Food allergies can present challenges during the holidays. For guests, eating out (even at Grandma’s) can pose risks. For hosts and hostesses, trying to ensure guest safety without losing your mind cooking several versions of each dish can be stressful.
Here are our top tips for guests and hosts to ensure a safe, happy holiday:
For guests with food allergies:
Be honest and upfront
Yes, we know–you don’t want to create extra work and trouble for the host or hostess. But most people will want to make sure you can eat at least something they’re serving! Let the host know about your allergy issues well ahead of time. Talk about how you’ve handled things in the past. If they cannot accommodate you due to time or expense, then at least you’ll know in time to work around it.
Practice good eating habits in general
The holidays are a time when everyone tends to overdo it. Recent findings suggest that even excess sugar or alcohol can be inflammatory. This can cause an allergy sufferer to be more sensitive to allergy triggers. Enjoy holiday foods, but be sure you’re still taking your vitamins and probiotics, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and drinking plenty of water. (Actually, this is a good guide for everyone at the holidays!)
Be gracious, but be safe
If you are at all unsure that a food is safe for you, DO NOT EAT IT. You don’t have to describe your allergic reactions or take a bite to save someone’s feelings. This is your health we’re talking about! Simply smile and say, “no thank you, I am allergic.” Parents should encourage their allergic children to do the same, and support them in this.
You’re probably already accustomed to bringing snacks with you wherever you go, just in case you’re caught without options in a new place. But eating a protein bar while everyone else chows down on holiday delicacies isn’t much fun. Why not use this opportunity to educate others about allergy-friendly foods available? Make a dish with quinoa instead of couscous, or bake a batch of peanut-free cookies. Bringing an allergy-safe dish will ensure that you have something you can eat (and actually enjoy). Sharing that dish will help others see that allergy-friendly food is readily available and tastes good, too!
Do what you can, but don’t overdo
Navigating the world of food allergies is familiar terrain for allergy sufferers. But this may be a whole new world for you. Let your allergic guest know what you can do ahead of time so they can work around it. (Example: “I will cook a pot of gluten-free pasta so you can enjoy Grandma’s famous sauce, but the lasagne will be regular pasta.”) Usually, any sincere effort you make will be appreciated. Better to do what you can do, than try to do too much. This could open the way for a mishap because you’re unfamiliar with this way of cooking.
Ask for suggestions
Allergy sufferers are used to reading labels, paying more for foods, avoiding cross-contamination, and an array of other practices to ensure safety. They can offer tips on where to find allergy-safe foods and ingredients. Allergens can surprise you–you’ll probably find yourself saying, “I had no idea that had nuts/wheat/eggs/dairy in it!” a lot. While you’re talking with your allergic guest, check food preferences. You don’t want to spend time and expense making the perfect gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free tuna casserole, just to find out that your allergic guest hates tuna.
Please don’t say things like, “Well, a little won’t hurt you” or “Really, how sick will you be?” Food allergies occur with different levels of severity and different reactions. Do you really need to know the details of what happens when someone gets a few crumbs of wheat in their dish? All you need to know is that it’s something to be avoided.
Same goes for “You weren’t allergic to all this stuff when you were a kid/growing up/living with me!” Allergies are often masked by other conditions for years, and some food allergies develop late in life, so “reminding” your guest that they weren’t allergic as a child isn’t helpful to the conversation. If someone is coming to you to talk about their food sensitivities, they are probably already uncomfortable and anxious about the holidays–better to reassure them and ease their fears.
Make it easy, make it fun
Create a separate space for allergy-friendly foods if possible. Putting the dishes and serving utensils on a small card table or on a different counter in the kitchen is fine; this will help to ensure that regular food-laden utensils don’t find their way into allergy-safe foods. Labeling foods is also helpful. Check Pinterest for printable serving labels, have fun with it! People are more health conscious than ever before–watching their intake of carbs, sugar, alcohol, fat, etc. Knowing what’s in that delicious-smelling casserole might be appreciated by all your guests.
In conclusion, all it takes is a little preparation, a lot of communication, a generous amount of patience, and a dash of fun for guests and hosts to cook up a holiday that’s enjoyable and safe for everyone. Even those with food allergies and sensitivities. Happy holidays, everyone!