A Teen’s Perspective on the Holidays with Food Allergies

A guest blog post by Teen Advisory Group member Sophie Meade.

There are so many things to love about the holidays. The joy of being surrounded by family members and friends, the warm sense of camaraderie that complements a toasty fireplace, giving gifts to one another: these are all things I cherish about the holidays. For many people, the sights and smells of classic holiday food bring a flood of childhood memories However, for people like me with food allergies, thoughts of drinking eggnog, pulling gingerbread out of the oven, or roasting chestnuts fail to send visions of sugarplums dancing through our heads. Instead, thinking about these things inspires worry or creates an accumulating sense of fear that grows throughout the holidays.

I have faced many people in my life who don’t quite get food allergies. They have the best intentions possible, but sometimes they just don’t understand the severity of food allergies. They may get caught up in their holiday traditions, and have trouble adjusting to new food needs. Some relatives may encourage you to eat something because “I always make it” or “it wouldn’t be the holiday without it” or “you don’t know what you are missing.” Sound familiar?

If you are ever in a situation where you are pressured into eating something but feel uncomfortable (such as seeing traces of your allergens scattered around the kitchen workspace), do not, I repeat, DO NOT feel pressured to eat it. It’s hard to say no to someone, especially if you can tell they’ve taken the time to try and accommodate you. I often get worried about hurting someone’s feelings if I don’t eat something they made, especially since family holiday recipes can be a touchy topic. But no one should ever make you feel bad about not eating something, especially during the holidays. Since food allergies are a matter of life and death, it’s your job to protect yourself, and you have every right to say no if you feel uncomfortable. Politely explain to them the severity of your food allergies, or, if you need an excuse, just flat out say, “No, thank you, I'm not hungry.” Chances are, your friends or relatives won’t be offended. They care about your safety, and just want you to feel as included as possible. Telling them that you truly appreciate their efforts can be very rewarding.

Even though food can be tricky for people with food allergies, I still think food brings people together, especially during the holidays. Baking is a fun holiday activity that lets you be in control. Take advantage of this time of year! I have found that baking with family members or friends is a great way to spend quality time together, along with educating them about food allergies. This can be done by showing them proper ways to avoid cross-contact in the kitchen and alternative, allergy-friendly ingredients. Plus, since you’re the one baking, you get to drive the boat and feel comfortable knowing exactly what went into the dessert. Bake some allergy-friendly treats to have on hand for holiday parties and family gatherings. Don’t forget to make enough to share! If you make a platter to add to the dessert table for others too, you will feel more included in social gatherings.

The holidays are a time to be thankful and recognize the people who impact our lives. Finding the people that do understand food allergies is like drinking something hot and delicious on a cold day. Take time to thank these people, who truly make a difference in your life, for all of their hard work and support. Maybe it’s your mom, or older sister, or grandparent. Maybe it’s a chef at your favorite restaurant. To be surrounded by the people that truly get it, and to be able to relax around them during the holidays, is the greatest gift of all.