How to Manage Your Child’s Food Allergies through the Holidays

Monday, December 8, 2014

During this time of year, it is common for children to attend school celebrations or gatherings with family and friends. For parents whose children have severe food allergies, the winter holidays can be very challenging.

Being knowledgeable and doing research plays a big role in helping educate friends and family about food allergies. Allergies are the result of a reaction that starts in the immune system when coming into contact with a food allergen. Allergies can cause great harm or death in severe cases, not only at family homes but when kids visit friends and they’re not aware of the child’s condition.

For tips on managing food allergies, we turned to Darlene Mansoor, MD, a pediatric allergist, immunologist and an attending physician in the Allergy Clinic in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children's National Health System.

Common Food Allergies and Substitutes

According to Dr. Mansoor, the most common food allergies are dairy, egg, soy, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish with “sesame becoming more common.”

When considering food/ingredient substitutes as you prepare dishes for your family, Dr. Mansoor recommended using allergen-free recipes. She said the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAI) website features this information including holiday recipes. “With a little preparation and creativity nearly any recipe can be made allergy free and safe to eat for anyone,” Dr. Mansoor said.”

Awareness and Education is Key to Managing Food Allergies

“It’s very important to read labels for ingredients in store bought foods. For homemade foods, ask the person who made the food directly what ingredients was used,” Dr. Mansoor said. “If there is a doubt it’s better to avoid. Be aware of cross contamination during preparation. If you don’t feel comfortable eating the food then you don’t have to. I would recommend parents prepare a safe snack for the child to take to a party. Make enough to share in case other family members want to try.”

And at school, “moms and dads are the best advocates for the child,” Dr. Mansoor said.

“We recommend the parents and the child take control of their allergy by being cautious and knowledgeable about the food they are eating,” Dr. Mansoor said.

Management Tips for Parents

Others suggestions for parents of kids with food allergies:
  • Closely monitor your child and have injectable epinephrine available at all times, do not leave at home or in the car
  • Carry your child’s food allergy action plan, provided by their allergist to tell you when and for what symptoms to give the epinephrine
  • Don’t delay giving the epinephrine because it’s a life-saving medication with few side effects
  • Take along an antihistamine used to treat allergies in case reaction is very mild. Again, follow the food allergy action plan

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