Eating at Family Members’ Homes During the Holidays and Year-Round

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Eating at friend or family member’s home over the holidays can be awkward. As much as we love the quality time, sometimes people ‘forget’ about your allergens or just don’t fully understand the severity of them. Here are my top ten tips for dining at family member’s homes during the holidays.

  • Avoid potlucks if possible. I get it. Hosting an event is a lot of work. However, people’s lack of knowledge surrounding ingredients, not to mention cross-contamination, can make this dining situation a risky event.
  • Plan visits between meal times. Obviously, people love to pig out during the holidays. It just seems that eating and catching up with cousins and family are a part of the holiday season. However, try and plan events during mealtimes to relieve any unnecessary stress or concern. Why not go tobogganing or skating instead?
  • Do communal food preparation. Help out with the host in the food preparation process. Being behind the scenes can enlighten you on ingredients and how things were made. You will have a much better understanding of what options are viable.
  • Suggest recipes or menu themes that you know are safe. Depending on what your allergens are, you can always suggest menu items that you know are safe. You can make it fun by challenging people to the best pasta cook off or seven layer dip fiesta (of course this is assuming that you can eat these items). Using this method, you don’t have to worry as much about people bringing dishes you cannot eat.
  • Have your auto-injector on hand. Make sure you bring it. Whether you decide to store it in your purse, jacket pocket or snowsuit, you should have it on you at all times.
  • Always bring a dish you know is safe. It is definitely better to have one safe option to eat versus no safe option at all! Express this to your host and have them scoop some of your delicious contribution separately before sharing it with guests. This way, you can avoid cross-contamination of your amazing, and allergen-friendly, side dish.
  • Check labels upon arrival. Don’t hesitate to ask the host to keep labels from food items. Upon arriving at their humble abode, take a gander at the lists to ensure that the meal will be safe for your consumption. Don’t forget about sauces such as meat marinades and salad dressings. It may feel weird to dig through a garbage can for a label. But I guarantee that it is better than digging into your pocket for your auto-injector.
  • Always pack a snack for yourself. Even if you’re assured that you will be accommodated, it is best to come prepared with a snack or alternative food to eat. It will definitely beat going hungry.
  • If you experience any allergic symptoms, let someone know. Just in case something does happen, make sure you let someone know immediately (preferably a trusted family member who can help keep you calm, assist with the auto-injector, and get you the help you need). Accidents do happen and the most important thing to remember is that you need to communicate! Isolating yourself in an emergency by ‘going to the bathroom’ can be dangerous!
  • Be grateful. As always, you should politely thank your hosts for having you over—especially if they are accommodating! Make sure you voice your appreciation for any extra steps they took in making sure you had a comfortable evening and they’ll be sure to invite you over next year.

Nicole K.

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Guest Post – Taylor – Dating with Allergies

Enjoying each other's companyMy name is Taylor and I am a second year student studying Commerce at Queen’s University. I have serious allergies to peanuts, nuts, and fish. I am lucky that I have never suffered an anaphylactic reaction (or, as a result, had to be injected with my auto-injector).

In August 2012, I started dating my first boyfriend. We had been close friends prior. So he understood the severity of my allergies. I still needed to inform him that he could not eat any of the foods that I was allergic to on a day that he was planning to kiss me. In the beginning of our relationship, this took some getting used to because he loved to eat nuts and fish.

Growing up, I always thought that dating would be extremely difficult because of my allergies. I remember reading stories about the difficulties that teenagers experienced when dating. For example, I recall reading about a girl who was allergic to nuts. She saw the boy that she liked take a handful of almonds. If she had not seen him do so, she would have kissed him that night and would have potentially had an anaphylactic reaction.

Having experienced a relationship has taught me that dating with allergies is not as hard as I once anticipated. Yes, it is more difficult for me than for a person without allergies. But it is something that can be overcome. My boyfriend grew to learn how careful he needed to be with food when he was seeing me. He did not completely eliminate my allergens from his diet. But he would not eat foods that contained them when we had plans to get together. He was very respectful when we went out for dinner because he knew that I was selective when choosing a restaurant. When I went to his house for family dinners, I also needed to be very careful that his mother did not cook any food with my allergens. She was very respectful and careful when cooking. I appreciated that she took the time to ensure that I could partake in meals with the family!

Overall I realize that, although dating with allergies can be more difficult for me than for others, my allergies will not hold me back. I will inform all future boyfriends about the precautions to take regarding food and I am hopeful that they will respect my allergies.

Taylor R.

So You Didn’t Make a Plan: Allergies and Contingency

Girl and binoculars

It’s easy to make a plan in your head or write it down. You can map out every detail and think of different possibilities that could happen or arise. Putting those plans into action is a completely different story. A few years ago, my friends and I planned a road trip to Darien Lake, New York, where we went to Six Flags.  As kids, we had traveled there with our parents on numerous occasions; but this was the first year we were going alone. Given my food allergies, I knew that I had to plan ahead for safe options to eat. We were going for three days and I assumed a cooler with some cold snacks would be good enough. But boy was I was wrong. I didn’t anticipate how hungry I would be or what I would crave. I didn’t plan ahead for every meal I could want or be hungry for. I felt lost and without food. We were not close to a grocery store and I began to wonder what I would do. My friends I travelled with, being amazing and understanding about my food allergies, realized something was wrong. We decided to try our luck with the few of the restaurants available at the campground we were staying at. I hadn’t planned on eating out, so I did not call ahead or find out if any of them were safe. The first place we looked at was unable to guarantee a safe meal but, luckily, the second restaurant we went to could confirm they were an allergy-safe kitchen.

