Navigating the holidays with food allergies

The holidays can be tough. You’re shuffling your family from school party to neighborhood shindig to a gathering with relatives. Throw food allergies into the mix, and what’s supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year can be stressful. Like really stressful.

We’re all too familiar with how exposures can be a matter of life or death for children with food allergies. We recently shared the story of Noelle Dilley (“Noelle’s story: The danger of one bite”) who suffered an allergic reaction after eating a cupcake that contained peanut butter. Sadly, she spent 31 days in our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) but is doing great today and back to her happy, spirited self.

Because food is often a big part of holiday celebrations, we want to help you navigate them with ease. We want the child in your life to be able to experience this time of the year like every other kid in the safest way possible.

So we talked with Ellen Wade and Janie Cooperman, dietitians at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, for tips. They emphasized that success is all about planning and offered these suggestions:

  1. If your relatives or neighbors are hosting the gathering, talk with them ahead of time about the menu and clearly communicate your child’s special health needs. Think about what will help your child be most safe. You may want to ask them to skip the bowl of mixed nuts or pass on the deviled eggs this year.
  2. Educate friends and family about cross-contamination. Even if a food item is removed, it leaves behind food proteins until washed with soap and water. Safe foods can get contaminated by touching other foods or residue from utensils, serving platters or even hands
  3. Bring safe alternatives for your child. Knowing the menu ahead of time will help you bring something similar so he or she doesn’t feel left out.
  4. Survey the scene upon arrival. Take a quick look for food allergens that may be present (even if you’ve already agreed on a plan with the host, someone else may have brought something). Some common offenders at other people’s homes may be food residue in play areas, dog food (may include food allergens such as eggs or milk) and bowls/platters of candy in open areas.
  5. Bring baby or disinfectant wipes to quickly wipe down surface areas your child may come in contact with, such as table tops or shared toys. Wipes are great whenever soap and water aren’t easily accessible. You can also use wipes to wash hands.
  6. Don’t forget your medicine kit! Even when you plan ahead, accidents can happen. Families with severe food allergies always need to have an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an Epi Pen, Jr) and an antihistamine such as Benadryl with them at all times.

We’ve collected a few recipes from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network you might want to use in your holiday meal.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Milk, egg, peanut and tree nut free

Make your own granola bites

Milk, egg, wheat, peanut, and tree nut free

Parsley-potato stuffing

Milk, egg, wheat, peanut and tree nut free

Join us for more discussion about food allergies and the holidays during a Twitter chat on Wednesday, Dec. 12, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. We, along with Missy Berggren (@marketingmama), whose daughter has several food allergies, invite you to share your experiences and ask questions on Twitter. We’ll also have allergist Dr. Nancy Ott and Children’s dietitians on hand. Follow Children’s at @childrensmn and the hashtag #childrenschat.


Dr. Nancy Ott is a board-certified allergy, asthma and immunology specialist. She earned her medical degree at the University of Minnesota in 1984. She’s among Children’s professional staff and she’s been practicing with Southdale Pediatric Associates, Ltd., since 1991.

Missy Berggren is a parent to a 5-year-old girl with severe food allergies to eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish, and a 7-year-old son with no known food allergies. Her daughter’s diagnosis at 12 months old led Missy to learn about food allergies, and she now serves on the Board of Directors for the Food Allergy Support Group of Minnesota to help support other families and raise awareness of life-threatening food allergies. She shares her experiences with food allergies in helpful articles on her parenting blog Marketing Mama and is a trusted ally and advocate for parents of children with food allergies. Missy has 15-plus years of experience in marketing and communications in the health care arena and is currently the brand manager at Allina Health.

Ellen Wade is a registered dietitian and has worked at Children’s for 11 years. She’s encountered many cases of food allergies and has helped guide families in navigating allergies while still enjoying a healthy diet.

Janie Cooperman is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She currently works in Children’s outpatient diabetes clinics and inpatient eating disorders program.


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