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.