Dealing with food allergies during the holidays can be stress inducing. Here is a guide for those with allergies or hosting people with food allergies during the holidays. Whether you’re hosting or dealing with your own food allergies, these holiday food allergy tips will help keep you and your family safe.
Allergies vs. Sensitivities or intolerances
I think the first thing that every needs to understand is that allergies and sensitivities or intolerances are two different things. Allergies are the immune systems over reaction to something (for this post we’ll be specifically talking about reactions to food). Some allergies can be severe and life threatening. For example, nuts allergies are a common food allergy. Additionally if someone has celiac disease that means they are allergic to gluten.
Sensitivities and intolerances while bothersome and potentially life altering, do not involve the immune system. They are also not life threatening. However all need to be taken seriously. [source] For example, my allergist considered giving me en epi pen because my food sensitivities were immediate and severe. She was concerned that my sensitivities may be developing into a true allergy.
Cross contamination and food allergies.
For people with severe food allergies and sensitivities, cross contamination can be an issue. I have a friend whose shellfish allergy is so severe that the fumes from someone cooking shellfish in the same room can cause her to have an anaphylactic response.
If you are hosting a party for someone with a gluten allergy (celiac) and you decide to pan fry some breaded fish and use the same pan to cook a gluten free fish then the gluten free fish will be contamination with gluten and no longer gluten free. As you can see, even small amounts of an offending food can cause a reaction. Everyone is different but again, it’s important to take allergies and sensitivities seriously during the holidays and all year round.
Holiday Food Allergy Tips For Dining Out
- Tell your host or wait staff. You really need to prepare people in advance so that they can make changes to a dish or menu if possible.
- Ask about menu in advance and offer to bring a dish to share or your own meal. If your sensitivities or allergies are extreme or extensive, skip this step and just tell your host that you'll be bringing your own food.
- Thank your host for the invite. Let them know that you appreciate them and it's a big deal for you.
- Be kind and patient. This may seem rude to your host as it's outside of the norm for a dinner party. It takes some getting used to and most don't automatically understand where you're coming from. If you’ve never had an allergic reaction to food then you’re not necessarily going to understand how serious allergies can be for an invidiual.
- Be firm and don't apologize for your illness. You didn't ask for your health issues and you're doing your best to deal with them. However, no dinner party is worth risking eating foods that cause adverse reactions.
- You don't need to go into detail about your health issues. You can give as much detail as necessary to protect your health but beyond that it's up to you. Your health is private and you don't owe anyone an explanation.
- When in doubt, don’t eat the food that is served. I can’t tell you how many times I have been dining out, did everything right (called ahead, asked our server, etc.) but when I arrived and really pressed our server to ask the kitchen or speak with the chef, the food they offered and suggested actually contained allergens. I followed my gut and didn’t eat the food because I knew that the server wasn’t taking my health issues seriously. I’m glad I did because I avoided unpleasant reaction to the food.
Holiday Food Allergy Tips for Entertaining Guests with Allergies/Sensitivities
- Take your guest health issues seriously. People in general have a tendency to question the legitimacy of allergies and sensitivities. This is dangerous for some that have severe and life threatening conditions. Don't make a judgment call on someone else's health. You're not a doctor plus these people need to live with their bodies and know them better than you.
- Be kind. It's exhausting to have to be so vigilant about one's health. Kindness means a lot to someone that may be struggling.
- Ask them to bring a dish to pass or even bring their own meal. If you're not certain that you can meet your guests’ food restrictions then feel free to ask them to bring food. It's not rude of you. In fact, your directness and honesty will be appreciated.
- Don't be offended if they can't eat your food. Trust me. They'd love to eat your food but it's not worth the health issues for them. Besides, nothing ruins Thanksgiving like explosive diarrhea or a trip to the ER because your throat is closing up and you can’t breathe.
- Try not to single them out for being different. It's difficult to navigate social settings. It takes some people years to get comfortable. Others are super private about their health issues and don't want to go into detail in front of a lot of people with varying viewpoints. You’d be surprised how not supportive and downright insulting some people can be. On the flipside, someone like myself sees these types of events as educational opportunities.
Did you use these tips? I love hearing your thoughts on my posts so please comment below.