It’s nearly Christmas already and the pressure is on; Christmas shopping, writing the cards, lots of parties, mulled wine, putting up the tree and decorations and catching up with friends and family. I love the festive season but it can be a tough time for those with allergies.
Here are a few things I’ve learnt to help me stay safe at Christmas:
- Stick to your guns! – Don’t be shy about telling people you have serious allergies, and how to administer your EpiPen should the moment arise. Never let your guard down and eat something if you aren’t completely sure of the ingredients.
- Mince pies – Why not try making your own? I found ‘Trex’ in the supermarket recently, it’s available in all good stores and is dairy free; best of all it’s great for making pastry. You can also buy special mince pies made by GFree, Village Bakery and Sussex Larder. Just google for some great recipes for mince pies that are wheat, gluten and nut free; can be dairy, soya and egg free; no added sugar.
- Sweets and chocolate! – Cakes, sweets and chocolate abound at Christmas but don’t become complacent; always check ingredients. You could carry some of your own chocolate, sweets and cakes when you go out. Then you will not feel left out, and most people won’t mind. They’ll probably just feel happier knowing that you are happy too.
- Eating out – Always call a restaurant before you go out for a meal. Most chefs will be more than happy to advise you about what is safe and will cook you something special so you can enjoy your meal. A friend of mine takes in her own pan and utensils and asks the chef to use them. Remind staff when you arrive too so that nothing can go wrong. Above all, eat with your eyes. If something looks a little bit suspicious, steer clear.
- Christmas cards – The glue on envelopes can cause mild allergic reactions and always tastes rather unpleasant anyway. Have a small damp sponge or some kitchen paper in a saucer and use this to wet the envelope glue; you’ll avoid painful paper cuts to the tongue too. Make sure you buy sticky stamps too.
- Christmas dinner – Turkey with trimmings is one of my favourite meals of the year. Things to look out for are bread sauce, gravy, stuffing and nibbles. I’ve made some really nice stuffing with rice flakes, gluten free flour and herbs mixed with water; experiment and try some things out before the big day. Gravy can easily be made without shop-bought granules. Use the meat juice, vegetable water, Kallo or Marigold vegetable stock cubes and some corn flour; no one will notice and you will feel much safer. Why not volunteer to make it so you know it’s safe for you? Speak to whoever is hosting your Christmas dinner and then you can avoid any nasty mistakes.
- Christmas cake and pudding! – Shop-bought cakes and puddings are rarely free from dairy, gluten and nuts. Some are though so check out the usual companies like The Village Bakery, GFree and It’s nut free; a google search brings up loads of potential stockists. One recipe caught my eye this year: My mum used to try to make me a separate nut free, dairy free Christmas cake all to myself, without the marzipan; whilst it tasted divine as I love fruit cake, the icing goes kind of transparent and dirty looking without the marzipan layer beneath it.
- Alcohol – Let’s face it; we all over indulge over the Christmas festive season. Having a few too many can make you less alert to dangers, and also could make you slower to react to an allergic reaction. Make sure you always have your EpiPen and be really aware of what’s going on. Tell your friends you carry an EpiPen, and also how to administer it. Beware of nut-based schnapps and dairy based liqueurs, but most of all, enjoy yourself.
- Nuts! – Watch out for nuts at parties; most people love them and there could be bowls of them around at your friends’ houses. Nuts can be dusty, especially peanuts, so watch for cross contamination; other guests will be dipping into other nibbles and could have nut traces on their fingers. It’s probably best to avoid nibbles at parties if you see bowls of nuts around too. And if you’re out and about in cities and towns you may come across roasting chestnuts. If you have airborne allergens that’s one to watch out for.
- Be prepared – Always, always take your EpiPen and anti-histamines when you go out, and inhaler if you need one. It might seem like a pain and means you have to take a bigger bag but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Make sure you have an Action Plan written and keep it with your EpiPen. Make sure you have checked the expiry date of your EpiPen and that you have enough anti-histamines before Christmas. Your doctor’s surgery will probably be closed for the majority of the festive season so don’t get caught short.
- Advent Calendars – Advent calendars with little chocolate treats inside are all the rage these days. Kinnerton do some nut free advent calendars. They only make a few each year so get in touch when them and get your name on their mailing list; but why not go back to the traditional old fashioned style? They’re much cheaper and carry no ‘may contain’ warnings.
Above all, enjoy your Christmas. Have fun and I hope you get what you want from Santa!