Making Holidays Happy for Allergy Kiddos

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but for allergy families, it can also be one of the most stressful times.

Holiday travel is stressful enough, but the potential dangers of eating foods at new locations adds an extra level of anxiety. No two allergy families go through the same experience, but I wanted to share some tips and allergy-friendly dessert recipes that have worked for us. Some might seem obvious, but I hope you find something useful:

Pack a cooler: Bringing our son’s food everywhere we go is just a given. We do have some “safe” locations (grandparents, aunts, BFFs) where we know they understand his needs and work with us on foods safe for him. But in general we follow the rule that no food is safe at a new location, so we always have his foods along.

Check labels: If you do decide to let your child try new foods, always ask about ingredients and check labels. Even if your kiddo has eaten the food before, ingredients can change — as can a company’s equipment cleaning process. Also, try to find out how and where a food was prepared to avoid cross-contamination.

Don’t forget the EpiPen: This is a given of course, but it never hurts to double-check. Bring more than one if possible, don’t leave them in the car in a hot or cold location, and teach others to use it. Keep other allergy meds on hand (such as Benadryl), and know the location of the nearest ER and pharmacy.

Educate key people: When you’re at a large gathering, pull aside family members who are responsible and comfortable with being a vocal advocate and ask them to help keep an extra eye on your little one. Recruit responsible older children as well — when kids are playing/eating in a group, they can watch out for little ones who might try to share their food.

Educate your child as well: It’s tough when they’re little — my son is now 5 and still doesn’t fully understand the severity of his peanut allergy. But, he is more able to be his own advocate now than when he was younger. He knows he’s not supposed to take food from other people, and we’ve taught him to say: “No thanks, I have food allergies. Please ask my mom or dad.”

Seek out resources: There are a ton of resources available online — check out FARE for helpful information such as holiday tips and an emergency care plan.

And finally…don’t worry what other people think: If you’re worried about seeming overprotective, don’t be. You know what’s best for your child. Do what you need to do to keep him or her safe — and also to keep yourself as anxiety-free as possible during the holiday season. Good luck!

ALLERGY-FRIENDLY DESSERT RECIPES

Okay, I’m sorry – I didn’t want this to be one of those posts where you have to scroll forever to find the recipes, but I got a little carried away with tips! Below are my family’s favorite allergy-friendly desserts — because everyone deserves a treat this time of year, am I right? My disclaimer: These recipes aren’t revolutionary. We’ve found that when it comes to baking safe foods, it’s all about the substitutions. With a couple of key ingredients — Earth Balance buttery spread and Enjoy Life chocolate chips — we’ve been able to safely adapt some of our favorites:

PUPPY CHOW (dairy, nut, and gluten free)

1 box of Rice Chex

2 1/4 cups Enjoy Life chocolate chips

1 cup Earth Balance buttery spread

3 cups powdered sugar

Pour Rice Chex into a large bowl. Melt the chocolate chips and Earth Balance, pour over cereal and mix until well-coated. Pour powdered sugar over mixture and mix until well-covered. Enjoy! (*Note: We used to use a soy nut butter product, but unfortunately the company had a recall earlier this year. Instead of looking for an alternative, we doubled the previous Earth Balance amount, and my son loved it!)

WILLY WONKA BARS (dairy, nut, and gluten free)

These loaded brownies (yes, the name comes from the book because I got the recipe from my fourth-grade teacher after we read it in class) taste AMAZING. (*Note: When choosing a gluten-free flour mix, check for one that says it can be used 1:1 in recipes — one of our favorites is Pillsbury’s baking mix.)

Substitute 3/4 cup Nestle cocoa powder and 4 Tbsp olive oil for 4 squares baking chocolate

1 cup Earth Balance spread

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup gluten-free flour

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 packages Enjoy Life chocolate chips

Powdered sugar (to sprinkle on top)

Melt cocoa powder, oil, and Earth Balance together. Add sugar. Cool mixture. Add eggs, beating one at a time. Add vanilla, flour, and salt; mix until well-blended. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan (I use Earth Balance or olive oil). Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Do not test. Top may look bubbly. Sprinkle very well with powdered sugar.

PECANLESS PIE (dairy, nut, and gluten free)

Okay, I will admit that I am still perfecting this one…my gluten-free pie crusts still tend to come out crumbly, and it’s hard to not have the inside a bit runny. But it firms up nicely once it’s refrigerated. Plus, it tastes great and is one of my all-time favorite desserts!

To make pie crust:

Mix two cups gluten-free flour/baking mix with 3/4 cup Earth Balance spread, 1/2 cup ice cold water, and 1 tsp. salt. Form into ball, roll out, and lay in pie pan. (*Note: With regular flour, this recipe would make enough for two crusts. But I’ve found that halving it makes it really difficult to roll out without it breaking apart, so I use the whole thing — it’s a little thicker, but it works a lot better for me.)

For filling:

1 cup light corn syrup

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/3 cup Earth Balance, melted

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1/3 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, combine corn syrup, sugar, eggs, butter, salt, and vanilla; mix well. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust. Cover top with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until center is set. Cool, then refrigerate. (*Note: You could leave the foil off at first, but be careful — without the pecans, the top of the filling can get a chewy-hard layer on top if it’s baked too long without foil.)

I hope these tips and recipes help make your holidays brighter! If you are an allergy family with advice or recipes to share, I’d love any new tips or ideas. Feel free to share in the comments!

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