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  • 17 Dec 2014

    Visiting family this Christmas? 5 tips for keeping food allergy struggles to a minimum

    Posted: 17 Dec 2014

    With the best will in the world, your extended family might have trouble understanding your child's food allergies. And it can be a bit of an ask to expect Aunt Mary to speed read every packet and allergen warning. So as the festive season gets underway, here are five tips for keeping your child safe during extended family feasts.

    1. Keep it simple. Try to explain your child's allergies to family members in very simple, specific terms. Instead of saying 'no dairy' (some people find this confusing) say: "No milk, cheese, chocolate, cream". You'll also need to be crystal clear when it comes to gluten, as many people don't know what gluten is, let alone where it can hide. Tell family members that gluten can be in gravy, Yorkshire puddings and all over the pre-packed roasties!

    Although the long list of foods to avoid/check might be overwhelming, some of the specifics might stick in their minds. And hopefully, they'll be more likely to retain the wider message that lots of foods are off limits or need to be checked. This should (in theory) lead to more caution in the kitchen.

    2. Plan ahead. Call your host before the meal and find out what they'll be serving. Then offer to bring food for your child if necessary. Even whip up a bonus plate of mini sticky Christmas puds to please the crowds.

    If your host is serving a buffet, request that your child's food is put at one end of the table (or on a separate table) to avoid cross-contamination. And if this isn't possible, ask that your child is first to the buffet; now that's a perk!

    3. Avoid cross contamination in the kitchen - insist on helping out. Whether it's a buffet or a full Christmas dinner, the potential for cross contamination is high in a busy family kitchen when the drinks are flowing. The same spoon can be used to stir different pans and splashes from bubbling saucepans can contaminate safe food.

    Get involved in the kitchen and suggest pans have lids on them and that each pan has its own stirring spoon. Set up a separate zone in the kitchen to prepare safe foods and take plenty of containers with lids to store your child's food until it's ready to be served. It might seem like overkill to grumpy Uncle Ken, but just smile sweetly and pour him another glass. 

    And beware the double dipping in tubs, and spoon sharing in the condiments! Jars and tubs that have already been opened may be contaminated. If possible, get first dibs in new jars and dish up a separate plate for your child to dip into.

    4. Drill your child to refuse food. Children with allergies are used to checking before they accept food, but at Christmas there are festive food pushers everywhere! From checkout counters in shops to Grandad dishing out his packet of Werther's Originals. So remind your child to resist offers of food from others and, where possible, have some alternative treats to hand.

    5. Keep medication handy. When you arrive at your relatives' house, make sure that you, your child and responsible family members know where your child's medication is kept. And prior to arriving, it's a good idea to remind your child what to do if they have symptoms of an allergic reaction:

    - Tell a grown up if they feel sick/itchy or if something tastes 'spicy'
    - Stay calm (if possible)
    - Ask someone to administer anti-histamine/an inhaler/an auto injector

    Also, describe to family members the likely signs of an allergic reaction and what to do.

    It all sounds a bit 'heavy' for the fun festive season doesn't it? If only allergies would take a break, and not just for Christmas! But with planning, and a resolutely positive attitude, you and your family can still enjoy some festive feasting with all the trimmings.

    Looking for allergy friendly recipes to cook with your child over the Christmas period? Take a look here.

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