After eating, I satisfied my hunger; but I was still upset. I knew I was smarter than this. I always had a plan when I went out (but not this time). I realize now why I was so unorganized on this trip. It was a last minute we decision to go, a few days before to be exact, so I had no time to call ahead to the restaurants to make sure they would be safe. I also had conscience to share my cooler with one other person. So I didn’t have the room I would have liked to put more food in. Lastly, I had traveled there without cooking amenities; so my food options were limited.

I know now, whether it’s two days or 200 days in advance of travel, you should always have a some sort of plan in advance. Reliable snacks and foods are always a smart idea but, as we get older, we need more sustenance and most likely a hot meal. With mobile phones, it makes it easier to contact restaurants or look for grocery stores around you. Making sure you know your surroundings and having a plan are not only important to your safety but also when it comes to enjoying your trip.

Planning doesn’t have to be hard or tedious. Knowing what food you like, where you’re going, and what to bring is a lot easier than trying to find safe foods and places to eat. So remember, be prepared for everything because anything can happen.

Arianne K.

Close Calls and Life Lessons Living with Allergies

Cake Temptation

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget what is important. It’s also easy to become lulled into a false sense of security. Having food allergies, you have to constantly be aware of your surroundings and the food you’re going to eat. Being vocal and confident when telling those around you about your food allergy is a skill that we’re all constantly crafting. A while back, I was at a restaurant I frequent at least once a week. Sometimes familiarity can betray us. I know the staff and owner and regard them as close friends; and they are very aware of my food allergy. But, since they are aware, it is easy to forget to tell them or inform them each and every time I eat there. One night, we settled in for a few drinks and some food. The chefs at the restaurant had recently decided to start experimenting in the kitchen. I thought nothing of it since they were aware of my food allergies and I trusted that it would be safe. As I picked up my fork, ready to dig into my meal, the chef came out of the kitchen and said STOP! I immediately put my fork down as he explained that the food they were making in kitchen was perch (a new but serious allergy of mine). The chef said he was pretty sure that it had come into contact since it was in the same part of kitchen.

After they took my meal away, and promised to prepare a safe meal, I thought about the situation. I had failed to mention my allergy that day and it almost ended badly. After that close call, I realized that comfort can be deceiving. Just because I am familiar with a place doesn’t mean everyone is. I need to be more vocal with my allergies so everyone is informed just in case. I’m fortunate to have people looking out for me in the kitchen; but I need to look out for myself more than anyone.

It’s great to be comfortable. Your food allergies should never hinder you from experiencing things like anyone else. But it is always important to be aware of your surroundings and be vocal about your food allergies. You will feel more confident and comfortable in the long-run.

Arianne K.

 

 

Allergies and Outings with Colleagues

Jumping groupCarving-out a niche in the working world is all about building relationships with your colleagues. Having had brief experience in a corporate setting, I can attest to this. A major problem that I encounter is that most of these networking and social opportunities happen over lunch or dinner. This often puts me in a bind. I want to participate in these events, but how can I do so safely?

First of all, you should always plan ahead. A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry regarding buffets and safe dining–this was my first rule. If a group of colleagues arrange to have a dinner after work, use your lunch break to call the establishment in advance. Ask to speak to the general manager and ask whether or not they can guarantee an allergen-free environment. Ask about the nature of the cuisine they prepare and whether or not any of their products contain your specific allergen. Reiterate that you have a life-threatening allergy that is very serious and that the allergy can be triggered by cross-contamination.

Secondly, talk to the restaurant staff in person. If the phone conversation went well, and you feel safe enough to eat at the restaurant, speak to the restaurant staff upon your arrival. Ask to speak to the general manager again, to follow-up on your inquiries, and try to speak to the chef who will be in charge of preparing your food. The chef is usually the best person to talk to since they are the ones actually in the kitchen who are aware of how food is handled. They can best assess if there are likely to be risks of cross-contamination.

Finally, choose simple foods to eat. If you feel safe after speaking to both the chef and the manager, scan the menu. Avoid foods that are layered in seasonings, sauces or anything overly-fancy. The simpler the food choice, the safer you are. I usually request a grilled piece of steak (with salt and pepper seasoning) and a baked potato. If you have nut allergies, avoiding salads and desserts, as the risk of cross-contamination in those foods are very high, is usually a good practice.

If you follow these steps, this should alleviate a lot of the worry associated with eating- out when you have allergies. It will also allow you to focus on making a good impression among your peers since you won’t be as concerned about the safety of your food. I hope you will find these tips helpful.

Saverio M.  

