How to Talk to Party Hosts About Kids’ Nut Allergies

Somewhere along the way, someone decided that in order for foods to be “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!

As the parent of a child who is allergic to all nuts, the holidays have become a little…nuts! I was a nervous wreck the first year we attended parties outside of the nut-free safety of our home. 

With quite a few holiday seasons now under my belt, I have learned that it is possible for us to safely attend parties with friends and family. The key is to have an open conversation with the host prior to the event. Here are a few things I’ve found useful to touch on during the discussion:

How to Talk to Party Hosts About Nut Allergies

 

Have a conversation ahead of time

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. Explain your child’s allergies and what could happen if an exposure occurs. Try to keep it factual. Let your host know that you have this conversation with everyone and that you simply want him to be aware.

Plan to make a dish to share

Inform the hostess that you’d like to bring a dish to share with everyone, but that it will be “safe” for your child. It can feel overwhelming to host a child with a nut allergy. Offering to bring a dish may help take some of the pressure off.  

I suggest bringing something that you know your child will eat, and make sure that it’s filling. That way, she won’t go hungry if it’s the only thing she can eat at the party.  

Discuss the menu

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 explain 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.

Also, it is important to have separate serving utensils for each dish so that there is not cross contamination from a nut-containing dish to a non-nut dish. 

Offer to Bring dessert, too

Explain that desserts are particularly problematic for kids with nut allergies. Unless the dessert was made from scratch, it is likely to contain nuts or trace nuts. Similarly, boxed mixes can contain nuts or trace nuts. 

Desserts from bakeries are tricky, too. Unless packaging specifically states that the product is nut-free or it was made in a nut-free bakery, some children with a nut allergy won’t be able to eat it. To make sure my dessert-loving son can have a sweet treat, I either make a dessert to share with everyone, or I bring one of his “emergency cupcakes” from our freezer. 

Address the bowl of nuts

Parties often have a bowl of nuts sitting on a coffee table where kids can easily reach them. Ask the hostess if she would be willing to skip it. If you encounter push back, ask if it can at least be placed somewhere out of the reach of your child. 

If you’re new to this journey with nut allergies, I’m sure this sounds like a lot. 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.

To learn about the Food Allergy Program at Cincinnati Children’s, please call 513-636-2601 or fill out an online form form more information.

Rachel Camper

About the Author: Rachel Camper

Rachel enjoys her role in social media because not only does she get to share inspirational stories and helpful information with other parents, but she learns all sorts of useful tips along the way! A mother of three spirited kids, she enjoys cooking, running and (much needed) relaxing with yoga.

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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.
  7. CH December 10, 15:14
    Thank you for the very informative article. I've been nut-allergic for ~28 years and have used many of the precautions and work-arounds you mentioned. Offering to bring dessert and/or a stomach-filling side item have been in my bag of tricks for years. Thanks again for bringing the issue and solutions to light.