Christmas is a time that should be enjoyed by everyone, especially people living with food allergies.
I have three sons – two of them have lived with multiple food allergies since they were babies. My eldest son, age 13, is allergic to milk, egg, nuts, sesame, prawns and mustard. My youngest son, age nine, is allergic to milk, egg, nuts, sesame, all seafood and mustard.
If either of my two sons with food allergies eat food they are allergic to or food containing allergens, they could have a life-threatening reaction and go into anaphylaxis. Even the slightest amount of cross-contamination during preparation could trigger an allergic reaction.
"...the important thing this festive season is for people to learn more about what food allergies are, how to manage them and most of all, what to do in the event of a reaction..."
When you see your child having a serious reaction, it’s terrifying and very stressful. It’s okay to be scared about food allergies – that’s only natural, especially when you know what the consequences of a reaction could be.
However, I think the important thing this festive season is for people to learn more about what food allergies are, how to manage them and most of all, what to do in the event of a reaction, whether it be anaphylaxis or otherwise.
'Tis the season to feel 'food joy'
My parents are Chinese but I was born in Australia. Growing up, Christmas day always featured food from my two cultures. We’d eat traditional Chinese food and enjoy typical Australian dishes like turkey, ham and seafood.
These days, as a family, we avoid Chinese foods – they almost always contain products full of allergens, which my children are allergic to like hoisin sauce, peanut oil, dried prawns and fish sauce.
At Christmas, we tend not to do the big Aussie seafood Christmas spread either, as my kids have seafood allergies. So we tailor our Christmas meals to be more inclusive.
This year, we’ll have slow-roasted lamb, ham, roast veggies and some steamed vegetables with olive oil, salt, fresh herbs. We will also eat baked ham and bread rolls. Dessert could be a home-baked cake, ice blocks, soy ice cream or allergy-friendly Christmas candy and gingerbread.
These dishes are simple and use minimal ingredients. The fewer the ingredients, the less chance there is that meals will contain allergens. Generally, wholefoods and simple ingredients are great options as allergy-friendly dishes because you know that they contain no or limited manufactured additives (which often contain hidden allergens you wouldn't think of).
Navigating allergy-friendly Christmas meals
Food allergies need to be taken seriously, all year long. Christmas time is no different and you can never afford to be complacent.
Loved ones should hopefully respect the food choices that you make for your family if your children have food allergies. Irrespective, I always err on the side of caution, as my kids are the ones with allergies and I don't expect everyone to understand what preparation for an allergy-friendly meal entails.
That’s why I either host Christmas gatherings or always bring allergy-free food to an event. I will talk to the host in advance about what my children can and cannot eat if we go to someone’s house for a Christmas meal. I’ll always bring a treat along that my children can eat so they don’t feel left out when they see other kids eating desert. I’ll also pack two EpiPens per child and other necessary medication.
Most people are quite lovely once they understand why my kids can’t eat certain foods and go to great lengths to try and cater for them.
On the other hand, I also teach my kids to be able to function in the real world and know there will always be food they can’t eat. If they're not sure what is in a dish, they’ve been taught to leave it alone.
"A little preparation, thoughtfulness and careful process planning might be necessary to ensure everyone can have an enjoyable Christmas."
My children love food. They definitely look forward to a good meal at Christmas, just like us.
The good news is that food can still be enjoyed at this time of year if you or your children live with food allergies and follow a restricted diet.
A little preparation, thoughtfulness and careful process planning might be necessary to ensure everyone can have an enjoyable Christmas. But, in the end, it's worthwhile to see your children enjoy themselves, relax and be safe from a reaction.
*Name withheld for privacy reasons.
In an emergency, always call 000. If you live with a food allergy or want to know more information about food allergies, visit Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia online or call 1300 728 000.
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