Long before the pandemic induced an obsession with sanitizing surfaces, another group of experts was reducing microscopic dangers in their lives — food-allergy families. For 32 million Americans, ingesting microscopic traces of food proteins may trigger a serious allergic reaction.(1)
What are Food Allergies?
A food allergy is an overreaction of a person’s immune system when incorrectly perceiving food as a threat. Researchers estimate that one in 13 kids are living with life-threatening food allergies — or two in every classroom.(2) Did you know that every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department?(3)
With over 90% of reactions stemming from nine food allergens, it’s no wonder caregivers remain hypervigilant about planning future meals.
Daily food-allergy management requires resilience, strategic planning, problem-solving, and consistent communication. The cycle never wanes and is especially amped up when the family leaves home.
If you don’t live with food allergies, the daily challenges may rarely cross your mind.
Food Allergies are an Invisible Disability
So many families love to socialize with others. Can you think of social events that don’t involve food? Birthday parties, team outings, holidays, BBQs, school events, restaurants — the list goes on. So many gatherings involve food, and many even revolve around food!
Food and fun naturally coexist, right? For food-allergy families, celebrations can trigger a series of concerns, questions, and fears. Many families even choose to opt-out when safety feels compromised.
So How Do You Throw a Safe and Fun Shindig that Excites and Includes Everyone?
Here are some pro tips to consider that restrict foods and fears, without sacrificing the fun!
Communicate and Collaborate Ahead of Time
Reach out one to two weeks in advance, asking guests about any dietary restrictions. Showing consideration will also clarify what menu items to avoid for safety concerns. Ask about partnering on safe brands or ingredients for food. For some people, this small gesture will open up a door previously closed, as they did not feel comfortable raising the topic.
Find the Foods a Person Can Eat
Ask your guests what they love to eat and what snacks and food brands are safe. Find ways to incorporate those items, even if it means the guests bring their preferred foods. Steer the conversation toward a solution-oriented approach.
Educate Yourself About Food Allergy Safety Protocols
Familiarize yourself with the safety basics and keep the lines of communication open to acknowledging what you learn.
Cross-contact (or cross-contamination):
Cross-contact occurs when food proteins mix together after coming in contact even for less than a second. If meals are being made for several people, make the allergy-safe meal first, and ensure that separate utensils, cutting boards, and pans are used. Wash surfaces with warm, soapy water and a clean cloth to chemically break down and remove the food proteins.
People with food allergies prefer to see ingredient labels themselves. If you’re making an allergy-safe recipe in a sterilized environment, that is a great first step. Texting pictures of each packaged food ingredient label will ensure mutual alignment as you prepare the recipe.
Food intolerances are not food allergies.
Unlike food intolerances, which are not life-threatening, food allergies involve the immune system and can become life-threatening. People with food intolerances might choose to avoid the foods they cannot properly digest, whereas a person with a peanut allergy may accidentally react after unknowingly ingesting peanut oil from touching a kitchen counter.
Epinephrine saves lives.
Ask to learn about signs of anaphylaxis and how to use an epinephrine auto-injector ahead of the party. That gesture is a great example of practicing inclusivity and empathy.
People First, Food Second
Leading with empathy requires a bit more energy from both sides, but your friendships are worth it.
The custom-themed cake may be one of the highlights in your mind, but remember there are easy ways to include others who may not be able to enjoy that same delicious treat! Options such as fruit popsicles, frozen Italian ice cups, allergy-safe cookies, cake pops, or fruit kabobs with chocolate can all accessorize a cake beautifully, too.
Keep the Focus on the FUN
With parties, it’s about what you CAN have… and that key ingredient is FUN. Food is part of the party, but the lasting memories will be about the quality time as you celebrate life together. When you focus on the relationships, fun becomes the main entree and food becomes the side dish.
Learn more life hacks and mind snacks on how to thrive with food allergies at Feedyourcan.com. Subscribe to the newsletter, listen to the podcast, or purchase online courses.
(1) Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Facts and Figures
(2, 3) Food Allergy Research and Education, or FARE Statistics and Facts