Surviving Thanksgiving With Life-Threatening Food Allergies

What is the first thing you think of when someone says “Thanksgiving?” Turkey? Mashed potatoes? Gravy? Broccoli, cheese, and rice casserole? Rolls? Pumpkin pie with a dollop of whipped cream? Pecan pie? If you are like most people, the food is front and center when you start thinking about and planning for Thanksgiving.

So what do you do when all of those delicious food items contain ingredients that have the potential to kill your toddler? 

How do you handle food-centered holidays when commonplace ingredients are so dangerous that the doctor has told you that they cannot be in your home? How do you celebrate when your child cannot be in an environment where she can accidentally be exposed to them because an errant shred of cheese can mean the difference between life and death?

Some moms are concerned about their child playing in a home where guns are present, but for food allergy moms, the deadly weapons are much more common and accessible.

The deadly danger is in your fridge and your cabinets; it’s in your child’s sippy cup or lunch bag; it’s crushed into the backseat of your car and lurking in the crevices in your kitchen. It’s on your hands and lips if you haven’t washed after eating or drinking. It might even be in the soap that you used to wash up! Food allergies have made life pretty frightening at times, but they have also taught us to think outside the box and challenged us to create new family traditions that allow us to hold on to what is most important to us.

My 18-month-old has life-threatening allergies to dairy, eggs, and nuts. We live with these restrictions, and we asked ourselves those questions as the holidays approach. So we set out to find a solution that would allow us to keep her safe from harm, but still include the family and friends aspect of the holiday {without forcing them to give up their unsafe, yet delicious holiday foods}. We decided that this year, in addition to planning our own allergy-safe Thanksgiving meal, we would also be hosting our first annual Thanks-A-Palooza!

What is Thanks-A-Palooza?

Thanks-A-Palooza is our best attempt at retaining the community aspect of Thanksgiving while eliminating the dangers of unsafe foods. It is a pre-Thanksgiving, non-food-centric, celebration of friends and family. We will be providing safe snacks and drinks, and there will be a bouncy house {hooray for “fall” in Texas!}, popcorn machine, and tables/chairs so people can eat outside or in the garage since our home is small. We’ve told guests that they can chip in a few bucks {in lieu of bringing food like you would at a typical holiday gathering}, though it isn’t required. People usually like to contribute in some way. I’m not sure what Miss Manners would say about that, but we have bigger things to be worried about. The kids will be able to run and play and bounce until their hearts are content, and the adults can sit and chat and just enjoy being together.

Best of all, my allergy kid will be SAFE and surrounded by friends and family who love her, something we don’t get to enjoy very often because of her restrictions. 

If you don’t deal with food allergies in your own family but know and love people who do, please understand that while they may really want to be a part of your holiday celebrations, it can dangerous and impossible to do so {depending on the severity of allergies}. Ask them if there is any way that a celebration can be made safe for their child and be receptive to suggestions of alternate plans, if possible. Remember that a declined invitation isn’t a reflection of how much they value your relationship; it might just be what they have to do to keep their child safe and alive.

If you are facing your first holiday season with life-threatening food allergies, I hope this will show you that you can still enjoy the best parts of the holidays and inspire you to create your own traditions, even if they may have to look a little bit differently than they once did. There is always so much to be thankful for, and we are especially thankful for friends and family members who are helping us to make safe, wonderful holiday memories for us and for our food-allergic toddler.

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