For most people, thoughts of holiday family or social gatherings conjure up warm feelings of excitement and anticipation. For many of us with food sensitivities, the thought of a big buffet riddled with potential personal landmines can cause anxiety and frustration. Many decide to decline invitations because they don’t want to deal with the hassle or the constant interrogation from family or friends about their eating/lifestyle choices. In addition, having a child with food sensitivities can take the challenge to a whole new level. A child with food restrictions can end up feeling very isolated in social situations since food is such an intricate part of our social fabric. Studies indicate that suicide among youths with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which gluten (the protein molecule of wheat, rye and barley) must be 100% removed from the diet for the rest of their life, is much higher than youths without this diagnosis.
One of the best ways to control the anxiety associated with social eating and the constant borage of holiday food is to take control of the situation. Below are some tips that may help:
Learn how to make modified versions of your family’s favorite holiday meals minus the offending foods. It may take some research to figure out how to accomplish the same taste and texture but in most cases it can be done. This is key when removing wheat from baked products. It can take some experimenting to find the right mix of non-gluten flours and other additives to accomplish a similar result. Many gluten-free and food allergen bloggers have already done this for you so be sure to do some research on the internet to see if someone has already transitioned a similar recipe to your allergen-free version.
If you have a child with food restrictions, try to make their replacement item as special as possible so they feel proud of what they are eating. Make your child’s gluten-free cupcake the envy of the birthday party. This can help soften the blow of not getting a piece of the birthday cake.
Encourage your child to become involved in their food choices. They are more likely to feel ownership of their food if they have played a key role in the decision-making and may be more willing to try new foods. You may find that they are just as happy with a gluten-free chocolate chip muffin rather than a sugary frosted cupcake.
For holiday and other social events, call ahead to find out what food will be served. Preferably several weeks before. Be free of calling on the way to the event to discuss your food restrictions. It will just increase anger and fear. When you do call, discuss with the host your food sensitivities in a loving and supportive way. Refrain from being apologetic about the situation. Just be clear, factual and helpful. Explain the level of severity so that they completely understand the situation and how careful you might need to be. If you or your family members have to worry about cross contamination, such as with celiac disease or potential anaphylactic shock allergies, send your host some information on precautions that can be taken to keep everyone safe. Offer to bring some dishes that your family likes. Bring enough that your family could make a meal out of the dishes just incase you arrive at the event and don’t feel comfortable eating the food offered.
Suggest to your host a separate buffet table for those dishes that are gluten or nut-free. This way it is very clear which food is safe and could potentially eliminate cross contamination of crumbs or serving spoons or forks that can jump around the table onto different dishes.
Request to the host that everyone bringing food to the event also bring an ingredient list for each dish. This way everyone is clear about what they are consuming.
If you have family or friends that you dine with regularly, it could be helpful to provide articles or other information on your food sensitivity and proper cross contamination procedures so they fully understand your condition and the importance of keeping safe.
Handling family that does not understand or support your lifestyle choices can be a challenge. It’s okay to be honest with people. Especially in the beginning when you are dealing with a new diagnosis such as celiac disease or diabetes. Explain to your family that it is a challenging adjustment and you are getting used to the new lifestyle and would like to be free of discussing it for the time being.
If all else fails, considering hosting family gatherings at your house for the first few times. Buy or make all the food yourself so you know it is safe and encourage family and friends to bring side dishes and desserts which you can avoid if necessary.
Another issue to consider is school holiday parties and various sport or other recreational activities that may include some holiday celebrations with food. Talking to the coach, teacher or instructor from the beginning letting them know about your child’s food restrictions and requesting to be notified about anything to do with food can help avoid stressful situations. Volunteering to be a special events coordinator will allow you to have a voice in the planning process.
Opting to stay home the first few holidays until you get a handle on your new lifestyle can be empowering. Learning to deal with your food restrictions at home can be the first step in reclaiming your health and safety. When you’ve got it down, you can then venture out into the social arena and handle any challenges you encounter there while remaining firm on your feet.
Learning of food sensitivities for you or your child can be a blessing. It can help you take control of your life and empower you to look and feel your best. Take on the holidays like you take on your health…with power and enthusiasm.
Kim Rice is a certified health coach and gluten practitioner. She is also a mother of three residing in Pleasanton, California where she writes and speaks both locally and nationally about nutrition and its effect on families health and brain function. In her practice she assists parents of children with special needs, such as autism, ADHD and celiac disease, to implement dietary changes for optimized health, brain function and behavior. www.thrivinggf.com.