Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dealing With Food-Filled Holidays When You Can't Eat Like Everyone Else

This year we are staying home for Thanksgiving, and it will just be our immediate family.  Just the four of us, along with the dog, and the cat.  This is in contrast to most years, when there were large Thanksgiving feasts with the in-laws, which is a very large family.  So, how does one deal with that when you or your child can't eat like everyone else?  What if you or your child can't eat at all, as is the case for so many children with Eosinophilic Esophagitis and Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disease.

As adults, we can make informed choices and we might stick with the diet that keeps us healthy, or we may decide that we are going to suffer the consequences of a "forbidden" meal.  Our kids, however, are a different story.  What we do to our own body is one thing, but we can't consciously expose our kids to something that is going to make them sick and have them suffer the consequences.  While I have heard that I need to have my son "suck it up" and "deal with it" ("it" being the pain, nausea and vomiting), I don't subscribe to that way of thinking.  How is it ok to knowingly make your child sick when you have other options and can keep him or her healthy?  We have had the occasional "cheat day" in the past, but have learned from those mistakes.  We know what the consequences are, and it is not worth it.

So, how do you deal with it?  I can only tell you how we have dealt with holiday celebrations in the past and how we plan on doing so in the future.  In the beginning of our journey with eosinophilic esophagitis, when my son was not able to eat anything and was only getting the elemental formula, we stayed home during the meal and dessert.  He was six and seven the two years that we did that.  It wasn't worth him having an awful time, acting out, and crying afterward.  My in-laws live nearby, so I sent my husband and daughter ahead to spend time with his family, and I stayed home with my son until everyone was finished eating.  We joined them after dinner and dessert were over.  That way, there was some quality time with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins without the stress and anxiety over the food that he couldn't eat.  I made sure he had something to keep him busy and content.  Nintendo DS, with a few games to choose from, worked for him.

Every child is different, but if your child is feeling very left out, why make them feel worse by eating a special meal in front of them? There are different schools of thought on this, but that is my opinion.  If my child was not bothered as much as he is by others eating in front of him, I probably would have done things a bit differently. You have to do what is right for the individual child.

As he gained some foods, we changed the way we handled the holidays.  I would make a safe meal for my son and take that with us.  If there was something he could have for dessert, I would bring that, too.  I tried to make it something very special for him.  I would make his favorite of the safe foods and have him choose from his safe treats, like a safe brownie or cookies, so he would be less likely to feel left out.  When I was able to make things that we could share with others, I did so.  Now that his food repertoire has expanded, we can make several options that are good enough to serve to everyone.  I am not going to pretend that he wasn't bothered by the fact that he couldn't eat what everyone else was eating, but he was able to handle it much better when he had something he really enjoyed, especially if other people thought it looked really good, too.

The cousins have grown and moved out of their family homes, and have significant others of their own, so the large family is spending time apart this Thanksgiving.  We will have to make changes in the way we celebrate, too.  This year, I will make some of our favorites, altered so that they are safe.  There is a pumpkin pie recipe in The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook that I would like to try.  Perhaps Thanksgiving Day would be a nice time to try to make one together, as a family.  That may make a nice Thanksgiving memory, and perhaps it will be the start of a new tradition.  I haven't tried to make a safe pineapple bread pudding yet, and that was always a favorite.  It'll be rather expensive in comparison to what it would cost with regular bread, but if it is special and everyone enjoys it, then it will be worth it. 

Another of my preferred activities on Thanksgiving is to take a trip down to Washington, D.C., especially when there are no family feasts planned or extended family to see.  The museums are free and are open for the holiday.  Crowds are light.  That makes it a very nice time to visit.  Hotels often have specials for this particular holiday and you might even be able to get a room within walking distance of the mall (the outdoor mall with the museums).  The Metro is always a good option to get around there, too.  No matter where you live, there is likely something fun you can do over the holiday that is not food-related.  You just have to be creative.  Do you live in a warm climate?  Do you like to hike or camp?  You might also just decide to hole-up, cuddle on the couch and watch some movies or spend time doing crafts, playing cards or board games as a family.  The options do not have to be costly.

Whatever you are doing this holiday season, make it special.  While life seems to revolve around food, it does not have to be that way for your family.  You can still make it special without the feast.  You can still make memories that will last a lifetime.  For suggestions about how to deal with celebrations, please go to APFED's website under their Advocacy tab.  You'll find A Guide to Celebrations Without Food .pdf file with wonderful ideas for each of the holidays and all other types of celebrations.  If you are looking for some recipes, using what foods are safe for you or your child, you might want to try Living Without Magazine which can also be found online at  They have some great ideas.  I also have some cookbooks listed here under "Helpful Books, Handouts and Cookbooks", which are available online at and are likely in your local bookstores as well.  Kids With Food Allergies also has a lot of good recipes available to members, and they have some free Thanksgiving Survival Tips

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and please remember to be thankful for all of the things that you DO have and all of the things that are GOOD in your life.  Everyone faces certain challenges during their lives, whether they are obvious or not, but it's important to focus on the positives and, as a wise Python once said, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." (Do do, do do do do do do...)

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