I’ve updated this post a little from a couple years ago.
Without a doubt, for those of us who have food allergies, dietary disorders, and food intolerances, the holidays are a difficult time. Holidays are usually celebrated with food — lots and lots of good tasty food. But when you can’t have gluten or dairy or other common ingredients, it can feel like you’re being punished during holiday parties. Even though we all know that’s not the case, the feeling of being separate—different—from everybody else can cast a pall over the fun.
This is especially true when we are dealing with people who do not believe that food allergies are serious, who don’t believe that food intolerances are very real and detrimental.
There’s always that person who keep urging us to “Just try it, one bite can’t possibly hurt you!” We all seem to have that one relative or friend who refuses to understand how sick food can make us when we have dietary issues. It seems that Aunt Martha just can’t wrap her head around the concept that one crumb of gluten can be poison for someone with celiac. And Uncle Joe refuses to believe that if you eat even one chocolate covered strawberry, you’ll be pulling out your EpiPen and might end up in the hospital.
To be honest, staving off well-intentioned relatives can feel like full-scale battle.
So for the people who aren’t affected by food, here’s a quick (and by no means complete) primer on allergy-friendly etiquette:
- DON’T be insulted if they decline to eat your delicious shrimp platter. They are not insulting you, they are doing their best to stay healthy.
- DO graciously accept their offer to bring a dish, especially if you haven’t planned an allergy-friendly menu. This may be the only food on the table they can eat.
- IF you want to make allergy friendly treats, be very cautious about cross-contamination. It’s amazingly easy to accidentally cross-contaminate food in the kitchen.
- When setting out serving utensils, remember: if someone uses a knife to butter their bread and then uses that same knife to cut a dairy free pie, they have contaminated the pie. Ways to combat this? Pre-cut everything into servings. Keep all the dairy free food in one section, all the gluten-free food in one section, and so forth. Include decorative labels on the foods that are allergy friendly. And DO NOT be afraid or embarrassed to ask all of your guests to be careful when serving themselves.
We host Thanksgiving for a group of friends every year. As my food allergies have gotten worse, I have taken over all of the cooking. This ensures my safety as well as my guests, because some of them have their own food allergies. I ask for donations to defray the cost of food, but this way I know what I prepare is safe and my allergic guests also know they can safely eat here.
Our Thanksgiving feasts are sumptuous — we have pie, we have stuffing, we have rolls and turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and none of it has dairy or gluten or garlic or onions. And all of it tastes great. My guests who do not have food allergies love the food that I cook and can’t tell the difference.
Some general hints:
- When making mashed potatoes, instead of milk and butter I use canned coconut milk or rice milk, or chicken stock and dairy free margarine.
- For the rolls and stuffing I found a bread mix that contains no gluten, dairy or yeast — I am also allergic to yeast.
- For the pies, I use a gluten and dairy free pie crust mix. And in place of milk in my pumpkin pie, I use coconut milk or rice milk. I also use egg replacer in one because of one of my guest’s egg allergies.
- For the gravy, I simply use rice flour in place of the wheat flour when I make the roux.
- I even make my homemade cranberry sauce because everybody loves it so much better. I don’t use orange in it because I’m allergic to oranges, but I use raspberries and Framboise liqueur and people go nuts over the stuff.
Substitutions are not difficult if you do your homework and try a few sample recipes in advance. If you have egg-allergic guests, egg replacer works quite well in recipes. Coconut and rice milk work like a charm for most recipes. I make cheesecake with faux cream cheese made from soy.
You can make any holiday allergy-friendly.
So I’m including some of my favorite products here that make holiday cooking so much easier! You can check on my blog via the search function for recipes. And there are numerous allergy-friendly cooking sites on the web. Just search on allergy blogs.
You don’t need to be deprived during the holidays. Sure it’s hard when you see people eating things you cannot, but there are plenty of delicious ways you can make the holidays just as fun as ever.
Bright blessings and happy holiday season. (You can see all my allergy posts–well, a number of them as I duplicate them there–on my Food Allergy Witch Blog).