A Teen’s Tips for Thanksgiving

Guest post by Teen Advisory Group member Julia Gray

It’s finally “the most wonderful time of the year” for friends and family, but sometimes having multiple food allergies makes the holiday season the most stressful time of the year.  The types of food that bring people together for the holidays can be even scarier than the spookiest Halloween movie you watched last month.  “How do I stay safe during the time of year that centers around food?” Well, my friend, you are in luck because there are tons of things you can do to stay safe this holiday season.

When my family gets together over the holidays, we like to share the unique things about where we live.  Luckily, all of my family members live in really cool places and this means that there are tons of food-free activities we can do together.  I have spent many Thanksgiving and Winter Breaks exploring museums, touring historic houses, watching parades, and hiking trails with my extended family over the years and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The bond that comes from these activities is much stronger than what we would have from simply sharing a meal.  Getting to share a common experience and learn something new with the people you love is often a great way to start conversations about things other than just the weather.  Going on food-free adventures or even having a simple game night or movie night can create so many more valuable memories than a meal ever could.

If you are planning on participating in activities with food on Thanksgiving or any other holiday, it is of utmost importance to be prepared.  The easiest way to be in complete control of the holiday food is by hosting yourself.  As a host, you can create a menu that suits your dietary restrictions and prevents any chance of cross-contact because you are using use your own kitchen.  But in some cases, you might be a guest for a meal and will have to give up control over the food in exchange for less cooking time.  This means you will have to communicate with the host ahead of time to discuss the intended menu and what substitutions might be necessary so that you can safely eat.  Many hosts will be accommodating if your allergy list is not super restrictive.  If you are still worried about any chance of cross-contact with your allergens, you could ask if the host needs any help in the kitchen on the day of the meal.  This can help give you and the host some peace of mind as you can see exactly how the food is made and how the kitchen is used.

The hardest food-centric gathering to manage is the potluck.  When going to a potluck, be sure to bring both a safe entrée and a safe dessert, and take out your serving first. Having this safe food available for everyone allows you fit in with everyone else at the party.  Taking the first serving for yourself not only prevents any cross contact between your dish and any potential allergens, but it also makes your dish more inviting for others to try (since they won’t be the one to “ruin” the aesthetic of your perfect dish).  Making sure that each dish has its own serving utensil and that serving utensils stay with their own dishes will also minimize the risk of cross contact. You also prevent drawing attention to yourself as the person who does not eat at the party.  Although not ideal, eating before the potluck will avoid any chances of error in worst case scenarios. 

Sometimes, multiple guests at the same event will have food allergies.  If you know this ahead of time, you might want to talk with the other allergic individuals and make a game plan where you make food that is safe for all of you.  This will allow the whole group to have a large number of options made by people who will take precautionary measure to keep their kitchen free of your allergen.  Befriending other people with allergies has really helped me as I have grown up because we all share the same worries about food and we understand each other’s pain.

No matter what food situations you come across this holiday season, don’t let your allergies hold you back from spending time with your friends and family.  Your health and safety are more important than offending a relative by not eating their food.  Be confident in the choices you make to keep you safe during the holiday season.  Always remember the trifecta of mealtime safety: carry your medications, do your research on the food to be served, and be prepared with snacks just in case.  

For more tips on holiday travel, visit foodallergy.org.

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