Navigating Food Allergies During the Holidays

by Without A Trace Foods

Navigating Food Allergies During the Holidays

The holidays are coming, which typically means family gatherings with lots of food. Although travel and gathering sizes will be more limited this year due to COVID-19, food will still play a starring role at any holiday dinners now or in the future.

If you have a food allergy or have relatives and friends with food allergies, it’s important to take it into consideration and make plans to minimize any allergic reactions. These tips are great to keep in mind for any gatherings and celebrations involving food, including birthday parties, office potlucks, and family reunions.

Hosting tips for guests with food allergies

As the host, one of the best ways you can make sure everyone enjoys the meal is to reach out to your guests ahead of time to inquire if there are any food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances you should be aware of before you start menu planning. If you’re sending out physical invitations, include a message that says “Please advise of any dietary restrictions” so your guests feel comfortable reaching out.

Taking precautions can help make your party more relaxing and enjoyable for everyone. It can even be a lifesaving measure.

Tip #1

Plan ahead

When inquiring about a food allergy of a guest, make sure you understand the severity of the allergy. Ask questions about food preparation and precautions you should take when cooking. For severe allergies, even a trace amount of the allergen can trigger a reaction so it’s best to avoid it entirely in the meal. The most common food allergies are triggered by the Big 8 allergens

Tip #2

Go over food preparation safety measures

If it’s determined that the trigger food can be in some dishes, and that allergen-free dishes will also be made, have an action plan in place to make sure there’s no cross-contamination during the cooking process. Here’s what’s recommended:

  • Thoroughly wash all surfaces and cooking tools before cooking.
  • Cook all allergen-free dishes first.
  • Use separate utensils to cook allergen-free dishes.
  • Cover allergen-free dishes and clearly label them. Set them off to the side on a counter or table so there’s no chance of splatter or cross-contamination as you cook the remaining dishes. If stored in the refrigerator, place the labeled dishes on the top shelf.
  • After you cook the remaining dishes, clearly label them as “NOT allergy-free.” This is helpful for children with food allergies.
  • When serving, set allergen-free dishes in a separate area, still clearly labeled. The allergen-free dishes should have their own set of clean serving utensils.
Tip #3

Offer your guest the option of bringing their own allergen-free food

Depending on the relationship, some people might not feel comfortable insisting on bringing their own food, even though that is often the safest option. As a host, giving them the option lets them know their health and safety is your top priority. You can share your menu in case your guest wants to bring an allergen-free version of something similar to feel more included.

Tip #4

Ask about allergy-free alternatives

More allergen-free substitutes and alternatives are available now thanks to constant innovation in the consumer goods industry. If the allergen is eggs, consider using an egg substitute in your recipe. If the allergen is dairy, consider almond milk or another dairy-free option. Some allergies have no substitutes, but it’s great to ask and to make recipe accommodations whenever possible for your guests with food allergies.

Tip #5

Buy pre-made dishes or desserts

If you aren’t confident about making an allergen-free dish or you don’t have the time, many restaurants and bakeries offer allergen-free dishes and desserts you can order ahead of time. Many popular desserts, like pumpkin pie, have allergen-free versions so if possible, select a dessert option with both versions so none of your guests feel left out.

Throughout the planning process, it’s important to make sure your guest with allergies feels comfortable about attending your dinner party, and that you don’t feel burdened by their diet restrictions.

Holiday meal tips if you (or your child) have a food allergy

If you or your child have a food allergy, meals outside of your home can cause anxiety. A dinner party during the holidays is no exception. Here are some things you can do to help ease your concerns and make sure everyone has a wonderful time.

Tip #1

Tell your host early

Hopefully, your dinner host will reach out ahead of time to inquire about dietary restrictions, but if not, take the initiative to let them know. No host wants a guest to feel uncomfortable or to go home hungry, so they’ll appreciate knowing ahead of time. Telling them when you get the invitation (or shortly after) gives the host plenty of time to prepare a menu that everyone can enjoy.

Tip #2

Don’t expect accommodations, but be grateful if they’re offered

If your host wants to make an allergen-free dish for you, and you’re comfortable with that, then go over the precautions they need to take and make sure you both feel confident about them. You can even provide some recipes or suggest some ingredient alternatives to help out. Some hosts may offer before realizing all the precautions they need to take so if you get that sense during the conversation, then offer to bring your own dish. That leads us to...

Tip #3

Bring your own allergen-free dishes

This is the safest option so if this is what makes you feel more comfortable, then let your host know. You can make it yourself or buy it pre-made from a purveyor you trust. This can be a good option for kids with severe food allergies who might not be open to trying unfamiliar dishes.

Tip #4

Pack snacks

This is especially helpful if your child has food allergies. You don’t want them to be hungry or feel left out if other children are enjoying appetizers or snacks before the main meal. Some great allergen-free snacks include Without A Trace Chewy Granola Bars and Power Bites.

Tip #5

Pack your Epi-Pen

Even if you’re bringing your own dishes or the host says they’ll clear their home of allergens, you must always be prepared with your Epi-Pen just in case of an unexpected allergic reaction. For example, what if another child’s parent brings almonds as a snack, not knowing your child is allergic to tree nuts? Don’t assume the host will share your food allergies with all the guests who plan to attend.

Tip #6

DON’T over-explain, apologize, or feel guilty; DO express thanks and appreciation

Food allergies are out of your control. It’s normal to feel guilty and want to apologize for being a burden or worry about being annoying, but try to avoid doing that. Instead, after calmly and concisely explaining what the food allergy is, and the best way to manage it, simply thank your host for inviting you to their party and confirm that you look forward to attending.

A food allergy is not a reason to avoid attending parties where food is served. Given how common food allergies are now, and how many other food options are available, attending holiday gatherings or any food-related events can be safe and fun for everyone.