When Food Allergies Disrupt Traditions

Field Day is a quintessential spring activity for most, but where we live they’ve turned it into a team-building fall activity.  We had beautiful weather for it too, though maybe a little too hot. But it was nice that no one minded getting wet for the water games.

Children having a three legged race | Food Allergy Superheroes

When I think about how our district strays from the norm in terms of Field Day, my mind comes back to food allergies. Most adult opposition to food allergy accommodations is because it will disrupt their traditions. People think of PB&Js and cupcakes as an integral part of childhood. If they can’t give their children the same experiences, then what’s left?

But the thing is, our culture is always evolving. My childhood didn’t involve smartphones or tablets, but I don’t need to deprive my kids of these advances in order to be like me. I spent my Saturday mornings watching cartoons, not YouTube videos. I could walk to the park by myself without anyone judging my parents. We celebrated Halloween and Christmas at school without a thought for those who didn’t share those holidays. We didn’t have lockdown drills. And while I’ll always remember Field Day as an end-of-school-year thing, my kids don’t enjoy it any less in the fall.

Our kids are their own people, and they’re forming their own quintessential memories based on their own experiences. If they attend a peanut-free school, or one that celebrates birthdays without food, their childhood memories aren’t going to be any dimmer than our own. They’ll just be based on different experiences.

Disrupting Holiday Traditions

A holiday table place setting | Food Allergies Disrupting Traditions | Allergy Superheroes

This same principle can be applied to family gatherings. How many rifts have allergic families experienced surrounding the food served at holiday dinners?

We’re habitual people. We like making the same dish every year. Baking together makes us feel closer. Baking Grandma’s Famous Pie every year after she dies helps us feel like we’re still inviting her to the table. People don’t like letting go of Grandma’s Famous Pie, because they feel like they’re losing Grandma.

We also don’t like letting go of our traditions because of the fond memories we associate with those traditions. They make us feel good inside, because of how good we felt making the memories.

Lots of things Disrupt our Traditions

But just as above, whether we realize it or not, traditions are always changing. When kids grow up, their work and school schedules may dictate when holiday events can happen. Then kids get married and have to decide how to blend their holiday traditions with those of another family. Multiple adult kids means coordinating everyone’s schedules. When babies are born, Santa might join the fray, or midnight festivities may no longer work.

Perhaps food is something people cling to most tightly, because whether Christmas “dinner” occurs on Christmas Eve, Christmas afternoon, or even two weeks later, we can still feel that sense of togetherness by making our traditional dishes.

But why, if we can schedule a gift exchange and family meal after the official holiday, can we not shift the menu to include everyone involved?

The answer is that we can. And we should. And many families already do.

If you’re struggling with letting go of a favorite dish because a loved one is allergic to it, please step back and consider why the dish–and all of its wonderful past memories–holds more sway than creating new, happy memories in the present. The emotional impact of that dish is absolutely important. But isn’t the well-being of your loved ones also important? After all, you love them and want to spend holidays with them. Isn’t that why you continue to get together?

If a person is unsafe–or even feels unsafe, due to attitude–they won’t form happy memories of an event. I promise that with creativity and a bit of practice, most ingredients can be substituted to create a worthy dish that is safe. And with the right attention to detail, allergic people can be safe and feel welcome.

A table set for a holiday meal, viewed from above | Numbered plates, who gets what? | Food Allergy Superheroes

If a dish has to go away completely, remember that someone with a new allergy will be making their own new memories and traditions, starting right now. They don’t need Grandma’s Famous Pie. They just need a delicious food made with love–one that will always make them think of you when they get older.

Besides, you can always make Grandma’s Famous Pie later, for the people who can eat it. Aren’t new, happy memories of family togetherness worth just as much as the old ones?

Allergic kids aren’t the ones who will miss Grandma’s Famous Pie. The kids won’t even know there was a tradition to disrupt. The ones who will miss it are the adults who will lament the lack of a shared background with the new generation. But if we lament for too long, we’ll miss watching the magical moments that are unfolding before us right now.

When Food Allergies Disrupt Traditions | Children playing tug of war | Holiday table place settings | Allergy Superheroes
Children playing tug of war | Disrupting School Traditions | Food Allergy Superheroes

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