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Safe Christmas Treats for Your Child with Food Allergies

In this series we are looking at a range of topics that parents with children who have food allergies face. If you would like to catch up on any of the previous articles you can read them below:

Epinephrine: A Lifesaving Medicine that has Become Unaffordable
Understanding Food Allergies: Is Mast Cell Disorder to blame?
Children with Severe Food Allergies: The Emotional Aspects
Helping Children with Food Allergies Become Independent
Food Allergies: What Is The Right Age For Epi-Pen Independence?
Food Allergies: What to Do When Just One Child Has Allergies
The Importance of Teaching Your Allergenic Child to Cook

Over the Thanksgiving holiday a story was reported of an 11 year old boy: He was enjoying the holiday week with his family and one evening he ate some cake that was on the counter not knowing it contained nuts.  This hidden food allergen caused him to go into anaphylactic shock and die.

This is the type of story that is devastating to the entire food allergy community. All parents of children who have a food allergy know just how quickly an allergic reaction comes on after the consumption of an allergic food. For the family of the boy, this accidental consumption of the nuts he was allergic to turned out to be deadly.

As a parent who shops and cooks for a child with nut and dairy allergies, I am aware of how we always need to be on the alert; checking the ingredients on any food we buy, always reading the label extra carefully, especially on those foods we’ve never had before. Unfortunately, there are occasions when I haven’t brought a safe treat along for my son and I have to tell him not to eat anything while he is at the party or school event.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my family went to a friend’s house for dinner. Before we walked in the door of their house I looked my son in the eyes and said, “Do not eat anything unless you check with me first.”

Unfortunately, no matter how vigilant you are accidents do happen – even the most caring of family members can make a mistake – so this holiday season, stock your pantry with some tasty non-allergenic treats. Here are my top tips for non-allergenic baking and recipes for some of my son’s favorite allergy-friendly holiday treats.

Non-Allergenic Baking

Most holiday cakes and cookies contain nuts, dairy, wheat, eggs or other common allergens. Since these ingredients are baked into the treats, it might not be obvious that they are there so I recommend baking your own. That way, you can be 100% certain they are safe for the whole family. In addition to food allergens, I also recommend avoiding sugar treats that contain artificial colors and dyes – some people have allergic reactions to these dyes.

Kids love to participate in making and decorating holiday treats so make sure you involve them – it’s a great way to spark an interest in cooking.

Finding the perfect sugar cookie for Christmas is a festive way to start getting your kids into the holiday spirit – and they are a great way to get creative with your baking skills. This simple cookie recipe is a great starting place that you can adapt and experiment with to find your favorite styles and flavors.

Basic Sugar Cookie Recipe
2 cups of all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour
½ cup of sugar
12 tbsp (¾ cup) of Earth Balance Butter (use soy-free for anyone with a soy allergy)
1 tsp of vanilla extract

NB: for a gluten-free cookie, make your own flour combination or buy a pre-made gluten-free flour formula (King Arthurs Flours or Bob’s Red Mill flour are two good brands). If you want to make your own, Cynthia Lair suggests, in her book Feeding the Whole Family, replacing 1 cup of wheat flour with ¾ cup of rice flour, 3tbsp of potato starch, 1tbsp of tapioca flour, ½ tsp of xanthan gum.

You can alter this basic recipe by adding ¼ tsp of any of the following spices to the dough: cinnamon, cardamom, cloves or ginger.

Combine all the dry ingredients, then add the vanilla extract and cut in the butter to form stiff dough. Roll the dough into 2 inch ropes. Wrap in wax paper and put in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. Once the dough has been chilled, cut the ropes into slices and place them on a greased baking tray. Bake at 350 degrees for 9-11 minutes.

Tips for making a good cookie
Use a roller and roll out the dough between parchment or wax paper
Bake a test batch first to perfect baking time for the perfect cookie.
Cookies bake best in the center of the oven.

