When you have a child with food allergies, you can't really just stop by a party or an event without planning on it and for it. Every event, whether it is something as big as a wedding or as small as a play date, takes planning on our part. I used to think that throwing a safe meal in my diaper bag was enough until we attended a baby shower last year that was candy themed. Yes, candy themed, and I had no idea because I didn't call ahead. There was a huge candy bar that attendees could fill favor bags with and snack on during the shower. Of course all of the little girls at the shower were stuffing their faces with candy and my 2 and a half year old (at the time) kept asking me if she could have some. I repeatedly had to tell her no because I wasn't sure if it was safe. Yes, I packed a safe meal but had I known it was a candy themed shower, I would have made and brought her a favor bag full of safe treats that she could have eaten with the other little girls there. She kept walking over to the bar, watching the girls eating their candy, wanting to share with them and be included, and she kept coming up to me and saying softly with hope in her eyes, "It's ok mom, I don't think it has nuts in it." Tear. It broke my heart. That may sound silly to some but any allergy mom knows how heartbreaking it is to hear your child say that and then watch their whole posture droop when you say no, defeated once again. Lesson learned.
Now, before any event, no matter how big or small, I call the host, organizer or manager and and get the scoop on the food. I love being able to confidently walk into a party or event knowing that I have prepared well and that my daughter will have a good meal that will make her feel included and part of the theme, if there is one. I like being able to give her safe versions of treats that will be at the party because I know the following question is inevitable as soon as she sees the food: "Mom, does that have nuts in it?"
So a couple of weeks ago, we went to the Dine with Princesses event at Olmstead Performing Arts. I must say, I was incredibly impressed with their level of knowledge on food allergies and their willingness and true, heartfelt desire to keep my daughter included and safe. In my opinion, the following is a wonderful example of inclusion!
I called to inquire about the event before I even purchased tickets to make sure they would be willing to work with us. There was no hesitation whatsoever. They said that they would absolutely accommodate her and that they are actually in the process of considering making all of their events 100% nut free. They also mentioned that one of their employees has children with food allergies and that they know that they are life threatening and they treat them very seriously. I purchased tickets that day with the plan that I would call back the week of the event to iron out the details with them.
The event week arrived and they actually called me to follow up! Talk about being on the ball! They decided to serve a nut-free brunch including scrambled eggs, waffles and potatoes but when the issue of cross contamination came up, the catering company they work with said they could not guarantee against cross contamination because they do have nuts in their kitchens. OPA immediately asked me what they could do to make it work. They offered to make my girl her own breakfast in OPA's own kitchen. They even offered to go grocery shopping for us to get her a safe meal by purchasing the brands I am comfortable with. They were more than willing to do whatever I felt comfortable with. I told them that I would just bring a waffle and potatoes from home (I actually had both in my kitchen ready to cook up so that worked out great), and they would scramble a fresh egg up for us in the back when it was time to eat. The transition was seamless. As soon as we arrived, I gave them our food which they took in the back to plate, separate from the catering dishes. When we were all ready to eat, my daughter's plate, which looked like everyone else's was delivered right to her when everyone else was served. It was awesome. This might sound like a small detail but food allergy kids often eat at different from everyone else at events. They have to wait for their safe food to be heated up, or plated, or prepared and there have been many times that my little one is still waiting while everyone else is eating.
When you are able to relieve some of the pressure off of the food at an event by planning ahead, it truly enables both you and your child to enjoy the event more and spend more time on the celebration at hand. To top our day off, the mother who works there with the food allergic kiddos made allergen-free cookies in her allergen-free kitchen and my daughter literally got to walk up to a table, grab a cookie from a platter, and safely devour it. Awesome, and just the icing on the cake, if you will! ;-)
Kuddos to OPA for working to safely include my daughter and ensure that she had a great time. We will be attending this event for years to come!
And now for the really fun stuff - pictures of course!!!