Nathalie's top tips for a safe but fun Christmas

Callum, displaying his stocking here with his big sis, has 13 major allergies – but that does not stop him and his family enjoying a great Christmas. Nathalie tells us how she does it.


The nights are colder, and there’s a hint of frost in the air. The distant sound of carols are becoming slowly stronger in the shops, and pumpkin spice mix has made a comeback along with mince pies, Christmas pudding, turkey, ham and Brussel sprouts!

Yes, you’ve guessed it, the festive season is just around the corner, and it’s coming up to the most fun and exciting time of year! Thoughts are now turning to Santa, presents, delicious food and drink, catching up with family and friends and thinking back over everything we’ve done over the past year. If you’re anything like me, you’ll also be wondering where on earth the time has gone as surely we’ve only just had Christmas, haven’t we?

BBQNow, I absolutely love Christmas. For me it’s all about the time spent with family and friends. Enjoying every moment, the excited squeals from the children, and the giggles and laughs from adults.

We’re in the midst of preparing the advent calendars. Due to having so many allergies to deal with, we shy away from the shop bought versions and instead do our own.
The children have a fabric calendar each, which we fill with safe sweets and treats. We also have a 24 day activity calendar for them to complete each day – be it colouring, number practise, little puzzles etc.

We also do a book advent, which is a wonderful way of ensuring all the Christmas books you receive do actually get used. Simply collect 24 books, wrap them individually, and place them in a pile by your fireplace/ sofa. Then from the 1st December, once the children are ready for bed, snuggle up with a blanket on the sofa with the fire going, and open one a night! The beauty of this particular advent is that the books can then be handed down through the generations for years to come!

Then comes the preparation for Christmas and in particular Christmas dinner!
Whilst this is all going on, please spare a thought for the allergy parents among us.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ll be there enjoying every moment, making sure everyone is having a good time, but it also goes way beyond that.

You see, all this lovely food around causes us to be on high alert, and I mean alert on a level like no other. Even the simple task of weekly shopping becomes a danger zone, with the introduction of loose nuts in the fruit and veg aisle. Why is this a problem? Well, for those with a mild intolerance, you can simply avoid it. For those who have an airborne allergy, you are forced to not even enter the shop. But how about us? Callum has issues when ingesting any form of nut product, but is also sensitive to touch.

So, imagine if someone has scooped up a whole load of nuts into a bag. One of these nuts has a cracked shell, and contaminates the others, and also the hand of the person picking them. That person then continues to push their trolley around the shop, picking products up, putting them back down, paying at the till….

BBQThat’s an awful lot of Russian roulette to play as part of the cross contamination game! I’ll make sure that I go shopping whilst the children are at school so that Callum isn’t ever put at risk.

Then you have the family gatherings.

With all the best will in the world, it becomes impossible to truly keep an eye on absolutely everything, and ensure that safety is paramount, especially if a number of people are responsible for bringing different foods for a buffet style event. Friends and family are very good, and acutely aware of Callum’s sensitivities, but I hate to feel a burden, especially at that time of year.

For my own peace of mind, if there’s any chance of an issue, I tend to politely decline the invite, or I will offer to host at ours. Then I can be in complete control of the food and drink, and make sure it remains a safe environment.

There is nothing worse than getting it very wrong at Christmas. Hospitals at that time of year whilst they do all the can to help, can’t rid the feeling of despair that you shouldn’t be there! I learned this to my detriment when Callum had just turned 1!

Picture the scene, we had a house full of family and friends, and 18 sitting down for Boxing Day lunch and dinner. We were in the depths of trying to figure out all of his allergies, and were certain of dairy and tomato but no other real answers at this point. Callum’s allergy tests were due to take place after Christmas, and we were constantly in a Russian roulette situation.

I had made the usual boxing day fayre of glazed gammon, with mash, vegetables and gravy, and followed this with a traditional yule log. Being French, I had filled it with sweetened chestnut purée, not even considering that nut could be a problem.
We gave Callum the tiniest amount, and I mean barely 2 little baby spoons. This was all it took for him to have a massive reaction in a matter of minutes, with instant hives, swelling, coughing and struggling to breathe. That was the day we found out he was acutely allergic to nuts!

How I stayed calm when this happened in front of family and friends I’ll never know, but I managed to get the necessary meds in him whilst on the phone to the paramedics and luckily after being checked over, he was OK It’s a strong reminder to all allergy parents to always always remain on alert!

This was an extreme situation, and thank goodness it only happens rarely. Every Christmas since then has been reaction free, calm and full of fun and laughter!

And that’s exactly what this wonderful time of year is all about. Christmas should be a time of fun, enjoyment, excitement and pleasure! This shouldn’t be compromised just because you’re dealing with allergies. It takes a little bit more planning, but it’s certainly achievable!

I always stick to the following tips, and many fellow allergy parents use this list to help them too:

  1. The run up to Christmas – make your own advent calendars using safe treats!
  2. Decorating – use safe treats to help decorate the tree!
  3. Always be on alert – be aware of your surroundings and don’t be afraid to question!
  4. Read labels – sneaky ingredients can appear where you least expect them, including milk and egg in wine (yes really!)
  5. Trust your gut instinct – if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
  6. Buck the trend – Christmas is what you make it, create your own memories for your family!
  7. Make safe alternative foods – take these with you if invited anywhere so you don’t miss out, and freeze extra so you always have some to hand!
  8. Don’t panic – enrol the help of someone you trust to take some of the work!
  9. Try to do a little bit over a couple of weeks so it doesn’t seem like too much to do all at once!
  10. Enjoy yourself – it’s all too easy to get caught up in the prep work, but remember to take time out to make memories yourself!

All that’s left to do now is to wish you all lots of fun in the run up to Christmas, and remember to enjoy it all, I know I will be! Now, where’s that mulled wine?!


November 2016

To read about Callum's early days and the diagnosis of his 13 allergies, go here.

To follow Callum's school journey – see here for the long term preparations for going to school, see here of the few days leading up to the start of term, and see here for the first two weeks....

For more articles on the management and treatment of food allergy and intolerance

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