When the cookies are cool, you can fill and/or decorate them. These are my son’s favorites:

Powdered sugar (find one that is corn-free since many commercial brands add corn starch).
Sprinkles are great for decorating cookies, and can be added to allergy-safe whipped creams. Go for the higher quality sprinkles that use dye derived from natural sources like beet juice and vegetable juices rather than artificial dyes. India Tree is a brand that makes natural colored “decorating sugar”, commonly referred to as sprinkles. Another good brand that doesn’t use synthetic dyes is Confection Crafts sparkles.
Jam – add your favorite flavored jam to the center of the cookie. Make a thumb print in the center of the cookie before baking and add 1 tsp of jam.
Chocolate chips – Enjoy Life makes dairy, soy and nut free chocolate chips.
Food coloring can be a fun way to decorate cookies but find a natural brand with no synthetic dyes. Confection Crafts makes liquid food colors.

Gingerbread House
This is a great way to get in the holiday spirit and have a safe, allergy-friendly treat.  Most gingerbread houses, even the pre-packed ones that you buy at the store, do not contain dairy or nuts. There are also gluten-free recipes available that you can bake yourself. Pamela’s has a gluten-free gingerbread mix and there are a few companies that sell gluten-free gingerbread kits – My Secret Pantry is a brand you can order online. The frosting is sugar and you can decorate the house with hard candies that are allergy safe.

Kids are a big fan of gummies and they can be used as decorations for your gingerbread house or cookies. I recommend using Annie’s fruit snacks as they are made with a base of tapioca syrup rather than the corn syrup used in commercial brands. They also use vegetable and fruit extracts to color their gummies rather than synthetic colorings.

Whipped Creams
There are a few non-dairy and non-nut varieties of cream you can use on pies, hot chocolate or even cookies. My children love fresh strawberries with whipped cream and, for an extra special treat, I put them on top of a cookie. These are some of the non-dairy alternative creams that can be whipped:
Soy – if there are no soy allergies, I think this is the best tasting dairy alternative.
Rice – this is a good alternative to soy. I find it sweeter than the soy but it has the same light, fluffy texture of the other whipped creams.
Coconut – coconut is high in fat which makes for a creamy whipped cream. It does of course have a coconut flavor so use it with dishes that will complement it.

The soy and rice whipped creams can be bought from the store in spray cans similar to traditional dairy whipped cream. This is convenient for ease of use during the holidays and they will last for a few weeks in the refrigerator. To make whipped coconut cream, use the full-fat canned coconut milk and whip it as you would dairy cream. When making coconut whipped cream only use the cream and not the milk – it needs to be cold to maintain thickness. Sugar and vanilla can be added for flavor.

Hard Candies
These are usually a safe option for people who have allergies as they are just sugar, colors and flavors. So, instead of having a bowl of nuts on the table, you can replace them with hard candies – just for the holidays, that is!

Kids love popcorn and it is a simple way to have a fun treat in your house and can be used to make fun holiday treats such as kettle corn or popcorn balls. Most of these just have salt, sugar and oil on them so are safe for most children (except those who have a corn allergy).

Candy Canes
A candy cane is a seasonal treat that is usually safe. Your local health food store will probably have candy canes that don’t contain artificial coloring agents.

Closing Thoughts

The holidays are a time of year when treats and sugar are flowing in large quantities. Being thoughtful about your children’s (and your guests’) potential food allergens will make for a safe and enjoyable holiday. It can be easy to get distracted at holiday parties and family gatherings with so much activity and excitement and it’s this distraction that can allow for food allergen exposure to accidently happen. Learning to stock your pantry and adjust your favorite recipes to non-allergic alternatives will help keep potential food reactions from occurring. However, preventing an anaphylactic food reaction during the holidays really does take the help of everyone in the social community. Educating our friends and families about alternative treats and desserts is a great starting point to keep our children safe and healthy so why not share these tips and recipes with friends and families?

To receive a free printable tip sheet on how to prevent and respond to allergic reactions that you can stick to your fridge, subscribe to my mailing list. By doing so, you will also make sure you receive all future blog posts direct to your inbox.

If you would like support with managing your child’s food allergies, you might be interested in my special comprehensive program.

I have a practice in Issaquah, Washington and appointments can be conducted either in my office or, for those who don’t live in the area, by phone or Skype.

Have a safe and happy holiday season and I will return with new articles in January 2017.

Dr. Maura Scanlan

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