Valentine's Day isn't just for romance. It's a majorly important social event for our kids as well. After all, who doesn't love decorating a gorgeous shoebox mailbox, exchanging valentines with classmates, and gorging on chocolate and fluffy pink cupcakes?
Unfortunately, a lot of these childhood Valentine's Day rituals are potential landmines for kids with food allergies.
Here are some of those landmines and some tips for navigating through them this Valentine's Day:
1. The quest for safe candy hearts
Candy conversation hearts are extremely important at Valentine's Day. It's so much fun to choose the right phrase for someone and give them that special candy heart that shows you care.
My family has had quite the expedition searching for candy hearts that are safe for my child with peanut and egg allergies to eat.
The problem isn't the ingredients themselves (they're pretty much just sugar and food dye), but the possibility of cross-contamination is a much larger concern. And this possibility is made even more difficult to deal with due to the strange fact that, depending on the packaging (a giant bag of hearts, individual boxes of hearts, hearts inside a bigger plastic heart), there's the possibility for cross-contamination from different allergens. One package might be made in a factory with peanuts while another one is safe for my daughter but might have been on the same assembly line as something made with milk.
In the meantime, if you're buying candy hearts for anyone with an allergy, make sure to read the label!
2. Valentine's Day gifts: Think outside the (chocolate) box
It can be difficult to find chocolate that's safe for kids with the big eight allergies (although Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates is an amazing resource for holiday-themed chocolates for those with nut allergies), but it's not hard at all to choose a special gift, even a special edible gift, to give your food-allergic child to express your love on Valentine's Day.
My parents went this route last Valentine's Day. They wanted to give the kids a special treat, but they didn't want to search for the traditional candy that was safe and that our daughter might not be that into anyway. After all, just because it's shaped like a heart doesn't mean it's a favorite food!
My food-allergic daughter loves Greek yogurt. So instead of a box of chocolates, my parents gave her a gift bag filled with Greek yogurt, and she was beyond thrilled with the treat that truly showed her grandparents' love.
3. Navigating classroom Valentine's Day parties
Handing out valentines
It's such a high point of the dreary days of winter for kids to receive a box full of valentines from their friends. It's less fun when those valentines are attached to candy that can't be eaten due to food allergies.
Luckily, there are so many fun, non-food related valentines available! Lots include stickers, tattoos, pencils or little toys. Have your child pick some of those out to give to his friends.
But, if you do decide to hand out valentines with food attached, make sure the treat has an ingredient label so the parents of the food allergy child knows if it's safe to eat.
Classroom party treats
What is a child with food allergies to do when confronted with the ubiquitous pink cupcake at her classroom Valentine's Day party? And what is the class mom to do when student allergies prevent her from serving said cupcakes? Believe it or not, there are lots of options.
- Try a recipe that is free of the allergens you need to avoid. Also, if there are allergens in your favorite recipe, you can always use safe substitutions such as dairy-free butter, egg replacer, and non-wheat flours. Just make sure to read all labels!
- Sometimes there are multiple allergies in a class or parents who aren't comfortable having their kids eat something that doesn't have a label. In this situation, a packaged treat is your best bet. Popsicles are a kid crowd-pleaser, and lots of brands are naturally allergy-friendly.
- If you're concerned that a pre-packaged treat isn't special enough for a holiday, scour the internet for ideas. There are lots of cute ideas for dressing up packaged treats, for example, using printables and scrapbook paper to make juice boxes more special.
With a little planning ahead, kids with food allergies can have an awesome Valentine's Day!