Monday, December 15, 2014

Organize a Holiday Party For Your Allergic Child

I was recently approached by Fay over at Label-Land asking if they could write a holiday blog post for my blog. I was more than happy to have them as a guest- after all, within the food allergy community labels are a necessary part of our lives. So sharing is also a must- the more, the merrier (especially during the holiday season, right?!)

Food allergy parents and teachers are all beginning to enter that time of year- it can be tons of fun but it can also be a disaster waiting to happen if it's not handled in an organized manner. Thankfully, Label-Land has outlined five easy tips to keep our children safe. And by children, I mean ALL children, not just the allergic ones. So grab a warm beverage, sit back and jot down what will help you stay calmer, safer and maybe even a bit more sane.

#1: Gather Information Although you may know the best way to manage your own child's allergies, there are other things to consider. Most school districts have their own requirements in place to ensure an allergen-free event. Even if your school doesn't, there may be other children in the school with moderate to severe allergies.

Before planning the party menu, meet with school officials and other parents to assemble a list of unsafe foods. When in doubt, plan the menu so it is safe for those with the most severe food allergies.

#2 Educate First The party planning committee may require some education on food allergies, especially if they have always done the holiday a certain way before a child with allergies joined the school community. Key points to bring up with the planning committee include:

  • Provide facts. 1 in 13 children under the age of 18 suffers from food allergies, so it's a safe bet that there are multiple children that require safe options.
  • Avoid making it just about your child. Change is more difficult to institute if people see it as selfish, although your intentions are only for your child's health. Instead, work with other parents of children with allergies to show that you are doing this for the entire school community.
  • Bring literature to back up your case. Your allergist can provide information to help you with your presentation. Consulting with your allergist is a good idea anyway, because they can point you toward further resources.
  • Finally, be ready to step up. Parents that don't live with allergies may see the entire process of a safe menu as frightening or as too much work. Volunteer to provide food or an allergen-free kitchen for food preparation as a group.
#3 Plan the Menu Volunteering on the food or menu committee is the best method to ensure an allergy-safe party. You are likely familiar with your child's allergies but you will also need to consider the food sensitivities of others.

Begin by collecting a list of allergies present in the school, along with their severity. Some children cannot even be in the same room as a peanut, for example, while others are only affected if they eat the food. Knowing the severity level allows you to plan a menu that completely leaves out the severe allergens, while ensuring you clearly label foods containing mild to moderate allergens.

#4 Delegate the Duties It isn't realistic to think you can handle all food preparation yourself. Instead, delegate the various duties to other parents and members of the party committee. When selecting members for a task, make sure they are completely on board with allergy safety. It's an unfortunate fact that some people do not take food allergies seriously and these people should not handle any part of the food service.

Duties to delegate include:
  • Food sourcing. One person can source allergen-free ingredients and main ideas. This task should go to a parent of an allergic child since they will have the necessary experience in deciphering package labeling.
  • Cooks. A few parents will need to handle the food preparation once the menu is decided and the ingredients purchased. Make sure all food is prepared in an allergen-free kitchen and that care is taken to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Serving manager. At least one adult will need to manage the food tables during the school party. This ensures that no unapproved treats are placed on the table and that serving spoons don't end up in the wrong dish and contaminate a formerly safe food with an allergen.

#5 Label Everything One of the best ways to avoid an allergy emergency is to make sure that every item being served is clearly labeled with a non removable label (this includes backpacks and lunch bags that are labeled with a non removable label like this. Label foods not just with their name but also with a detailed list of every ingredient. Use two labels for everything- one visible label and one taped to the bottom or back of the dish in case the main label is misplaced.

Planning a school party with allergies may seem overwhelming,but it's well worth it when all the children are safe to celebrate together. It's easier to take on a project of this size when you work to get everyone working together in the children's best interest.






*All photos courtesy of Label-Land.com

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