Navigating the Holidays with Nut Allergies

Bowl of mixed nuts

I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the way, someone decided that in order for foods to be considered “holiday worthy” they need to have nuts in them. It’s happened to normally nut-free foods everywhere. Sweet potatoes. Fruit salad. Vegetable salad. Don’t even get me started on desserts!

I don’t know when or how it happened, but as the parent of a child who is allergic to nuts, the holidays have become a little, well… nuts! I was a nervous wreck the first year we attended holiday gatherings outside of the nut-free safety of our own home. I watched my son like a hawk and followed him everywhere. I was unable to relax or enjoy myself because I was so afraid he was going to eat something that wasn’t safe for him. By January, I was completely exhausted and realized that I hadn’t enjoyed a thing about the holidays with my family and friends.

The good news is that with a couple of holiday seasons now under my belt, I have learned that it’s possible for us to safely visit with friends and family and it is possible for me to relax and enjoy the best part of the holidays – quality time with people we love.

The key, I have found, is an open conversation with the host or hostess prior to the party. Overwhelmingly, my friends and family want to help keep my son safe and I suspect most other allergy parents will have similar experiences. But best intentions and actual execution of truly nut-free recipes are two different things. There is a lot to know about preparing food free of allergens.

If your child has a nut allergy and you are navigating this, here are a few steps I have found useful when talking to holiday hosts about nut allergies:

If the host doesn’t already know that your child has a nut allergy, let him know ahead of time. Don’t wait until you’re walking through the door the day of the party. Pick up the phone and have a conversation about it well in advance of the get-together. Explain your child’s allergies and what could happen if an exposure occurs. Try to be factual and avoid being too dramatic. Let your host know that you have this conversation with everyone whose home you plan to visit and that you simply want them to be aware.

Plan to make a dish to share. After the hostess knows that your child has a nut allergy, inform her that you’d like to bring a dish to share with everyone but that will be “safe” for your child. For someone hosting an event in which a child attending has a nut allergy, the responsibility can feel a little overwhelming. If the hostess knows that you plan to bring a dish, it may help take some pressure off.

When you’re planning the dish to take to the event, make sure that it’s something that you know your child will eat, and make sure that it’s filling, just in case it ends up being the only thing your child eats at the party.

Discuss the planned menu when you call. Your host will probably ask what he can make that your child will be able to eat, which is incredibly thoughtful. This is a great time to do a bit of education about food labels and cross contamination (see more below). If during the conversation you feel like the host is feeling overwhelmed, offer to bring separate food for your child. That way the host doesn’t feel like he’s bearing all of the responsibility but also isn’t surprised or offended when you arrive with a lunch box full of food.

Talk about food labels and cross contamination. If the host offers to make a nut-free dish, help him with food labels 101. Explain how to look for “trace” amounts of nuts such as “produced in a facility that also manufactures nuts” at the bottom of the label.

Sometimes the host will ask if he could simply save all of the food labels so that you can review them once you arrive. This can work really well and can take the pressure off of the host.

Bring dessert, too. Desserts are particularly difficult for kids with nut allergies. Unless the dessert was made from scratch (not a box), the likelihood it will either have nuts in it or have trace nuts in it, are pretty high. While there are some safe boxed mixes, there are also many boxed mixes that contain trace amounts of nuts.

Desserts from bakeries are really difficult too. Unless packaging specifically states that the product is nut-free or it was baked in a nut-free bakery, a child with a nut allergy won’t be able to eat it. To make sure my dessert-loving son can have a sweet treat, I keep “emergency cupcakes” in our freezer for just this type of occasion.

Ask if bowls of nuts can be removed. Nuts are often set out on coffee tables where kids can easily reach them. Ask the hostess if she would please skip the bowl of nuts. If you encounter push back, ask if it can at least be placed somewhere out of reach of children.

If you’re new to this journey with nut allergies, I’m sure this sounds like a lot, and it is. The good news is that it will get easier with time. However, you will probably still find yourself in awkward conversations with family and friends every once in a while. The best advice I can give you is to be grateful for the efforts of others, but be diligent with your own precautionary measures. A simple, “please don’t be offended, I have to do these things”, can go a long way.

And if you happen to be a holiday host or hostess on the receiving end of a phone call from the parent of a child who has nut allergies, please be patient with and understanding of that person. Keeping a child with nut allergies safe is practically a full-time job, especially in the beginning, and one misstep can literally be life-threatening. Your friend or family member will be grateful beyond measure for your understanding and support.

If you’re looking for inspiration for an upcoming holiday party, the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology has allergy-free holiday recipes on its website.

Have a happy and safe holiday season!

Rachel Camper

About the Author: Rachel Camper

Rachel enjoys her role in social media because she not only gets to share inspirational stories and helpful information with other parents, but she learns all sorts of useful tips along the way! A mother of two highly energetic boys and an infant girl, Rachel enjoys cooking for her family, running with and after her lively kids, and (much needed) relaxing with yoga.

Write a comment

Your data will be safe! Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person. Required fields marked as *

Comments

  1. Dave Dawson November 08, 15:56
    A well written informative nut allergy article.
  2. Ann Luckoski November 10, 16:51
    Great article. Very thorough and helpful! Ann L.
  3. Charlene Wolfe November 15, 08:36
    Well written and excellent information.
  4. sharon cashner December 20, 16:07
    Thank you, Rachel, for a very informative article. You are saving lives. I am 68 years old and have been allergic to nuts my entire life. And, many other foods, too. It is a very difficult way to live, but, it is possible to be safe if you are very careful. Your advice is excellent. I have used all of the precautions you mentioned in article. But, with respect to you, I would like to add one more safety measure. It is cross-contamination. This is a real problem and has happened to me. I am referring to the same utensils being used to serve foods containing nuts and then used to serve nut-free foods. Also, bakeries display baked goods with nuts alongside nut-free bake goods. That set off a reaction on me. And, foods baked on the same cookware. But, it is possible to survive a lifetime happily with a few precautions. I truly appreciate your wonderful article
    • Rachel Camper
      Rachel Camper Author December 21, 08:48
      Hi Sharon, Thank you for the suggestion -- and it's a great point! Separate cookware/serving ware and utensils for all dishes can help avoid cross contamination concerns.
      • CW December 23, 09:39
        I agree with Sharon on the cross contamination! The peanut and tree nut oil is not like a virus that dies. It's there until you wipe it off with a cleaning agent. So if you attend a home with peanuts or tree nuts in it, that are eaten on a regular basis, that cross contamination is EVERY WHERE! Just removing the nut bowl does NOT make the house safe! Our experience has been to avoid homes because my child has ended up at the ER too many times due to cross contamination....NEVER ingesting!
  5. Karen December 20, 19:58
    I love the way you get the message across in a diplomatic manner. My daughter has had to do the same very thing; as her son has an extremely high (off the chart ) level of allergy to peanuts / tree nuts . It's what caring mom's do ...... Protect their children from harm ! Thanks for sharing !
  6. Nutconscience5yrs+ November 13, 19:40
    Thanks for the detailed info! Don't forget that allergens can stay active on surfaces for 4 months or longer, therefore the host or yourself must also clean surfaces such as remotes, light switches, door knobs and handles where trace contamination can still occur. I've been advised to simply use a disinfectant wipe or Lysol spray and I usually provide the cleaning materials and perform the task when I'm attending, but get permission first of course.