Tis the season for holiday baking and sweet treats around every corner, which is fun and exciting unless you’re the parent of a child with food allergies. At this time of year it seems like so many activities involve food and it is a challenge to constantly stay vigilant about everything from well-meaning strangers giving us candy to samples at Costco to family gatherings.
Since we discovered my 4 year old’s food allergies six months ago, I’ve tried my best to make sure that she doesn’t feel left out or sad about being different. We always bring our own food when we go to parties and I try to bring a safe dessert option when there are treats involved. But no matter how hard I try to make sure she doesn’t feel left out, the reality is she cannot eat what most other people can. And that truth hurts sometime.
We recently took a vacation with some family and ate dinner at a buffet one night. They had an expansive dessert buffet and everyone at the table tried several of the desserts. Although I had brought two delectable mini cupcakes for Gabriella’s dessert, she was upset that she didn’t get to try the brownies, cookies, cheesecake and more that everyone else did. She cried and cried, and it broke my mama heart.
An alarming one in 13 children have food allergies today. It’s a difficult and sometimes lonely road. We are blessed with some amazing friends and family who put so much thought and effort into cooking for us when we visit their homes. I’m also thankful for the other food allergy moms I know who have helped me find safe restaurants and brands of convenience foods and safe personal care products.
When I start to feel down about dealing with allergies, I look around at all of the strong mamas in my life walking this same path and know that I’m not along and I can do it. I want to make sure Gabriella feels the same way. I want her to know that she’s not alone and though she might be different, it’s OK. She can do anything anyone else can do, we just might have to do it a little differently.
One of the holiday traditions I knew we didn’t want to miss out on was decorating a gingerbread house. Gabriella has a wheat allergy and cannot eat or touch wheat without a severe reaction so traditional store-bought kits weren’t going to be an option. After a bit of Googling, I decided we could make our own gluten-free gingerbread houses to decorate.
We invited a few friends over to join the fun and had a wonderful time. I used a gingerbread recipe from Gluten Free on a Shoestring, a template from Sweetopia and the royal icing recipe from Sweetopia to create seven gluten free gingerbread houses. In addition to wheat and gluten, we also had kids unable to eat nuts, peanuts and dairy.
Each mom brought a few allergy friendly items to use for decorating and the kids went to town sprucing up their gingerbread houses and eating their weight in sugar! We had mostly better-for-you options like organic Yum Earth lollipops and Smart Candy gumdrops and K-Kritters gluten free animal crackers.
We had some crappy marshmallows and dye-filled sprinkles too, but it’s all about balance, right? It was so nice to be able to spend time together and know all of our kids were safe and able to eat whatever they wanted.
Making the gingerbread houses and gingerbread men was a lot of work, but when I saw my little girl beaming from ear to ear, it was all worth it. In a world where so many social gatherings, cultural traditions and celebrations include food, there will always be reminders that my child is different. She has gotten so much practice being excluded that it was a delightful opportunity to provide an inclusive space for a few friends on this journey with us.