Author: Emily Melby, RDN, Allergy Associates of La Crosse
December is a month full of celebrations, friends, family, food and drink. For children and adults with food allergies, it can be a time of anxiety and stress. Parents can find themselves in constant worry mode, wondering if this will be the time their child is exposed to their life-threatening food allergy, or whether there will be safe food served. For food allergic families, the concern is unending.
Consider these hosting tips to support the food-allergic people you care about.
First, know which food allergens to avoid. The top eight most common allergens include dairy, wheat, soy, egg, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts. These top allergens are required to be listed on the ingredient label. Read ingredient labels and find alternatives free of the allergen you would like to avoid.
Ask your food allergic guest for support. Let them know you want to include some allergy-free dishes. Don’t get overwhelmed and try to recreate every dish — a few simple substitutions can go a long way.
Take inventory of your menu. Many foods are naturally allergy-free, so check your dishes for the top allergens. Fruits, vegetables, and proteins such as meats and beans are free from allergens when prepared from scratch.
Do you buy ready-made dishes? Read ingredient labels and consider shopping the allergy-free aisle. While most traditional dishes have allergy-free options available for purchase, many can easily be converted to be allergy-free including these:
- Mashed potatoes. Try mixing potatoes with a dairy-free butter substitute and original rice milk instead of cow’s milk. Or try this easy dairy-free garlic mashed potatoes recipe from the Brooklyn Farm Girl blog. Try something new and serve mashed sweet potatoes. Feel like stepping away from tradition? Roasted root vegetables are a sure crowd pleaser.
- Stuffing. Gluten-free stuffing is available from brands such as Ian’s, Gillian’s, or Rudi’s. Can’t find a gluten-free stuffing mix? Use gluten-free bread to create your dish. Check out this kid friendly, allergy-free stuffing recipe. Feeling a bit more adventurous? Try Wild Rice & Mushroom Stuffing.
- Gravy. Instead of using wheat flour to thicken, try a gluten-free starch such as corn, potato, tapioca, arrowroot, or use a gluten-free flour such as sorghum or rice flour. Check out Gluten Free & More’s gluten-free turkey gravy.
- Cranberry sauce. Check out this yummy cranberry sauce recipe from the Cookie and Kate blog. Or buy pre-made cranberry sauce — just double check the label to ensure it doesn’t contain allergens you are avoiding.
- Turkey or ham dishes. If bought whole and unprocessed, both should be safe bets. As always, read the label to confirm. Avoid adding breading or butter flavoring to reduce ingredients guest may be allergic to. Stuffing the bird? Remember that using stuffing containing gluten will be unsafe for those with gluten or wheat allergy.
- Dessert. Chocolate is always a winner. Give it a go and try this fudge recipe made simple with minimal ingredients. Or try a not-so-traditional dessert. Chia seed pudding is so easy to make. Pies and cookies typically contain multiple allergens. Not feeling up to the task of revamping all of your dessert recipes? Most grocery stores now stock ready-made, allergy-free treats.
Don’t forget the prep. When prepping allergy-free recipes, ensure your kitchen, utensils, cutting boards, pans, and counter tops have been thoroughly cleaned. Prep allergy-free recipes first to avoid cross-contact, also known as cross-contamination, which occurs when foods are accidently exposed to allergens via hands, surfaces, and kitchen tools. Using a knife to cut a pumpkin pie with a wheat crust and then using the same knife to cut the pie with a gluten-free crust can transfer traces of wheat, which can be harmful for someone with a wheat allergy or celiac disease. It only takes a small amount of an allergen to contaminate a food — just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Placement is important. Once allergy-free dishes are prepared, store them on a separate refrigerator or cupboard shelf to avoid cross contact. Buffet spreads are an easy target for cross contamination — food can fall into other dishes and serving spoons can get mixed up. Consider serving allergy-free dishes separately from others, using a different table or counter space to avoid cross contact.
Now, step back, form a game plan and enjoy the holidays! Your food allergic guest(s) will appreciate your commitment to including them in a safe and enjoyable holiday experience.
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