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3 Ways to Manage Your Child’s Food Allergies During the Holidays

Managing Food Allergies Over the Holidays

Becoming a savvy food allergy parent didn’t happen overnight.

Navigating my six-year-old son’s food and environmental allergies has been a continuous learning process. After his initial diagnosis five years ago, I felt challenged maneuvering his needs at family gatherings and outings. Now, I have a plan to support his health needs during the year-end holiday season.

Instead of fretting about what doesn’t seem possible during the holidays, I celebrate what we can do and make modifications along the way. I had to learn what and how to feed my child since he needs to avoid all the top eight allergens (soy, wheat, milk, eggs, fish and shellfish, nuts and tree nuts). In that regard, I call upon friends and family to support our journey. Regardless of the event, three phases are considered when I support my son. Here’s what works for me:

1. Preparation

For me, it’s about pre- and post-event planning. I pack a snack or meal for him. Other times, I make sure that he has eaten beforehand so that his mealtime will not be a distraction from his participation. I prepare his meal but also ensure that he has alternatives if needed. If he attends a birthday party and birthday cake is served, then he has his favorite cup of applesauce. Other times, he enjoys his favorite applesauce popsicle.

Questions to ponder:

  • What’s the meal plan during travel?
  • How will you store/freeze the meal?
  • Do I have a backup meal/snack available?
  • Is there a place to prepare onsite?

2. Get the Event Format

To help my son enjoy himself without concern about snacks provided or when he will eat, I find out the event flow in advance. Specifically, I ask the event organizer when breaks or meals are scheduled. During intermission at a Byrd Theatre movie showing in Carytown recently, he enjoyed a fruit and crackers snack while appreciating the decorative motif rather than going out to the hallway potentially to have an olfactory reaction to popcorn.

Questions to ponder:

  • How far in advance can you get details about the event?
  • What can you do to work around the schedule to make it fit for you/your loved one?

3. Find Alternatives

While the holidays typically involve giving food and candy items, I respectfully ask for consideration about alternatives. When we participate in a gift exchange, I request non-food trinkets. For classroom activities such as gingerbread house or holiday snowman activities, I find plastic replicas of candy or other items at the craft store.

Questions to ponder:

  • What alternatives can you plan and have ready?
  • Who should you consult beforehand or gather about substitutes that might work?

For more helpful food allergy resources for daily living and special events, see the following: 

Food Allergy Research and Education at https://www.foodallergy.org
Kids with Food Allergies at http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/


Dawn McCoy Founder & Principal Flourish Leadership Group, LLC

Dawn McCoy is a proud mother of a resilient six-year-old son.

She was born in Philadelphia, raised in San Jose, and was recruited to Richmond in 2006 for a corporate job. Shortly after her son was born, she became a single mother and learned the new languages of disease management and co-parenting. Her son is thriving with multiple food allergies, autism, and other health issues. After a 2009 corporate downsizing, she founded Flourish Leadership Group (www.flourishleadership.com), a leadership development and communications firm where she provides strategic leadership consulting services for public sector and commercial clients. Dawn also publishes books and articles about leadership fundamentals, community engagement principles, and self-advocacy strategies for families living with food allergies and disabilities.

Dawn holds a bachelor’s degree from Howard University and master’s degree from Georgetown University. She was a finalist for the Children’s Hospital of Richmond 2014 Family Engagement Award and serves on several local, state, and national boards supporting families with disabilities.

She, her son, and their pet betta fish reside in Chesterfield.

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