To eat, or not to eat. That is the question. Most holiday gatherings revolve around sharing food, which can be very difficult if you or your child suffers from a severe food allergy.
From the entrées and sides to the cakes and cookies, holiday dishes are frequently prepared using one or more of the top eight allergens; milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. And, because food allergies can range in severity, it’s ultimately up to the sufferer (or the sufferer’s parent) to sort out the necessary precautions they need to take to stay safe.
The good news is, with a little preparation and planning you can enjoy the holidays without a trip to the emergency room. Here are some approaches to consider:
Prepare an all-in-one dish. If you’re bringing a dish to a party, make something that will serve well as a stand-alone meal in case there are no other dishes that you feel comfortable eating. One-pot meals — such as holiday-ready dairy-free Baked Mushroom-Polenta Pie opens in a new tab — are an easy way to cover your bases. If dessert more your style, this Fresh Take on Apple Pie opens in a new tab is gluten free, dairy free, vegan and super delicious!
Encourage signage. If you’re planning a potluck, ask the cooks to write an ingredient card with their name on it to place in front of their dish. This way, food allergy sufferers can easily identify the dishes they’re comfortable eating — or locate the cook if they need more information about how the dish was prepared.
Call ahead. Dining out can be one of the toughest things for food allergy sufferers to navigate. If you’re invited to a meal at a restaurant or a party that’s being catered, call the restaurant or catering company ahead of time to ask about your options. Some chefs are willing to discuss alternative food preparation methods and ingredients.
Don’t hesitate to investigate. If your food allergy has the potential to cause anaphylactic shock, read labels closely, steer clear of foods with a likelihood of cross-contamination (food from bulk bins, deli cases and salad bars to name a few) and when in doubt, play it safe.
Eat before you party down. If you’re attending a gathering and are unsure if you’ll be able to eat the food, have a light meal before you go and pack a small snack to get you through the evening in case there’s nothing you’re comfortable eating. Pack Red Lentil Crackers opens in a new tab in an airtight container for on the go. Or these Roasted Pumpkin Seeds opens in a new tab with a sprinkling of spice can be packaged into a single serving and tucked into your coat pocket or purse.
Host the party. When you do the cooking, you control the ingredients. Ask guests to contribute ice, beverages (labeled) or board games. Find recipe inspiration opens in a new tab and check out our tips for holiday hosting with special diets opens in a new tab.
If you or one of your family members has a severe food allergy, what are some of your tips for navigating holiday parties?
Originally published in 2010. Updated in 2015.