A few weeks ago one of my worst nightmares came true. As a parent of a child with food allergies (and having allergies myself) I always worry when we’re invited anywhere. Will there be anything we can eat? Will there be cross-contamination? Will the host be offended if I bring my own allergen-free meal along? I always, and I repeat ALWAYS, talk to the host beforehand to determine what they will be serving and what I should bring. Sometimes I bring my own version of the meal they’re serving so we have a safe option. But, what happens when the host assures you they know all about your allergy and the menu will be allergen free? What if they insist you not bring your own version?

That’s the situation I faced a few weeks ago. I trusted the hostess and my family arrived at the party empty handed and starving. To my dismay I found they were serving four different types of pasta, garlic bread, and a premade salad with croutons mixed right in. Since our allergy happens to be gluten, there was not one thing we could safely eat. To her credit the host of the party felt awful and admitted she completely forgot about the allergy, and she apologized repeatedly. It was an awkward moment though, and made even more awkward by the guests asking us why we weren’t eating. That party taught me a few things, and here are my tips on how to handle a party when you or your child has allergies.

  1. Talk to the host of the party as soon as you get the invitation. Explain your allergy and how some foods can be cross-contaminated. Find out what they plan on serving and bring your own version. Or offer to bring a hearty side dish that you can eat as your meal if necessary.
  2. If they absolutely insist that you not bring anything, talk to them again a few days before the party. Remind them of your allergies and offer again to bring something. I’ve started saying that because my daughter is so sensitive I feel much better if I know exactly what she’s eating, and that I would really prefer to bring her something myself.
  3. If they still insist on making everything (and I was surprised by how often this actually has happened), tuck a protein bar or another small treat in your purse … just in case.
  4. Train any children with allergies to identify what they can and cannot have. And start this from a young age. My daughter is only 4 but she knows a lot about what she can and cannot eat, and if she has any doubt she knows to ask an adult for help. She also knows never to trade food with the kids at school. I know I can’t always be with my daughter so I try to make sure that she knows how to make good choices.

I now know the importance of always being prepared – both for my child’s safety and also to avoid some uncomfortable moments. I always feel a little apprehensive, especially when I don’t know someone very well, asking them their menu or how they prepare their food. The vast majority of people are very understanding and we’re able to work out an arrangement that works for everyone.

What are some of your best tips for going out with allergies?