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As an individual with food allergies, I am constantly bombarded with the question, “What caaaaan you eat?” when people find out that my system will not tolerate gluten and cow dairy. When I hear this question, I cringe internally. On the outside, I smile and politely explain that I can eat food without gluten and cow dairy, and that (believe it or not) I am not that limited in choices. If the follow up to that explanation is “poor thing,” I probably want to throw something at you… but of course, as a civil and compassionate person, I will abstain from doing so. However, I will dedicate this blog post to you. I do hope that this will serve as an informative post for those who know someone with food sensitivities or allergies, and want to know just what they caaaaaaaan eat, especially on the occasions when you are hosting them in your home. (For the record, I will never expect you to have food that I can safely eat; however, if you do, you will definitely be the recipient of a wealth of gratitude from yours truly. There is nothing more frustrating than being somewhere where you can’t eat anything, and nothing more heart-warming than knowing someone had the forethought to consider common allergens when preparing their food.)
During the holidays we are all bouncing from gathering to gathering, eating, drinking, and being merry with one another. I love the holidays because of all the time I am able to spend with those whom I care about. Yet, there is always an additional level of stress added on because I need to make sure that I have meals before I go out and snacks prepared, just in case I attend a party with food I dare not consume due to fear of an anaphylactic reaction, gastrointestinal disturbance, and a few days or weeks of pain, fatigue, and discomfort. I know I am not the only one with these concerns, as 1 in 13 children and 1 in 25 adults now suffer from food allergies. The most common allergens are: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. These eight foods compose of 90% of all food allergens. If you are hosting a party and know that one of your guests has a specific allergy, find out what it is, and it is very easy to work around it. However, sometimes you might be hosting an event where you are unsure of whether or not your guests have allergies. In both cases, below are some tips about how you can please your allergic guests with little-to-no effort (aside from some mental effort!) on your part:
1) Always try to have a few “allergen-free” items. Again, if you know what your guest is allergic to, this is pretty simple. A veggie tray with various dips (dairy-free, of course!) like hummus, red pepper, bean, and sun-dried tomato are all wonderful. Trader Joe’s has some great options on dips! Fruit trays are also fairly “allergen-free.” If veggies and fruits are the only things available, your guests might not feel satisfied, but if you are able to add some protein- and fat-packed dips, nuts (for those that can eat them) along side the fruits and veggies, this rounds everything out. Also, similar to myself, many that are allergic to cow dairy can tolerate some goat and sheep dairy, so having an assortment of cheeses is a great idea if you are serving a cheese plate.
2) Items that typically have some of the common allergens can be adjusted (usually fairly easily) to please your allergic friends. For example, this Christmas I modified the mashed potato recipe so I could indulge as well. Instead of butter and milk, I used olive oil and a milk substitute (almond milk is my favorite), then mashed as usual. The important part is to be flexible and to use common sense! Of course, most guests would prefer the traditional versions, so setting aside the veggies before you pour on the butter or add the cream sauce is always appreciated. If you want to go even further, look online at websites for allergy friendly recipes. Garden Eats and Gluten Free Goddess are some of my favorites for gluten-free items.
3) Common allergens can be left “on the side” for guests to add as they’d prefer. Salads are a great example. If there are nuts, cheese, or a dairy-filled dressing to accompany the salad, simply leave these items on the side. And of course, always offer an oil and vinegar, or another allergy-free dressing option.
4) Everyone loves desert. Of course, offering fruit to those with allergies is always appreciated. Even better, pick up some sorbet! It’s just fruit, sugar, and water, but your guests won’t feel that pang of slight jealousy when the other guests are eating ice cream. If you want to go all out, there are also allergen-free options at Whole Food’s bakeries, and you can find plenty of recipes online (see websites on item 2).
5) You can always ask your guests for some of their favorite recipes. Better yet, have a pot-luck style party and guests will typically bring something they are able to consume, and you won’t have to do as much work!
6) Lastly, as an allergy sufferer, it can sometimes be awkward to ask the host about the items being served. I’ve been to events where items and ingredients are labeled, which is always helpful. I’ve also been to events where the host informs the guests of each item being served. Regardless of how you inform your guests, letting them know what is on the table is always appreciated. The last thing anyone wants to do is find the host, only to ask them a question regarding their served food and they don’t know the answer… so, to avoid this situation, be knowledgeable about what you are serving, and whenever possible, inform your guests of ingredients!
Happy hosting, people!