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Gina Clowes: Parenting Coach

Staying Allergy-Safe Over the Holidays

A food-filled family gathering need not be a minefield for those with allergies. Here are six key steps to safe celebrating.

I grew up in a huge Italian family where love was spelled F-O-O-D. About a year after my son was diagnosed with more than a dozen food allergies, I hosted Christmas Eve. Every table of my house was filled with pasta, cookies and candy. But unlike past family gatherings, this was not a happy holiday.

One niece roamed the house leaking her bottle of formula everywhere; another toddler left a trail of Honey Nut Cheerios. My sister fed her baby a jar of green pea baby food – the very food that had caused my son’s most recent allergic reaction – and left a dirty spoon on my kitchen table. My home became a minefield.

Although I didn’t say anything, my family sensed my tension and anger. They watched me march behind them, picking up napkins, wiping down tables and cleaning up cookie crumbs before my allergic toddler could get to them.

It wasn’t long before my sister confronted me. “You’re so uptight. No one feels comfortable here anymore.” My emotions spilled over. How dare they be mad at me! They were being insensitive and endangering my son’s health. I didn’t speak to my sister for months.

That was nine years ago. Today, I see things differently.

Back then, I expected my family to understand a lot more about food allergies than they did, and yet I never specifically explained to them what I needed. It’s our job to educate others on exactly what’s necessary to keep our children safe. We, not our relatives, have to establish boundaries and draw lines. Today, I put my son’s need for safety and inclusion and my own need for keeping a manageable stress level at the top of my holiday priority list.

Next page: Gina’s Essential Tips for the Holidays