Celebrating Safely

Celebrating Safely

by Tami Pyles

It happens frequently at our house - a brightly colored envelope arrives in the mailbox or spills out of a school bag. I know exactly what it is before my daughter rips into it- another party invitation. Excitement ensues as my child reads the details, but as a food allergy mom I instantly get images of cakes we can’t eat, snacks that we will have to forgo, and the ultimate question- will it even be an event we can attend?  Birthday parties, play dates and other social events can be challenging to navigate with food allergies but we have learned that with some planning and communication you can celebrate safely! Here are some keys to keeping your celebrations safe and your sanity intact.

Advanced Planning

Communicate with your host well in advance. In my experience, hosts are often willing to work with you, but if you wait to reach out just a few days before an event it is harder to alter plans and menus. Forgo the texts for this important conversation and opt for an in-person meeting or phone call.

Approach the host with a positive attitude and an ultimate goal of partnership. Discuss the specific allergies you are managing and your desire for participation and safety.  Discuss the menu, crafts, and goodie bags to have a clear understanding of where allergens may be present. Offer ways to work together to keep it safe. Sometimes a host is more than happy to help, but unsure of how best to do that.

Develop Your Event Action Plan

Once you have talked with the host and have an idea of how the event will be organized, it is time to decide if you will attend. The ultimate goal is your safety, and sometimes you have to make the difficult decision to not attend.  And, you know what?  That is OK!  Yes, it is no fun to miss an event, but if it will create an unsafe situation that you do not feel you can manage opting for safety is always the right decision. 

If you do decide to attend, it is time to create your event action plan. This will look different for each event depending on how you need to structure it to keep it safe, but should touch on all of these areas:

  • Food: Will you prepare any dishes for the party? Will you provide a safe alternative (providing a safe cupcake instead of eating the party cake)? Will you take safe snacks for you/your child in case what is offered is not safe?

  • Food Rules: Make sure you discuss your family food rules in advance of the event, not as you are walking in the door. Kids excited to enter a party or play date will not focus on this important conversation. Food rules will vary but might include: do not eat anything unless you ask me first, if you are unsure about a food ask (name specific person), or only eat the food we brought.

  • Emergency Action Plan: Even if the event will have a safe menu, you always need to have an emergency action plan in place. Will you attend the event and have emergency medication with you or will you leave this with the host/someone else at the party? If you will be dropping off your child, communicate emergency plan information in advance of the event. The host will be very busy the day of the event and may not be able to focus on detailed instructions as party guests are arriving. Also, make sure your child knows who to talk to during the event, if they need help.

Be Diligent at Event

When you arrive at the event survey the food situation- sometimes even with advanced planning with the host there are changes to the menu, food set up or party plans. Talk to your child about what will be safe and what will not, and reinforce the food rules you established.

Attitude is Everything

Your attitude will influence how your child perceives the party.  If you are upset or nervous it is likely your child will be the same.  Plan early to help alleviate some of the anxiety that can occur, and go in expecting to have a good time- even if you can’t partake in all of the food at the party. 

We have a motto at our house - We focus on family, friends and fun!  We don’t go to parties for food.  Yes, food will be there, but we go to spend time with the people we love.  We reinforce this motto often, and our girls know there is so much more to a party than the food. 

So, the next time a brightly colored envelope arrives at your house take a deep breath, get moving on your event action plan, and focus on family, friends and fun!

About the Author:

Tami Pyles owns Thrive On Consulting. She works with individuals and families with food allergies to learn practical day-to-day management strategies to Thrive On; and she provides  food allergy training and education to groups and companies.  She is a certified AllerCoach and a food allergy mom who manages her daughter’s life-threatening food allergies. She speaks and writes nationally on food allergy topics and also has her own blog, Thoughts for Thriving On, where she shares ideas for living safely with food allergies. She lives in Louisville, KY with her husband and two daughters, and is actively involved in the local food allergy community. You can follow Tami on Facebook and Twitter.