Here's An Idea: Start An Allergy-Safe Cooking Decorating Tradition This Holiday!
There is no better way for me to finish off our cookie week than to share one of my favorite holiday traditions that two of my dearest friends and I started with our kiddos several years ago. But let me first tell you why this tradition is so special to me. As I've mentioned throughout this cookie week, some of my fondest memories of childhood are in the kitchen with my mom baking cookies and special treats at Christmastime. And, while I have been able to bring those moments into my own kitchen, there is something to be said about my kids sharing this experience with their friends in a safe environment when NOTHING is off limits for them. Cookie decorating under any other circumstances would not be possible. So, by taking charge of the ingredients and providing a safe space, we have been able to create some much needed normalcy during this time of year for my food-allergic boys.
Let me just say, there is such power in that. Creating normalcy and providing an opportunity for our food allergy kids to seamlessly feel a part of things is a POWERFUL exercise. You see, food allergy kids are constantly set apart. The difficulty with this is that, while it's what must happen to keep them safe, it also causes them to feel "different" any time food is a part of the equation. My boys eat at the allergy table at school, they've never been to a birthday party without their own safe cupcake, and 9 times out of 10, I bring safe food for them when we go out to eat as a family. And, this doesn't even account for the countless other scenarios, like school parties, church activities and neighborhood get-togethers, when my boys require an alternative and aren't able to fully participate. Imagine the power of taking all of those factors out of the equation and just letting our kids BE for once. That's what this special safe cookie decorating day provides them, and that's why it's one of their favorite days of the year!
So, what does a safe cookie decorating day look like? It's really so easy and just so much fun!
Pick a fun group of friends that you'd like to share this with! For us, this is at the root of what makes this day so special. The friends who I started this tradition with are two of the most loyal and special food allergy angels in my life. I met these girls, Kari and Alli, 14 years go when all three of us were teaching high school English and started at a new school at the same time. As the "newbies" in our department, we instantly bonded an have since shared so much life together, including becoming moms at the same exact time. While Kari and Alli's children do not have food allergies, their families have loved mine with an overwhelming amount of empathy and support since my boys' diagnoses. And, I truly believe that their children have the hearts that they do because they've watched their moms stand by and support us in the way that they have; their kids have followed their parents' lead, and they are incredible friends to my boys in return. I couldn't be more grateful for that beautiful chain reaction.
So, for you, this may be exactly the kind of group you want to pull together for your cookie decorating day - friends who just "get it" and are going to roll with whatever you need to do to make this safe. But, there's a flip side. You could also use this an an opportunity to educate a new group of friends about your food allergies! What a fun and powerful way to develop new food allergy allies.
Bake a batch of sugar cookies. You can either pre-bake the cookies yourself (this may be easiest if your children are really young or you have a large group), or you can roll out some dough, put out a variety of fun cookie cutters and let the children have at it! Older kids may really enjoy being more of a part of the "complete" process and helping make the cookies from beginning to end.
Click here for a link to my original post for the egg, dairy and nut-free sugar cookie recipe that I use - it's SO simple and these cookies are perfect!
Get your hands on some decorating supplies.
Frosting. There are some great allergy-friendly brands on the market right now, and many are free of the top-8 allergens. But, there are also some mainstream brands on store shelves that may meet your particular allergy needs - just be sure to do your research and closely check allergen statements. The other option: you can make your own! Here is an easy recipe for vanilla frosting (complements of Divvies):
Top-8 Free Vanilla Frosting
1 1/4 cup, plus 1/2 cup of powdered sugar
1/2 cup dairy-free butter (I use Earth Balance brand, soy-free version)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons dairy-free milk (I use hemp, but you can also use rice)
Directions: Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the 1 1/4 cups of powdered sugar, butter, salt and vanilla on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl as you go; continue to beat for 1 minute. add the dairy-free milk and continue mixing on medium speed. While mixer is still running, slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar until you get the desired texture and level of sweetness. Beat for an additional 4-5 minutes, until creamy. Frost cookies immediately or store in refrigerator until you use.
Toppings. How about trying some sprinkles, crushed up candy canes, mini dairy-free chocolate chips... even gummy bears! Some companies to look into for safe toppings: Enjoy Life and Free2B chocolate, Surf Sweets gummy candies and Spangler brand candy canes, to name a few. I also regularly use Betty Crocker sprinkles; you can click here for a link to their allergen statement, but please be sure to do your own research to ensure that you are meeting your child's particular allergy needs.
Bring containers for the kids to bring their goodies home. Don't forget to have some cute holiday bags or cookie tins on hand for the kids to use in taking their cookies home!
Have FUN and give this day your own twist. One of the requirements for our cookie day... the kids must wear JAMMIES! But, make this your own! Do you watch a Christmas movie afterward, play a special game or do a little gift exchange? Put on your thinking cap and make this a fun day all around.
One final thought. However this looks for you, EMBRACE this incredible opportunity to make your food allergy kid feel included and free during this time of year when they are so often set apart. This is not only empowering for your children, but for you as a food allergy parent. Enjoy every minute and make it stick - I promise it is a tradition your children will look forward to every single year!