I'm the editor of Smart, a magazine for women in southcentral Pennsylvania. I said "I do" to my wonderful husband in 2002. We have two adorable children who have taught me much about life and love. With the birth of my second child, I bid farewell to my dreams of having a clean house, folded laundry and family dinners on weeknights.

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Allergies at the holidays: Don’t let them get in the way of holiday festivities

By LYZZ JONES for Smart

Every meal is a challenge when you live with food allergies.

And no time of year exacerbates these troubles more than the holidays.

Eggnog? Not if eggs or milk trigger a reaction.

Stuffing? Only if it’s gluten- and wheat-free.

Cranberries? Sounds OK, but was that serving spoon just swimming in buttery mashed potatoes?

With a little thought and advanced planning, the holidays don’t have to be a daunting time for the millions of adults and children who suffer from food and environmental allergies.

Here are some tips to get you and your family through while keeping your spirits high.

Plan ahead: Find out who is responsible for making what dish and have a conversation about ingredients and preparation before Turkey Day arrives. Suggest a few easy substitutions that could make the item agreeable for all.

The reality: If you aren’t absolutely certain what you are eating or how it was prepared, then come ready with your own food.

Even the slightest morsel from a baking sheet or serving utensil can trigger a severe allergic reaction. Some allergens, particularly peanuts, get more allergenic when they are baked.

Don’t feed the kids: If your child has allergies, make sure everyone knows it. T-shirts and wristbands can advertise an allergy. Teach older kids to refuse food unless you’ve approved it first. Ask everyone to wash their hands after eating.

Safety first: Always come prepared with necessary medications (epinephrine and a liquid antihistamine).

“It’s important to let people know how serious your allergies are,” Dr. Paul E. Dahlberg of Allergy and Asthma Consultants in York Township said. “Even a small amount can elicit a response. If the person is incapacitated, they need someone who can help them administer (medicine).”

Break tradition: Many of the foods typically served during the Jewish holiday can be made with safe ingredients.

Latkes can be made without egg and served with dairy-free sour cream.

Gluten- and allergen-free sufganyot (jelly doughnut) recipes can be easily found on the Internet.

Look for pareve: Pareve or parve food is made without meat or dairy and isn’t processed with heat on dairy or meat equipment.

Look for the labels from the Orthodox Union, the world’s largest kosher certification agency. OU means the products are pareve, and OU-D means they contain dairy.

If you have a milk allergy, steer clear of DE, which means the food was processed on shared dairy equipment lines.

However, it’s still important to read ingredient labels, especially if your allergy is severe.

Mint your own money: Make homemade gelt by melting down chocolate that is safe for your child. Enjoy Life chocolate chips are dairy-, soy- and gluten-free and made in a dedicated nut- and gluten-free bakery. Put it in coin moldings and wrap them with aluminum.

Feast away: A karamu or African feast is held on the last day of Kwanzaa (Dec. 31).

Dishes such as jollof rice (most common ingredients are rice, tomatoes and tomato paste, onion, salt and red pepper), koki (an appetizer made from black-eyed peas) and yams can be enjoyed without worry or with easy substitution.

Don’t pass the peanuts: Peanut soup is popular but, for obvious reasons, should be avoided by people with peanut allergies. If you are planning on serving this dish, make your guests aware. Peanut allergies are one of the most dangerous, and some people can react to trace amounts or airborne allergens.

Real or fake? According to the National Christmas Tree Association, a real tree typically doesn’t produce pollen in December.

But it can gather dust and mold and other things from being outside all year long — just the same as a boxed tree in your attic.

The NCTA recommends a good hose down, shake and air dry before it comes inside. Plus, you can find bleach recipes that will help stop mold spores from forming.

Smells of the season:
Candles and strongly fragranced items can cause reactions when they release their chemicals.

One solution is to make homemade items with vanilla, cinnamon or peppermint flavoring. Soy candles and beeswax candles are safer and less likely to trigger allergies.

Party favor:

If you are hosting a holiday party, do your guests a favor and identify all foods.

Amy Herwig of Party Belles in York suggests making a placecard to set with the dish naming the food and a list of ingredients on the back.

Another option Herwig recommends is to make a “cheat sheet” available at the front of a buffet for those with allergies to pick up and carry with them through the food line. It can be organized and color coded by allergy.

The easy solution

The easiest and most effective way to get rid of food allergens is to wash your hands with soap. Be sure to double check that the soap is free of wheat or milk — two common proteins used in beauty products. Research has shown that water and antibacterial hand sanitizer are not effective at removing allergens.

The Big 8
Eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.


The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network:

National Institute of Environmental Health Science: www.niehs.nih.gov

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: www.aaaai.org

National Christmas Tree Association: christmastree.org

Food Allergy Initiative: www.faiusa.org

U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: www.niaid.nih.gov

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