(Aka: Events and Kids with Food Allergies)
Weddings, birthday parties, family gatherings and neighborhood picnics. These are events that should be fun, right? But for parents of children with food allergies, they can be stressful — from both a safety perspective and a social graces standpoint.
Here’s what goes through my mind pre-event: Should I call and ask what they’ll be serving? Should I bring food for my son? Will they think we’re rude if we bring our own food? Would it be rude to call and ask? Will they feel like I’m pressuring them to change their menu? It doesn't matter; I just want to plan. Will they understand?
Then, at the event: Is that cheese on the floor? Is my son reaching for a doughnut? Does that bread have egg? I wonder if the host made these meatballs? Should I ask her what’s in them? Did I remember the EpiPen?
Before I had my son and before his food allergies, I'm sure that despite my own food sensitivities I lacked understanding and empathy around this topic (among other parenting issues to be sure). I have friends who’ve asked me what is expected of them if they’re inviting kiddos with food allergies to their parties. I’m no Emily Post (clearly). I’m just a mom who wants to keep her son safe and not socially ostracized if I can. But here’s where I come down: It’s no one else’s job to feed my child. But it sure is nice when someone offers. A few thoughts:
- If the food-allergic kiddo is a family member, maybe try to offer something he can have. I remember at one gathering, my sister-in-law making a batch of squash just for my son. That meant a lot to me that she thought of him.
- One item goes a long way. Look, when I host, of course I make sure my son can eat everything or nearly everything. He’s my son, and I’m confident I can cook without eggs and dairy (and at one time, was capable of making foods without nuts, peanuts and soy too). But to expect others to do this isn’t realistic. But truly, one item goes a long way for me. Earlier this year, we attended a birthday party for a family friend, and the mom had special ice cream sandwiches that my son could have. That was amazing. Unexpected and thoughtful and amazing.
- If you don’t know if people have food allergies (and it’s a small gathering), why not ask? When I’ve hosted dinners in the past, I’ve typically asked what food allergies (or major aversions) people have. My cousin texted recently about kid snacks at her upcoming wedding, inquiring about our son’s allergies. It’s her wedding, and she absolutely doesn’t have to do this. But what a kind thing to ask.
- If you’re having a large party, you probably can’t accommodate every single person. And as a host, that stinks. I get it. I don’t ask that you prepare an allergy-friendly spread. But I do ask that you not be offended when we show up with our chicken and rice and beans from Chipotle. My son won’t care if he can’t eat the food, and all I care about is his safety. I really can't worry about your feelings in this moment.
- My son’s job is to be a kid and have fun at parties. My job is to feed him and keep him safe, and I will do that no matter where we go. If I’m distracted watching to make sure he doesn’t pick a piece of cheese up off the ground or grab a cookie off the dessert table, I’m sorry … but also … not really that sorry. Because that’s my job. I’ll take on that stress; it’s part of parenting. Would allergy-friendly options help me? You bet. But it’s not expected of you.
Other parents likely feel differently, but this is where I stand (today, anyway). In the end, it’s my job to feed and keep my son safe. So, events can be stressful for me as a parent. But I want my son to be able to be there and have fun. And hopefully, our hosts want us there. So, if catering to our food allergies isn’t possible, that’s fine. Just know that I will be there reading food labels and asking what’s in all the dishes and bringing food from home.
Fellow food allergy parents, how do you cope with events?