Holidays and People with Food Allergies and Sensitivities

I can’t say that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. In fact it is my least favorite. I have a lot of food allergies that have varied throughout the years and through my adult life I have spent most of my Thanksgivings away from home. Some years I would have a friend or someone I worked with that was local to New York adopt me for the day and I was very thankful for that. Food was never easy, no matter where I was. I am not a fan of most Thanksgiving food and usually there is something I am allergic to in it anyway. Even if I went to my favorite vegan restaurant with a friend, I still ended up with something I was allergic to on my plate and didn’t notice it until the hives started. People have always been well meaning but sometimes there is just too much going on or there is not enough information and things go wrong. I would like to offer some helpful ideas for those out there with vegans, vegetarians, gluten free and/or allergic on their holiday guest lists.

First of all thank you for inviting this person to your event. Even if you don’t have a choice, we (vegans, vegetarian, gluten free, allergic) appreciate being included. As a southern woman, I never want to intrude or make people feel like what they have is not good enough. But it is not like I can just eat things to be polite. If I have even one little bite of something with dairy in it I will be sick in varying ways (which I will leave to your imagination) for about a month. So please do not think someone is rude for having stipulations on what they can and cannot eat. If you ate something and it caused you to be sick, miserable, up all night and possibly have to miss work you would guard what you ate with your life as well. So please be open minded and understanding. Chances are high that they did not develop a food issue just to cause problems at Thanksgiving.

Here are some things you can do as a host to help make your food sensitive guest feel welcome and safe:

1.    Share your menu and or ideas for food with the guest ahead of time. The better everyone is prepared ahead of time the more smoothly things will go. If you are not serving anything the guest can eat, and are not comfortable making something ask if they can bring something for themselves and to share.

2.     Know what is in each dish. If you don’t remember if you put eggs in something or if you used butter instead of olive oil this can be prohibitive in terms of the guest eating a dish or not. If you can keep recipes handy and not throw away packages of pre-packaged things this can help your guest to be safe.

3.     Be aware of cross contamination. This is especially important for a person with dairy allergies, gluten intolerance or someone that has celiac disease. If you put a knife in butter, onto bread and then the same knife into jam you have just contaminated the jam for both dairy allergic and gluten free guests.

4.     Dairy free and gluten free are two completely different things. Dairy products come from cows and yes this includes butter but not eggs. Eggs can also be allergens but just because they are in the dairy section of the supermarket does not make them a dairy product. Gluten according to Wikipedia is a mixture of proteins found in wheat and related grains, including barley, rye, oat, and all their species and hybrids (such as spelt, kamut, and triticale). Gluten and dairy are in a lot of products that you as a non-sensitive person would not think about. Please read labels and know that dairy can be hidden in ingredient lists as other things like whey and casein. Also gluten free things that are pre-packaged, like cookies or pancake mix sometimes have dairy in them. If your guest is dairy free and gluten free make extra sure those items are free of both offenders.

5.     Ask questions. Ask if the guest has a recipe they would like to share either for the host to make or the guest themselves to make and bring. Ask if there are any products they like as substitutes for common things they can’t eat. (List below).

6.     Please do not be offended if the guests come having made their own food or already eaten. Sometimes there is no room for error and even well meaning people can make errors and not realize it until it’s too late. By the time Christmas comes around I will usually have already been given food I’m allergic to somewhere, whether it is a party or a restaurant, sometimes multiple times and I just can’t take the risk again.

7.     When it comes time to eat, try not to ask the guest a bunch of questions about what they are eating if it is different from everyone else, ask “Well what can you eat then?” or other questions. If the guest starts the conversation that is fine. Usually steering the topic clear of food is the best way to go. Being asked, “what can you eat” as a food sensitive person every time you eat with others can be incredibly exhausting. Especially if you are already worried about the food at an event.

8.  Most importantly have an open mind. You might find a new dish that you love and start a new tradition with the people you love. 

For the food sensitive…

1.     Please talk to the host as soon as possible if you want to find out if you can be accommodated. If you get an invitation a few weeks before and wait until the last minute to let the host know what you can and can’t eat it is going to make things a little harder. If you don’t know about the event until the last minute I would still contact the host and see if they have something you might be able to eat.

2.     Do not be afraid to say no to food. If you are unsure of how something has been prepared and you could suffer serious consequences by eating something you are allergic to do not put yourself at risk. At the end of the day you are the one that has to deal with the illness, not the host.

3.     Eat ahead and or bring something to share. The easiest way to make sure you do not get sick is to make your own main dish and bring enough for everyone to try. That way you are not being rude, just making sure your food is safe and people that want to try some of what you have. And let’s be honest, half the time if you bring something you have to fend people off because it looks so good!

4.     If people are bugging you asking questions about what you can eat and you just want to be left alone you can say a few things and then try to change the topic. If people are genuinely curious I usually don’t mind answering their questions but I just do not enjoy being badgered about food especially if I am in a new environment. I try to have some interesting topics ready to go to steer clear of the food topic.

Some of my favorite substitutes for dairy: 

Butter- Earth Balance tastes great and works well for anything where you would need butter. They make a few different varieties including a soy free version for those needing to avoid soy. 

Milk and Yogurt- Silk is the brand I like best. They have soy, almond, coconut and cashew. They are all good. Their yogurt is my favorite too although there are many options for these two types of substitutes. Their products can also be found at Kroger in the natural foods section.

Cheese- Daiya Cheese melts really well and is also soy free. Daiya is also free of caseinate which many non-dairy cheese companies used to help cheese melt but it is actually a dairy product.  

Fancy cheese- Treeline Cheese- this is a soft cheese made with cashews that is a crowd pleaser. It can now be found at most Kroger’s. Miyoko’s also makes cheese with cashews that come in small rounds. They have a lot of flavors and are delicious. Both of these cheeses would be good choices if you wanted a non-dairy cheese plate. Miyoko’s also makes vegan cultured butter but it is more expensive than Earth Balance so I have not tried it yet.

Egg Nog- There are many brands of vegan egg nog that I enjoy. I really like Silk’s Nog but I am also excited to try Califia Farms nog as well. 

Ice cream- I really enjoy all the Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy ice creams. I also like  So Delicious Dairy Free. Their cashew ice creams are the best. 

I hope this information is helpful to have some holidays with less stress through food and more happy times with family.