Navigating Holidays with Food Allergies

Navigating the holidays with severe food allergies can be challenging. Get tips and strategies for enjoying the season without the stress.

Do you or your kids suffer from a severe food allergy? Our social relationships so often revolve around sharing food that it can be extra difficult to figure out what’s safe to eat and what’s not during the holiday season. Holiday food is 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.After developing a life-threatening allergy to tree nuts in my mid-30s, I’d never realized how much I’d taken stress-free eating for granted. I went from being able to eat anything, anywhere, any time, to being that high maintenance person with a food allergy. And just when I’d gotten to be a pro at reading food labels — the holidays arrived.The good news is, with just a little preparation and planning you can enjoy the holidays without a trip to the emergency room. Here are some approaches I’ve found really helpful, and I hope you will too.

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 opens in a new tab are an easy way to cover your bases. One of my new favorite things to bring to a brunch gathering is this Savory Sausage and Cheddar Breakfast Casserole opens in a new tab, and for lunch or dinner I’ve been smitten with this Potato and Leek Soup with Brie Croutons opens in a new tab. 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. Get more tips on entertaining for guests with special dietary requirements opens in a new tab. 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 a week or two 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 function and are unsure if you’ll be able to eat the food — have a light meal before you go out and pack a small snack to get you through the evening in case you discover there’s nothing you’re comfortable eating. I really love roasted pumpkin seeds opens in a new tab and with a sprinkling of spice, they’ll be my secret stash snack for holiday parties. I roast then portion the spicy seeds into single servings that I can tuck into my coat pocket.Host the party. When you do the cooking, you control the ingredients. Then, just ask guests to bring things like ice, beverages (labeled) and board games. Get inspiration for your next party menu from our collection of holiday recipes opens in a new tab. Do you or one of your family members have a severe food allergy? If so, what are some of your tips for enjoying the holidays?

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