Navigating Junk Food Holidays When You Have Food Allergies

Valentine's Day can be stressful for food-allergy moms and dads. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Valentine's Day can be stressful for food-allergy moms and dads. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. As the mom of a child with food allergies, all I was thinking about was the Valentine's Day party in his toddler classroom. I know he's not the only kid with food allergies, and he does have one teacher in particular who is very understanding and attentive ... But still, there are a lot of kids in the class.

If there's a spread of food, I'm confident that my kid will gravitate toward the pepperoni (which we contributed) and a cookie of some sort. But he can't have most cookies. Or cupcakes. Or milk chocolate anything.

One upside to food allergies is that we're not tempted by a lot of sweets — because he can't have a lot of sweets. But on the other hand, food holidays (and in particular, junk food holidays like Valentine's Day, Easter and Halloween) contribute to allergy parents' anxiety. And when your kiddo is young, they don't understand that some food is dangerous for them. All they know is that everyone else is having a chocolate cupcake. And that chocolate cupcake looks darn good.

But I want to make sure that my son's food allergies don't keep him from enjoying holidays. After all, there's more to them than cupcakes. So, here's what I did for Valentine's Day for my little boy this year:

  • Food for the party. I sent food for his classroom party that he can (and would) eat. In our case, it was pepperoni. Could I have sent something healthier? Sure, but I wanted to make sure there was at least one thing he would eat and enjoy.
  • A special treat for him. I packed special allergy-friendly cookies in his lunchbox. That way, when everyone else was having sweets, he could have something too.
  • Peeked into his valentines bag. When he wasn't looking, I sorted through his valentines and tossed out the snacks he can't have (in addition to some candies that I just generally don't want him to have).
  • Non-food Valentine's Day gift. I got him a Valentine's Day card and non-food gift from his dad and me. In our case, I did a coloring book. I also do his Easter baskets completely snack-free.
  • Holiday activities. Last weekend, we made valentines together for his classmates and grandparents and other family members. Let's remember that the holiday is about love, not chocolate cupcakes.

Some holidays can be extra-stressful for us food allergy parents, but with a deep breath and a little bit of planning, they don't have to be. Our kids deserve to be involved in the fun without sacrificing their safety. If we focus on the food — and what they can't have — we'll only add to our stress. So, let's focus on fun instead.