Across most cultures, food is an integral part of holidays and celebrations. Whether it’s a special dish, treat, or dessert, food is woven into so many of our traditions. Valentine’s Day is certainly not an exception to this rule.
From cute conversation hearts to decadent chocolates, the food gifts are just the start. There are parties for our kids in schools and romantic dinners with our partners. If you’re living with food allergies, of course, Valentine’s Day becomes another occasion of heightened alert. Another day to be watchful, to read labels carefully, to make an extra batch of something safe. Of course, with a little preparation and planning, you can exhale and enjoy the day. These tips may help.
Stickers, Crafts, & Cards
Somewhere along the way those boxes of school-ready valentines morphed from simple cards with pithy sayings to cards with various candy and treats stuck on them. Sometimes it’s not just a card with a lollipop stuck in it, sometimes it’s a goodie bag of treats with a simple card tucked inside.
Regardless of how laden with sweets, the point is the same – there’s food and it may not be safe for an allergic child in the classroom. The good news is this: right in the same aisle with the candy-card combos are box sets of cards with stickers or small bracelets or simple crafts or temporary tattoos. In other words, just as fun (or even more!) without the food allergy potential.
Be Ready to Swap
If the food allergic loved one in your life is a school-aged child, they will probably bring home a bag full of cards from their classmates and some of those cards will have candy attached. Be prepared to swap out those treats for something allergy-friendly. Pick up a stash of safe treats and let your child trade the items they can’t have (or don’t like!) for the treats they can.
Pre-Read the Labels (on non-food items)
So you know to scan the label on that giant heart box loaded with chocolate goodness before you present it to your food-allergic date. But don’t overlook the non-food items too! Remember, food allergens such as dairy, soy, nut oils, and wheat can be ingredients in body lotions and other self-care products. Alcoholic drinks may contain food allergens and yet aren’t included under the FDA’s food labeling laws.
Scan the ingredient list carefully and keep an eye out for the allergens you need to avoid. It’s not just the grown-up gifts you need scan labels for. Remember, food allergens can be present in kid favorites like play dough and other craft supplies. This isn’t to add an extra layer of stress and overwhelm. Just a reminder to mitigate the risk to your food-allergic loved one by checking labels before you buy them a gift.
Speak the Language
Food can be a love language. That’s true for a lot of people. When you have multiple food allergies, however, someone taking the time to really understand what you can and can’t have safely, and then taking the extra care to create an amazing meal to share with you that accommodates your specific dietary needs is a special gesture to show how much they care.
Whether you’re a cook with allergies or you’re cooking for someone with food allergies, take the time to create something special and safe to show your love.
Focus on Experiences
Sure, food is often a key component of how many cultures celebrate holidays and special life milestones. That doesn’t mean you have to indulge in traditional foods. There’s plenty of celebration that doesn’t involve consuming a particular dish. Create your own ways to celebrate and honor your loved ones without the food element.
Set aside an afternoon to spend time together. Visit that museum you’ve been hoping to see. Bundle up for an afternoon hike in a new place. Take in a movie or take a one-off class to learn a new skill or hobby. Those chocolate-covered cherries, while delicious, don’t say “I love you” nearly as much as “I want to spend a day with you” does!