. Until you live with that responsibility, keep your comments to yourself.

As a Way to Move Along: Hey, do you feel better now that you’ve aired your opinion about my food? Which by the way, I don’t remember asking for? Hey Beth, have you been keeping up on the latest episodes of XYZ (or mention a current popular movie)? [In this case, hopefully the question can be directed at someone new such as Beth, as a way to disengage with the rude commenter.]

As a Way to Change The Topic: Can I be honest since you’re being honest? It really makes me uncomfortable when people talk about my food in this way. We can either talk about something else, or I’d be happy to sit elsewhere.

General Rule: Don’t Engage With Trolls

Some people have their minds made up, and it just doesn’t matter what you say. There’s a good chance you already know who that is. In these cases, don’t engage. Change the topic or physically move to a new location. You don’t owe anyone your time or energy in trying to convince them of something they’re not really interested in learning more about.

Remember this too: if you’re a people pleaser by nature, in these moments, try to push those feelings to the side. You haven’t done anything wrong and you certainly don’t deserve a bunch of nonsense being thrown your way.

Related Resources:

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