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Make holiday meals safe and fun for everyone! Tips for families with food allergies

Family smiling around a dinner table

No matter what holidays your family celebrates, chances are good that many of your gatherings involve special foods. While most of us look forward to these seasonal delights, for families of kids with food allergies, holiday gatherings can add pressure and anxiety to what’s meant to be a fun and festive time of year. 

Whether you’re traveling, hosting an event or bringing a dish to share, we have some tips to help kids with food allergies stay safe and enjoy the holiday season. 

Be our guest: Hosting a meal at your home 

With a little bit of planning and preparation, you can ensure guests with food allergies feel welcome and included at your gathering.  

  • Ask about food allergies in advance and communicate with other guests who are bringing food to share. 
  • Label dishes that contain any of the top 9 allergens – or better yet, get creative and modify the recipe so it is free of your guests’ allergens! 
  • Provide an alternate dish that is safe for your allergic guests. Be sure to use separate plates and serving utensils for each dish to avoid cross-contamination. 
  • Invite your guests with allergies to make their plate before other guests go through the serving line. 

Going to Grandma’s: Attending a meal outside your home 

If someone in your family has food allergies, you’re probably already well-prepared for meals away from home. Here are a few additional tips to keep your child safe at holiday gatherings: 

  • Ask about the menu prior to the event so if your child can’t eat the meal, you can plan accordingly. 
  • If dishes contain too many allergens, eat at home before or after the event or bring a separate meal for your child. 
  • Ask the host if you can bring a dish that is allergen-friendly. This is a great opportunity to educate others about food allergies and show off your culinary skills! 
  • Don’t hesitate to remind other guests not to share food with your child, especially if your child is too young to self-advocate. 
  • Always carry epinephrine autoinjectors and emergency medications with you. 

Planes, trains and automobiles: Travel tips 

Traveling with a child with food allergies can be stressful, but it is possible! Remember these tips for your holiday trips: 

  • ALWAYS carry your epinephrine autoinjectors and other emergency medications. 
  • Travel with safe snacks. You never know when a travel delay may occur. 
  • If you’re on an airplane or public transportation, wipe down the seat and tray table. 
  • Let restaurant staff know about your allergies before ordering. 
  • Know where to go for medical emergencies, especially if you’re traveling internationally. 

Calling all room parents: Inclusive parties and gifts 

Kids love all the celebrations and special activities this time of year, but there’s nothing worse than a child who feels left out because of food allergies. With some thoughtful planning, you can help everyone be included in the fun at school parties, family events and gift exchanges. 

  • Consider non-food items for gifts and prizes. Toys, craft kits, art supplies, gift cards — the possibilities are endless! 
  • Send safe treats to school to eat during school parties (better yet, make sure any party food is safe for ALL kids in the classroom). 
  • Build family memories that don’t involve food, such as games, visiting holiday displays, reading holiday books or watching holiday movies. 
  • If you give a gift of food, try to buy prepackaged with a clear nutrition/allergen label present.  

We wish you a safe, fun and delicious holiday season! 

Pediatric Allergy & Immunology