Guest Post – I Have Food Allergies and So Does My Son

Father Son Cooking

 When I was two years old, my mom tried various tricks to get me to stop sucking my thumb. Once, she put peanut butter on my thumb before bed. She knew I didn’t like the smell; and we soon learned why. I came to them in the middle of the night with red eyes, a swollen face, and a noticeable wheeze. It was an allergy to peanuts, of course.

Things I don’t remember about growing up with a peanut allergy in the 1970s and 80s:

-Visiting an allergist or even a doctor, specifically to discuss the allergy
-Any nut-free signs at my school
-My mom ever phoning the parents of a friend to ask what they were serving at a birthday party
-Hearing the word Epipen let alone knowing what an autoinjector was
-Anyone asking on my behalf whether any product contained nuts

I figured out the basics of managing my allergy on my own; but I was still just a kid. When I was 8, I went to a birthday party and bit into a cookie without a moment’s hesitation. After one swallow, I knew it contained peanut butter and my time at the party was done. Another incident involved a dinner at a Chinese restaurant with my parents and another couple. Again, it was one taste. This time it was an egg roll with a peanut that ruined my night. Not knowing any better, my parents took me out to the car to lie down and “sleep it off” while they went back inside and finished their meal!

This is not meant to be an indictment of my parents. It was a different era. I can’t recall even knowing any other kids with a food allergy of any kind. When it would come up at a friend’s house, people would ask me all sorts of questions and sit in rapt attention.

Having dealt with this allergy all my life, and taken control over it as an adult, I was well-equipped to handle it when we learned our young son had multiple food allergies (including peanuts). My wife took the news hard; but, having managed an allergy my whole life, I knew that this was something that we could handle. I knew that, when comparing awareness and the ability to manage food allergies now to when I was a kid, this was something that we could make sure didn’t get the best of our son or us.

My son and I share in the experience of having a food allergy. While our allergies (and our reactions) are different, we can learn from each other. He’s growing up in an allergy-aware environment and I feel confident that he won’t need to rely on just dumb luck when it comes to managing his food allergies. And, in helping him learn to manage his allergies, I’ve gained more knowledge about managing mine, too.

Roger King

Managing Allergies During the Holidays

Holiday Meal

I always sigh a little when the holiday season rolls around (and not just because of gift shopping). It happens during any holiday, really, due to food and allergies. Sometimes I just wish for even one day without allergies! But, alas, my allergies are around. So I manage as best I can. There are three areas that I find to be the most challenging when it comes to food allergies around any holiday season: baking and cooking, family and friend gatherings, and inconveniencing others. I have a few favorite tips and I’ll share those at the end of my blog post!

Baking and Cooking

 

Luckily for me, I have grown up cooking with my parents and both sets of grandparents. Holiday baking has always been a fun thing for me; but it gets trickier each time I have encountered a new allergen (I’m now allergic to nuts, soy and dairy and I spent five years flipping between being vegetarian and vegan). During my university years, and ever since, I have been leading a more health-conscious life. Finding recipes that can accommodate my allergens, healthy lifestyle, and those that are delicious for my family, then, is a massive win!

Family and Friend Gatherings

 

My family keeps pretty similar annual traditions for holiday dinners and events; and being around the same people all the time allows them to be familiar with my allergies. Most of the time everyone is conscientious about what is being put in the food as well as being on the lookout for cross-contamination. And they are okay with me always asking what is inside certain dishes. Despite this, I often do not feel 100% safe. So I make sure ahead of time that I know there is a dish we can bring or I talk to family members that are cooking before to remind them about my allergies, cross-contamination, and find out what ingredients they are cooking with. It is easy for people to mistakenly forget an allergen. Being preventative helps keep me safe and creates a less-stressful environment for everyone when I am present at the gathering. After all, a big part of the holidays involves having fun with family and friends and eating delicious food!

Inconvenience to Others

 

No matter how many times my family and friends tell me that I am not an inconvenience, (and that the need for me to have to request certain things for dinners or choose to not have baking or beverages that are prepared during the holiday season is totally okay) I still feel that I am an inconvenience. Sometimes I will avoid eating all together if I don’t feel safe with my allergies. Or I just leave the event early (I did that recently at my friend’s dinner and it wasn’t that fun.). At times, I find it frustrating that my allergies create extra work for other people. I find it normal to use different ingredients, cook from scratch all the time, and know what I have in everything. So I don’t find it to be an issue. But I do recognize that these aren’t habits for most people.

 

As a promised bonus, my favorite tips to navigate through the holiday season with ease include:

 

  • Find a couple food blogs or recipe books that you love! Share these with family and friends. One of my favorites is ohsheglows.com

 

  • If you have “abnormal ingredients” you cook with, i.e. butter, egg or flour substitutes, try to introduce these to people you will be with through recipes before the holiday season. Nothing should come as a surprise to them if you take this approach. They may even take on using these substitutes themselves (my best friend now swears by vegan cheese instead of dairy based).
  • Remind people about your allergies and the severity of cross-contamination.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t eat it!
  • Try to always have a dish that you know you can comfortably eat.

 

Happy Holidays and stay safe!

 

Joanna C.

By Food Allergy Canada