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When Family Members Don't Follow Food Allergy Rules



It's hard when friends don't understand or follow your family's food allergy rules, but it's even harder (and more disappointing) when your family members don't get it. Unfortunately, it's a frequent topic in food allergy social support groups, so it seems to be a common scenario.


Whether the rule-breakers are your in-laws or extended family members, navigating this scenario can be tricky. Below are a few suggestions to help you deal with these down-right frustrating dilemmas.  


Be A United Front 


Before either of you approaches the non-compliant family member, create a plan and confirm that you're on the same page. Discuss your family's food allergy rules that are being broken, what acceptable solutions you'll suggest, and confirm that you're both committed to following through with any negative outcomes that may result from the conversation (i.e. family member gets upset; visits need to be limited or stopped, etc). If you don't agree on those points, you should hold off on talking with the family member until you discuss things further and come to an agreement. Otherwise, you run the risk of the family member "splitting" you two on the topic (which would likely result in arguments).  


Appoint a Speaker of the House 


So who should approach the rule-breaking family member? If it's one of your parents or in-laws that is the culprit, then ideally, it should be the spouse whose parent isn't following the guidelines who should address it. It’s perfectly fine to address the person together, but each of you likely knows your parents best, so take the lead if it's your parent who is the offender. If it's an extended family member, such as an aunt or cousin, decide which approach feels best, which may depend on the relationship you have with that person. If it's decided that it may be best for you or your significant other to go it alone, agree to emphasize that you're absolutely in agreement on this topic. 


Prepare Facts & Solutions 


Start the conversation off by reviewing your food allergy guidelines and why they're important. Share facts and examples of possible negative outcomes if such rules aren't followed. Then move on to potential solutions. As hard as it may be, try to remain as calm and focused as possible. If the conversation becomes too heated or arguing ensues, it may be best to pause and revisit it another time. If the family member isn't willing to comply with your family's food allergy rules, then it's highly unlikely that he/she would have potential solutions figured out. Therefore, it's up to you to have a list created. Here are some potential solutions to consider: 

  • If your house has a “no outside food” policy, stay firm with that rule. Kindly inform them that if they bring any food over, they won’t be able to eat/share that item at your house, and you will need to send them home with it. If you allow outside foods, share a list of safe items/brands to choose from, as that will still give them some freedom with foods. 

  • If they want to bring homemade foods, you can alternatively encourage them to prepare the food item at your house (with approved ingredients and allergen-friendly edits to the recipe, of course). They may enjoy bringing their favorite recipes to prepare with your kids in your kitchen (bonus - no dishes cluttering their kitchen)!  

  • If they insist on bringing something when they visit, suggest that they bring a non-food item, such as beverages, an activity/game, or a project to work on - something non-food focused. Alternatively, you could suggest meeting at places where foods aren't needed or aren't the focus, such as parks, stores, or libraries.

Holidays/Family Gatherings 


When the food allergy rules are an issue during holidays/family gatherings, your approach may need to be different.

  • If you're hosting, then you can apply the suggestions above - you make the rules at your house.

  • However, if someone else is hosting, it's typically not cut-and-dry. Ideally, all family members would stick to the food allergy guidelines, even at other houses. But be prepared that may not be the case. 

If you've determined that you're not comfortable being around your allergens, which will be present at large gatherings, and you have to miss out due to safety concerns, then get creative. 


Maybe you could stop by after the meal is over, just in time for a family game? Or perhaps your house is nearby, so consider inviting family to stop by afterward for a visit. 


If there are no solutions for seeing family on holidays, you'll likely need to consider other options to visit with family members at a later date and different location. (And yes, there will be hurt feelings associated with that outcome).


Final Thoughts... 


The reality is that no matter how it’s handled, discussing this topic with non-compliant family members may cause ripples, as well as overwhelming feelings, which you'll need to work through. But ultimately, you have to do what’s best for your family. In doing so, not only are you putting your child's safety first, you're also modeling how to navigate tough scenarios, even if the outcome isn't ideal. 

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