A Safe Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a tricky holiday to celebrate with food-allergic youngsters because it centers around food, which is tricky enough in itself; but then you add in the fact that it’s usually celebrated with family and friends you seldom see, and the problem is multiplied. How to keep the holiday safe for your little one and yet maintain your own sanity?

To be honest, I don’t have a great answer to that question, because this will be the first Thanksgiving we will celebrate with his allergies in mind. Last year, he was just over a month old and aside from the fact that we didn’t know about his allergies yet, he was hardly capable of eating table food!

This year is different because we know exactly what he’s allergic to, and because he is capable of eating the majority of table food. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about preparing for this holiday with him in mind, and I’ve come up with the following, which will hopefully be of help to you as you sort through your holiday plans.

There are basically three options when planning Thanksgiving Dinner:

Option #1  Host it yourself.

This is the ideal solution, especially if your child has multiple and/or unusual allergies. Most people are aware of nut and peanut allergies and can be careful about avoiding them, but corn? Soy? Wheat? Milk? They don’t realize where those allergens are hiding in the dishes they prepare, and even if they try to be careful, it’s very difficult to be absolutely sure the food is not contaminated during preparation. My control-freak self would certainly prefer to host the dinner myself. Besides, I often think it is not fair of me to expect someone else to monitor their foods for allergens on behalf of my child. If someone tried their best to be careful and yet somehow an allergen crept into the dish they prepared, I know they would feel terrible, so I prefer just to avoid that whole scenario whenever possible.

If you decide to host Thanksgiving yourself, and don’t have a great deal of experience, here are some tips:

~ Don’t be afraid to roast the turkey. It’s seriously no big deal, as I discovered recently. And turkey is very easy to make allergen-free: if your recipe calls for butter, just swap it for olive oil and you’re good to go.

~ Keep the side dishes simple, especially in the sense of sticking to minimal ingredients. For example, instead of sweet potato casserole, try these Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes. Instead of green bean casserole, simply serve lightly seasoned green beans or try this green bean salad recipe. Don’t cream the corn: corn is better anyway when it’s steamed and lightly salted with a dash of freshly ground black pepper. Instead of dinner rolls, serve Farinata for a Mediterranean flair or try these Sweet Potato Biscuits (which are yummy, and you can skip the nuts). Mash your potatoes with chicken broth, a little bit of non-dairy milk and safe margarine instead of cream and butter.

~There’s no reason to think your guests will be let down by the “simpler” fare, but if you’re concerned about that, feel free to ask guests to bring their own dishes to share. Or prepare one or two un-safe dishes for the benefit of your guests, but be sure to keep them well away from your child. If your child is very young and/or doesn’t quite understand the danger of his or her allergies yet, be sure to keep the allergic foods on a separate table or buffet but still within easy reach of your guests. Also, make certain that the un-safe foods look very different from the safe foods: safe and un-safe mashed potatoes look very much alike, so have only one or the other.

~Dessert is a tough one. My suggestion would be to prepare a dessert that is safe for your child, and a regular dessert for your guests. Check out this page for allergen-friendly pumpkin pie recipes.

~If un-safe food is present, be sure to kindly remind your guests of your child’s allergies and stress that they not feed your child. It’s even a good idea for them (especially little guests) to wash hands after eating if they are going to be playing with your child. This can be achieved politely by passing around warm wet wash rags after the meal. The guests will feel pampered and you can feel safe about your child!

~ Consider using place cards and be sure to seat your child either by yourself or by people who understand his allergies. You don’t want Great-Aunt Sue accidentally dumping a huge heap of her famous green bean casserole on your child’s plate!

Option #2  Enjoy Thanksgiving at the Home of Close Family and/or Friends

I am an admitted control freak, but if I had other options, I probably wouldn’t attend Thanksgiving at the home of someone I don’t know very well (even a distant relative). If you have the choice, and you’re not able to host it yourself, the next best would be to celebrate it at the home of someone who is well aware of the situation. Even then, you’ll have to take some precautions:

~ Speak with the host/hostess beforehand and determine the menu. Depending on your relationship with them, you can ask for particular allowances on behalf of your child (for example, olive oil instead of butter on the turkey, or plain green beans in addition to the green bean casserole) or you can decide what dishes you need to bring to supplement the safe foods on the menu.

~ Volunteer to arrive early to help cook. That is the only way to be certain that cross-contamination is avoided. Someone who is unfamiliar with allergies and not used to cooking for food-allergic people will not necessarily remember to use separate utensils and dishes for safe and un-safe foods.

~Desserts are the hardest thing to prepare without allergens, so volunteer to provide those for the guests. That will give the host or hostess one less thing to worry about, and you won’t have to worry about your child foregoing dessert completely!

~Depending on the circumstances and how much of the menu is safe for your child, bring a plate of safe food for him or her to enjoy during the dinner, or pack an “emergency” lunch box with safe foods in case he or she does not have enough to eat.

~This goes without saying: remember the Benadryl and Epipen!

Option #3  Eating Thanksgiving Dinner at a Restaurant

This is the least desirable option, but unfortunately the one we are going to be doing this year! That’s just the way things worked out for us this time around, and so we will make the best of it.

~I called the restaurant and found out what the menu was, which gives me a good idea of what he can and cannot eat. I asked about how they handle allergies, and basically the response was to speak to the server when we get there.

~I’m going to feed my child before we go to the restaurant so at least he isn’t hungry when we get there. This is easy for me to do, since he’s only one, but I think it’s a possibility for children of any age.

~I’m also going to pack “just-in-case” food and snacks in his diaper bag. This would really be awkward with an older child, but you “gotta do what you gotta do”.

~When we arrive at the restaurant, I’m going to speak at length with the server and determine for sure exactly what foods he can or cannot eat. If he can, that’s great, but if not, no big deal.

~I’m going to make sure everyone keeps him away from the un-safe food. We’ll be with family, which makes that so much easier.

~And of course, I’m bringing the Benadryl and the EpiPen!

However you celebrate the day, I hope it is safe and happy!

~Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!~

Thanks to falconreid at Stock Xchng for the above photo.

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