The most wonderful time of the year has the most wonderful food of the year, and the most wonderful parties of the year, and the most wonderful kids’ activities of the year.
And, as parents everywhere know, a lot of the time, these things are all combined. There’s cookie decorating at the family get-together. There’s a gingerbread house competition at the company party. And every Santa at every mall and community holiday celebration is handing out candy canes.
All of this is festive holiday fun for most families. But for kids with food allergies, it could spell disaster.
Here are some allergy-friendly suggestions for dealing with all that holiday food craftiness without ending up with a sobbing child who can’t participate in the fun, or a wheezing kid in the hospital who’s had an allergic reaction.
Gingerbread – Parents of kids with food allergies have files of recipes that work for their kids. It’s best to stick with that recipe when making your gingerbread cookie dough. Sometimes the standard recipes will even work without tweaking due to allergies. The gingerbread recipe we use in our house came from just a regular old cookbook and is both egg and dairy free. If you don’t have a go-to recipe, Google is your friend.
Or, if you don’t want to spend the time making your own allergy-friendly gingerbread, or your child looks sad whenever you pass those cool gingerbread house kits in the craft store, both Sensitive Sweets (sensitivesweets.com) and A&J Bakery (shopaandjbakery.com) make and ship gingerbread house kits that are free of the top eight food allergens.
At many holiday parties, “gingerbread” houses are actually graham cracker houses because the crackers are smaller and easier for little kids to make. This works well for lots of kids with allergies because most graham crackers are free of peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and dairy. For those with wheat allergies, Kinnikinnick Foods makes gluten-free graham crackers that are sold in many grocery stores.
Icing – Kids with egg allergies are often stymied because the typical “glue” for gingerbread houses is royal icing, which is made with egg whites. However, icing is easy to make without eggs, or dairy for that matter, and store-bought is also easily accessible. Many of the typical store-bought canned frostings only contain soy. And, if icing isn’t your thing, you could use other sticky substances, such as melted chocolate chips (Enjoy Life makes some that are free of all eight major allergens and are available for purchase at many grocery stores.), melted marshmallows, or, if you’re not planning on eating the gingerbread house, even regular glue!
Candy – Most kids will tell you their favorite part of decorating a gingerbread house is the candy. Luckily, with the advent of labeling laws and ever-increasing allergy awareness, kids with allergies have lots of options available when it comes to gorging on candy while decorating their masterpiece.
At first it can be overwhelming and frustrating when confronted by the mountains of candy at Target or Walmart and, after reading the label on bag after bag, finding that many of the choices either have allergens listed as ingredients, or are at least made in the same facility as those allergens.
But after a little patience and perhaps a few online searches, you will find plenty of candy that has been made in dedicated facilities.
Of course you should always read the label yourself before purchasing, but a few go-to candies for kids with food allergies include Smarties, Dum Dums, Tootsie Rolls, Lifesavers, Swedish Fish and Dots.
And what about chocolate? Chocolate seems to run the risk of cross-contamination with peanuts and tree nuts more than other types of candy, but there are options out there, such as milk chocolate Hershey Kisses, Rolos and Dove chocolates.
There are also specialty brands that make allergy-friendly chocolate for your chocolate lovers. For example, Vermont Nut-free Chocolates (available at vermonnutfree.com) makes their own version of safe M&Ms called Skippers, crispy chocolates that get their crunch from rice cereal and pretzels instead of nuts, and they even have a line of holiday-shaped candy.
Cookie baking and Christmas go hand-in-hand, and sugar cookie decorating stations are a pretty ubiquitous holiday party activity for kids. Safe cookie options for your own kids can be your own recipe or specialized products like Enjoy Life Sugar Crisp Cookies, Lucy’s Gluten-free Sugar Cookies, or Home Free Vanilla cookies, all available at grocery stores.
Of course it’s not too difficult to bake your own favorite cookies, make a great gingerbread house, or do any other edible holiday crafts you want to do in the comfort and safety of your own home.
But it’s also a good idea to make up your own allergy-friendly craft kits that you can throw in your purse when you’re going to a holiday party or event that you know will include edible craft stations for the kids. Here’s what to include.
For Gingerbread house making
- A few safe gingerbread rectangles, graham crackers or cookies
- A Ziploc bag or two filled with your icing of choice, along with a small scissors to snip off the top so your child with have a decorating bag to use
- 5 or 6 baggies filled with your favorite allergy-friendly candy
For cookie decorating
- A few safe sugar cookies
- Icing in a Ziploc bag and small scissors
- A few baggies filled with different-colored and shaped allergy-friendly holiday sprinkles
- A few baggies filled with different-colored holiday sugars for sprinkling (Homemade colored sugars are also easy to make; just add food coloring to regular sugar in a plastic bag, and shake to combine.)
And, whenever you’re out and about during the holiday season, make sure to have some safe candy canes or peppermints in your purse. It’s not difficult to find mint candy that is free from the top eight allergens, but many brands are cross-contaminated, and Santa rarely has labels on hand!
Amy Schwabe loves the holidays, and spends much of her favorite time of year making sure her kids can enjoy themselves without fear of allergic reactions.