For anyone living with food allergies, summertime gatherings bring many stressful complications. Although BBQs and picnics are about sharing time with friends and family, they are also about good food!
Here are some ideas to help you prepare and navigate these events!
Know your host
Consider your host’s personality. Has this person been supportive of your food allergy needs? Have they been willing to learn and make accommodations? The answers to these questions will help you prepare to attend (or sometimes not attend) the event!
If the answer to these questions is yes, you should feel a little more at ease about talking to the host about any concerns or needs you want them to be aware of.
If the answer to these questions is no, you might need to take a more direct approach to talk to your host about any concerns or needs that you might have about the event so you can feel safe attending the gathering. Be open to sharing your experience and knowledge if the host seems open to it but be prepared that some people in our lives are not going to want to understand and make accommodations.
In any case, with food allergies, you have to assess the risk and if you are willing to take it. This looks different for everyone! And can sometimes look different at various times in your allergy journey.
Know your allergy
Okay so I know you know what your allergies are, but how sensitive are you? How fast does a reaction escalate?
Maybe you only experience anaphylaxis if you ingest the food (like Shaun) and therefore as long as you don’t eat a lobster roll at the picnic you will be safe.
However, it is possible that you are much more reactive to lobster and you are unable to be near it cooking on near someone eating it. In this case, talk with your host, again assessing the risk. Maybe they will make a change to the menu to accommodate this or perhaps they won’t, BUT the key is to communicate!
Many times the most straightforward course of action in these situations is to bring your own safe food! In my experience, this lowers stress for you as the guest and your host.
If you feel comfortable eating the food at the picnic, consider making your plate from the safe choices BEFORE other guests. This allows you to avoid any possible cross contamination while people are serving themselves.
Know your care plan
This is as simple as it sounds. Bring your necessary medications and know what to do if a reaction happens. Whatever action plan you have established with your doctor, review it, and be prepared to use it! We manage risk, but we can not eliminate it.
Practice with your child
Part of our job as parents is to guide our children, to teach them. This is no different when it comes to their food allergies!
Practice with them the essential things you want them to remember!
For our family that is Shaun’s allergy list, what and where his auto-injectors are kept, and that he is not to take food from anyone but mom and dad. We also practice what he would say if someone offers him food, even if it looks safe, we repeat the words, “No, thank you, I’m allergic.”
*** THIS IN NO WAY MEANS I BELIEVE MY 4 YEAR OLD, OR ANY 4 YEAR OLD, CAN OR SHOULD MANAGE THIS THEMSELVES! ***
We watch Shaun like a hawk and make sure we are mitigating all foreseen aspects of the gathering. The purpose of this is to start to make him aware of what he will one day need to do to advocate for himself and to put an extra possible safeguard in place as a last resort to unforeseen risk.
Build a safe space
As you arrive, take a look around and see if you can build an area in which you can feel comfortable! (Depending on your host this might be something that you can discuss beforehand)
- Look for a spot away from where the food is being served
- A location off to the side of things
- A table or place in the grass where a safe space can be created is perfect
- Keep food and medications at this spot
- Wipe down the area if necessary
- Set up the stroller or playpen (if it’s your young child with a food allergy)
This provides a small area at the picnic that you can eat at and retreat to if things become stressful or if you are concerned, a reaction may be occurring.
Leave when you are ready to go
This is not to say that you should plan to leave early.
However, social food-based gatherings can be stressful! You may encounter unexpected risks, you may find yourself with a contact reaction, or any number of other things may heighten your stress. For some living with food allergies, they will manage this in the moment, BUT if you are not in a place to do that there is nothing wrong with gracefully leaving.
Now, to change perspectives!
If you are hosting and you invite a guest with food allergies, keep these thoughts in mind:
- Reach out and talk with your guest before the day of the picnic! Ask if you can do anything to make them feel more comfortable about attending. (Even if they say no they will be so grateful you asked!!)
- Don’t take it personally if they bring their food. I am sure they would love a break from cooking, but in many cases, it is just safer!
- Expect that your food allergy guest might not stay for the entire event, and that’s okay!!
Picnics and BBQs can be fun even with food allergies! It’s about preparing and communicating to lower risk.
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