Let’s face it, the holidays are mostly about eating and drinking. With a kiddo who has food allergies, the season can be tough for my family.
We’re far from alone: One in 13 kids in the U.S. has food allergies, according to the CDC. More than 50 million people in the U.S. have an allergy of some kind, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Still, I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with teachers, friends, family members, and other parents who are hosting birthday parties about what that entails. (Yes, having a dairy allergy does mean he can’t have butter on popcorn, or cheese, or non-vegan chocolate.)
My preschooler reacts to a host of things including dairy, gluten, and nuts, along with more unusual things like mango. So, like Oprah, I’ve curated a list of favorite allergy-friendly products that I personally recommend to keep celebrations happy.
Josie’s Best Waffles are the way to go. My son affectionately refers to these as “the square waffles.” No disrespect to toast-and-go Trader Joe’s gluten-free waffles or Nature Path’s Organic Gluten-Free Homestyle waffles that are organic, gluten-free and vegan. (Cue the holy grail music.) Josie’s Best Waffles legit taste like glutenous waffles, instead of the slightly chalky aftertaste many gluten-free products can have. I stumbled upon these accidentally and have never gone back.
My advice: After you’ve tried them once, buy the 5-pound bulk bag directly from Josie’s website, which has a unit price that’s way cheaper than the 18-ounce bag on Amazon. One of the biggest differences was upgrading our waffle iron to the two-square All-Clad Stainless Steel Waffle maker. Spray it with olive oil and it works like a charm. To make it dairy-free, I use Original Unsweetened Ripple.
For cinnamon rolls, I like the cinnamon roll recipe from the blog Mama Knows Gluten Free. My son also loves Katz’s gluten-free cinnamon doughnuts, which can be found in the freezer section at the grocery store.
For families where gluten is the only concern, try Krusteaz Gluten Free Cinnamon Crumb Cake. It is very sweet, but you’ll keep coming back for more. There is a warning label that says it may contain milk, soy, and eggs.
Amanda’s Own Confections. If your kid is like mine, they are picky about chocolate because if it’s not made right, my son will get a tummy ache since he can’t have any kind of dairy, nuts or gluten. With its own dedicated facility in Ohio, Amanda’s is free of the top 14 allergens, and is both vegan and Kosher.
Foil-wrapped chocolates might not seem like a big deal, but this place was life-changing for my son. He used to hate chocolate, but now he doesn’t. He looks forward to the holidays with treats from here. (Thanks, Santa.) There are Hanukkah specialties too. Holiday treats sell out quickly, so its best to buy in November.
Another go-to: Enjoy Life Winter Chocolate Minis. This bag of 15 mini bars of dark, ricemilk, and ricemilk crunch (similar to a Crunch Bar) is gluten-free, nut-free, and dairy-free.
YumEarth makes an allergy-friendly gingerbread house kit that includes cookie pieces, icing, and five types of candy. It’s free from the top nine major allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, egg, wheat, dairy, sesame, shellfish, and soy) and artificial dyes.
Cranston, Rhode Island–based A&J Bakery sells a gingerbread kit that includes four types of candy, non-edible decorations (like a mini plastic Santa) and hand-cut gingerbread pieces made in a dedicated nut-free, gluten-free facility. It’s also free of the top nine major allergens.
Sensitive Sweets Bakery in Fountain Valley, California sells two gluten-free and vegan gingerbread house kits that are free of dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, coconut, oats, sesame, and wheat. The basic version includes the gingerbread cookie pieces and mix-it-yourself icing for the walls, plus plastic trees and holiday plastic rings (like a Santa face) for decorations. The deluxe version also includes a tub of vanilla frosting to create snow and some organic, dye-free candies.
Little GF Chefs is run by a mom of two kids who have celiac and gluten sensitives. The mini gingerbread house kit includes a piping bag with white chocolate icing, plant-based rainbow sprinkles, and organic artificial dye free jelly beans (which can be vegan on request) and fruity rings. It free of gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts, soy, tree nuts, sesame, shellfish and artificial dyes.
If you simply want a make-it-yourself gingerbread bag mix instead of an expensive gingerbread house kit, try Utah-based, family-run Mom’s Place Gluten-Free Gingerbread Fun mix.
If you’re willing to break the bank and drop more than $120 on a vegan, gluten-free gingerbread house, Erin McKenna’s Bakery in New York’s Lower East Side will ship a 6-piece gingerbread house, with sugar icing, marshmallows, gumdrops, candy canes, sprinkles and other assorted candies.
