It’s that time of year again: turkey basting, stretch pants, eggnog, and ugly Christmas sweater parties. If you’re hosting a big holiday meal this year, you’re likely accommodating at least one guest with a food allergy or intolerance. If you have a food allergy or intolerance yourself, you’ve probably perfected a gracious way to decline treats you’re unsure about.
Whether you’re the holiday host or the one with a food allergy or intolerance, here are a few tips for a safe and allergy-friendly holiday season:
Make some Yuletide noise
Don’t be shy about your dietary restrictions. Send an email to the host letting them know you have a food allergy and ask if any of the dishes will contain ingredients to which you’re allergic. If they’re making any dishes with those ingredients, politely request that the host use different serving spoons and cutting boards to prevent cross-contact. Obviously, your approach may vary depending on the severity of your food allergies, and how long you’ve been managing them.
If you’re the host, send an email to your guests well in advance asking if anyone has a dietary restriction or food allergy. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to avoid peanuts or peanut butter in your dishes—peanuts are the number one trigger of food-related anaphylaxis.
Offer to prepare part of the meal or cook with the host
If it’s a potluck-style meal, offer to bring a dish or two—this way, you know there will be at least one dish that’s safe at the table. Plus, the host is happy because that’s one less dish they need to prepare! You can also offer to cook with the host. This way you’re helping the host with the meal and monitoring the kitchen to make sure food prep is safe for you or your loved ones.
If you’re hosting, and food allergies are unchartered territory, do a bit of homework: 15 minutes on the web learning about food allergies is a worthwhile investment in keeping your friends and family safe. And as a host, knowing the ingredients in all of the dishes served is a great way to avoid unwittingly putting your guests in harm’s way.
Keep safe snacks around
If you’re an adult with a food allergy, you probably carry your own snacks around with you at all times. But if you’re a child, and you’re hungry, all bets are off. Those unlabeled red sparkly bonbons next to the Christmas tree can be pretty enticing! Rather than attempt to monitor all the cookie plates, remind your child to not touch any food without first asking for your permission, and keep safe snacks in your purse so that if your child gets hungry, sparkly treats are less tempting. Note: I was the child that ate the unidentifiable red sparkly holiday bonbon, much to my parent’s displeasure. Fortunately, the cookie was safe.
If you’re the host, try to find out if any children will be there with a food allergy and read all ingredient labels to make sure you’re not serving any foods that could unintentionally cause an allergic reaction. It’s a great practice to ask how the family approaches label reading—do they eat packaged foods that carry “may contain” or “processed in a shared facility with…” warnings about their allergen, or do they avoid them entirely?
Do not roast chestnuts on an open fire
Not to be the holiday fun police, but if you’re hosting a holiday party or meal and you are not 100% positive that tree nuts are safe for all attendees, you may want to sub out the chestnuts for marshmallows or another fun treat. Along these same lines, consider subbing the bowl of mixed nuts for another quick grab snack such as popcorn.
For reference, the following foods are not tree nuts: nutmeg, water chestnuts, and butternut squash.
Be careful of unwanted guests
In our Thanksgiving blog post last year, we relayed the story of Harry & David’s gourmet food shop crashing Thanksgiving with a cranberry sauce that contained walnuts. The family member that added the sauce to the table had failed to read the label and identify tree nuts as an ingredient. This holiday season, make sure that all dishes and ingredients are accounted for on the table before you dig in—always read labels!
Hopefully, these tips will help make the holidays a little more merry and bright for those with a food allergy or food intolerance.
We hope you have a safe and happy holiday season.
— Abi & the Allergy Amulet Team