June 21, 2024
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June 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Dear Shuli,

Purim is coming and I’m really concerned. We have a young child with multiple allergies as well as dietary constraints, but I still want him to be able to enjoy the holiday. Between a family seudah and mishloach manot, I’m concerned I will be saying no all day. I know that I’m not alone in this. What do other people do?

Signed, Party Pooper Purim Mommy

Dear Party Pooper Purim Mommy,

Thanks so much for writing, your letter is timely and really resonates with me. As someone with allergies in my family too, I understand your concern and fear you have for your child as well as the complications that can arise on such a food-focused day.

Our community is so much more aware of allergies than they were in years past. Most, if not all, area schools are nut free, have emergency allergy plans in place in the classroom, instruct educators to use EpiPens and more. And yet, there’s still ignorance about allergies that is pervasive—what an allergy is, how it actually hurts the person, what constitutes a “nut” and so forth. I remember mishloach manot I received a few years ago. It was a plate with loose hamantaschen and peanuts wrapped up with a pretty bow, and all I could think about was, “I hope no one died from this.”

So, of course, we hope very much, for your sake and others, that if anyone includes nuts or other allergens in their misloach manot, that they label it. Allergens have a nasty habit of showing up when cooks are being creative. I remember when a peanut-allergic friend learned her hostess breaded the schnitzel with peanut butter and bread crumbs before frying it. Most people would assume the chicken was nut-free, but it wasn’t. This especially true during Pesach, when nuts are used in everything, including as faux breadcrumbs and cake flours.

The responsibility really lies with us as parents, and I know you’re up to the task. It’s your job to ask questions and provide alternatives. When going to a seudah, have a discussion with the hostess well beforehand, to see what is on the menu and offer alternatives if necessary. If you communicate your allergy issues before she’s cooked the meals, most hosts will try their hardest to accommodate their guests. If you’re not still sure that your needs are going to be met, bring food with you. You can even cook the same dishes your host is making, sans the allergen, which might help your child feel less out of place.

All that said, there is a difference between allergies and some dietary restrictions and it’s up to you as a mom, and your child, if he is old enough, to decide what leniencies can be made for Purim. For example, I know a lot of people with celiac disease or even juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, who found that going on a gluten-free diet has been a life-changer. Others have gone gluten-free as a response to behavioral issues, because they feel better gluten-free, or even to lose weight. If your child has celiac disease, I would never recommend that s/he have regular cookies just because it’s Purim, because the results could be disastrous. On the other hand, if your child behaves just slightly better without gluten products, you might decide to be more lenient for the day. But as I said earlier, it’s YOUR choice. Only you know what is best for your child and his or her health. Only you can make that decision.

For mishloach manot, there’s always going to be some food that is not going to be good for your child (or even anyone else’s, for that matter!) Whether it’s too junky to be called food, or whether it includes your child’s allergen, our job as parents is to have ample treats in the home to replace those “no-nos” coming into your home. Your child might not have the same experience as does a non-allergic child, but he or she can still have an amazing Purim.

Purim is such a time of revelry, a time when we celebrate the miracle that saved the Jewish people; a miracle that came about, in part, through the fasting by Queen Esther and the Jews of Shushan. On this day of Purim, while everyone gets to feast, your child should not be the one who has to fast.

Yours,

Shuli

P.S. Come sit on my couch. Ask me anything, no matter how simple or controversial. I’m around for everyone from the babies to the bubbies. Email me at [email protected] and let’s talk it out.

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