The rest of the gingerbread house kits run about $40-50 depending on coupons and shipping costs.
For baking holiday sugar cookies, I’m a fan of King Arthur’s Gluten-Free Sugar Cookie Mix. It’s easy to make and bake a couple dozen of these, and they cooperate well with a seasonal cookie cutter.
If food dyes are a problem for someone in your household, use Watkins Assorted Food Coloring. You can easily find it at a wide range of grocery stores, and it’s made with vegetable juice, turmeric, and spirulina extract (a type of blue-green algae).
For vegan baking, I use Earth Balance Soy Free Buttery Sticks and make a “chia egg” using inexpensive Trader Joe’s organic chia seeds. To substitute an egg, mix 3 tablespoons of nearly boiling water with one 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and stir for a minute or two until it becomes a gel.
You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find natural sprinkles that are free of allergens and food dyes.
To decorate cookies, I usually buy 365 by Whole Foods sprinkles (dyed with beet juice, red cabbage, and turmeric extract, among other things) or Simple Truth Rainbow Sprinkles, which use paprika and other natural dyes.
If I’m looking for something whimsical, try UK-based Baking Time Club. The Christmas line includes fun Holly and Berries Christmas and Green Christmas Trees and Gold Stars sprinkles, which are vegan, gluten-free, halal, and kosher.
Many people like Supernatural Kitchen’s super cute sprinkles in varieties such as Ugly Xmas Sweater, Jingle Pop!, and Christmas Sequins. Although the ingredients are free from the top eight food allergens, they contain coconut and are packaged in a facility that also processes nuts and other allergens. Unfortunately, that’s been a problem for my son.
Keep in mind, sprinkles made from more natural ingredients have a much shorter shelf life, usually only a couple of months.
Sweet Ali’s Gluten-Free Bakery is my favorite allergy-friendly destination. Located in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, Illinois, it will bake items to order and then ship within 4-8 days via UPS. My son loves the gluten-free, dairy-free cupcakes, breads, pie crusts, and cookies better than any other place I’ve tried in the city or suburbs.
The owner, Ali Graeme, and her son both have celiac disease, so she understands the importance of an allergen-strict kitchen. National shipping is available for certain items including gluten-free focaccia bread, dinner rolls, cinnamon buns, and apple streusel coffee cake.
Another favorite is The Difference Baker, a gluten-free, nut-free bakery in Ashburn, Virginia. About 90% of its products are free of the top nine allergens. Milk and egg are used in savory foods like their deep-dish pizza, says owner Alyssa Sobecki, who has personal experience with food allergies in her family. Items are freshly baked and flash frozen. National shipping is available for certain items, including its vegan cinnamon rolls, donuts, cream pie cookies, and biscuits.
Mo’Pweeze Bakery a vegan, gluten-free, kosher bakery in Denville, New Jersey uses a dedicated facility free of top 10 allergens. Owner Christine Allen opened the bakery nine years ago when her son was diagnosed with 12 allergies and she couldn’t find a bakery to make something for his birthday.
Try the Yum Yum Jars, mason jars filled with layers of cake and frosting that come in an assortment of flavors like Funfetti Fiesta, French Toast, Janny’s Chocolate Mint, and Nana’s Banana Guava. Other favorites are the Apple Cider Donuts, frosted Christmas cookies, or the Captain Crumb Duffin, a corn-free donut-muffin mashup with a crumb topping.
Kinnikinnick S’moreables Graham Style Crackers are a great option. Friends of mine who aren’t gluten-free rave about these while noshing on them. They are certified vegan, gluten-free, and pareve, they’re free of soy and nuts, and they’re non-GMO, perfect for s’mores when paired with Dandies vegan marshmallows and Enjoy Life chocolate chips.
My son isn’t a fan of hot cocoa, but others who are really like Sillycow Farms’ Chocolate-Chocolate hot cocoa, which is dairy-free and gluten-free, made with cane sugar and Dutch Processed Cocoa (with alkali).
My biggest advice to other parents: Keep reading labels. Unfortunately, because of supply chain issues, product labels can change faster than hurricanes. Something that once worked may now be manufactured in a facility that shares space with allergens that may be a problem for your kid. Hopefully, the products listed above help identify the best solutions for your family.