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« Tips to Help Your Food Allergic Child "Belong" During the Holidays | Main | Aimee's Story: Second Thoughts About Thanksgiving. »

Parents: How to Talk Turkey (and Food Allergies) at Thanksgiving

This guest article continues our series on Thanksgiving with social tips to help dicuss food allergies with family and friends.



Phew!  Halloween has come and gone and you managed to  A) Keep you child with food allergies safe and sound while  B) actually enjoying the Halloween events – the class party, perhaps some Trick or Treating, and maybe a spooky Haunted House too!

Now, it’s November, and just as you find an allergen-laced Snickers™ bar hiding under the living room couch, the phone rings and it’s Aunt Apathy.  You know, the one who doesn’t seem to care about your kid’s life threatening food allergies?  “Allergies?” she questions you.  “Can’t you just give your kid a pill for that?” 

UGH!  You were dreading this call.  The entire extended family is gathering for the traditional Thanksgiving feast at Aunt Apathy’s.  Here we go – another holiday and another celebration with the potential to hurt your child, little Elsa, who is severely allergic to peanuts and intolerant to several other common foods.  

In this three part series, we will be addressing how to  1) Prepare your relatives for the cautions necessary to keep your child safe, 2) deal with the emotions when other adults just don’t “get it” and3.) Enjoy the big day while focusing on what Thanksgiving is really all about:  Gathering together with thankful hearts.

Here’s what you know for sure:
1.    You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
2.    You don’t want to skip Thanksgiving or the memories.
3.    You need to keep your child safe.
4.    Again, you need to keep your child safe.

Accept the invitation, thank her and hang up.  Review 1, 2, 3 and 4.  Those three points are what you want to accomplish when you call her back.  So, write a script and call her back within the next 24 hours.  Open the conversation with “Have I caught you at a busy time?” so you are assured she is present and truly listening, then smile the entire time you are chatting with her on the phone.  People can hear you smile.  Be calm, yet friendly  – pretend you are in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.  There’s never ever family drama there.

Here are a few scripts that might fit into your personal scenario:


The key phase here is “Would that be helpful?”

Everyone in our family is so excited to be coming to your house for Thanksgiving!  Elsa can’t stop taking about it! (This points out how important it is to Elsa and makes Auntie feel important in Elsa’s life, which she is.) I know it’s tricky to plan such a big event when someone with a food allergy is attending, so I wanted to offer to help in any way. (Keep talking so she can’t insert a “Oh No DEAR, that won’t be necessary”)  I would be happy to make a side dish or two that everyone could enjoy and Elsa could eat easily.  Would that be helpful so that you can prepare all the traditional dishes that you do so well?  

Now…onto the cross contamination topic…

Your concern (Open with this, even if she never seems concerned) about Elsa accidently being exposed to an allergen is always appreciated.  You don’t have to worry about her touching dairy products – she just can’t eat them or she will get pretty sick.  But, she can’t touch peanuts.  That’s the one you need to worry about the most, but it’s okay, I can be helpful with that.  Gosh, I can’t think of anything that you might be serving with peanuts though, can you?  OH, I just thought of one –my neighbors fry their turkey in the gigantic turkey fryer in the back yard – and I just learned they use peanut oil.  I would never had thought of that – peanuts in turkey!  There are so many hidden sources.  This might be helpful, save me the wrappers from any food and I’ll look over the ingredient list and we can decide then if Elsa can have it.   Or, would you like me to come and help the night before or early that morning?  (Now you have given her options to accept your help.  She maintains some power over her big event while you keep your child safe.)

When a traditional dish is ALWAYS part of the feast in your family, but your kid is allergic to it.


One of the things I am looking forward to are your famous sweet potatoes with that amazing buttery, maple sugar sauce!  It’s such a wonderful memory from my childhood! I know it won’t be a yummy as the one that you will make that day, but how about I bring a similar dish of sweet potatoes for Elsa?  That way, we can still have the tradition of your dish that means so much to all of us, and Elsa can have her own version too.  It is just really important to me that Elsa shares that memory with you.

Try these recipes for squash,  and for sweet potatoes.

When your child has a new or unanticipated dietary restriction...

I just wanted to give you the heads up that we took Nicholas off sugar 3 month ago.  It’s the first time that his immune system has done its job!  He didn’t catch any of those nasty start-of-school bugs that kept him home for weeks last year.  His doctor has encouraged us to keep it up (always good to insert an authority figure, like a doctor), even through the holidays.  I didn’t want to hurt your feelings if we bring him something sugar-free for dessert.  Or, would it be helpful if I brought  two or three of those fabulous sugar-free pumpkin pies from Molly’s Allergen-Free Bakery?
These conversations aren’t always easy: Aunt Apathy just isn’t going to see life the way you do, because food allergies are a new phenomenon for her generation.  But, deep down, we all have the same purpose for Thanksgiving.  It’s about gathering family and friends together, creating memories and establishing traditions.  If the two of you focus on those intentions, you have a common goal.  That means you care about the same thing.  Next thing you know, you’ll have to start calling her by her real name.  But for now, just call her “Auntie” and send her flowers the next day to thank her for all of her hard work and  for creating memories for your child will always cherish.


More Article for Parents

For more tips on dealing with schools, read:  How to Feel Less Stress With a Food Allergic Child in School.

Read Aimee's Story:   Second Thoughts About Thanksgiving.


About The Author

Melanie Potock, M.A., CCC-SLP of My MunchbugMelanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, of  Melanie is speech language pathologist who specializes in feeding.  Her work brings her into the homes and schools of her clients, kids, who for various reasons have difficulty with food or with eating. She works with kids and their parents to develop effective strategies that help children become “more adventurous eaters”.  At least 50% of her clients have food allergies or intolerances, and for them, “adventurous eating” takes on a special meaning.

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Reader Comments (2)

Thanksgiving should be a happy day for the entire family. However, allergies can really ruin the fun. Thanks for the tips. I learned a lot.
November 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVivian Kendricks
Thanks for your comment, Vivian, I'm so glad Melanie's comments helped. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and some healthy conversation.

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