Don’t Let Food Allergies Separate You from Those You Love This Holiday Season
With all its opportunities for gathering with family and friends around the table, the holiday season can present a major obstacle to a host who usually does not have to consider reading labels. Some allergies pose immediate risks that may be life-threatening while others though less drastic may still trigger significant negative health problems.Your guest might have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity; a nut or soy allergy; a dairy or egg allergy; or a combination of these and other food allergies that range in degrees of severity. A host needs to understand that some guests will feel safer not leaving the details of ingredients list reading to a host who already has so much to worry about. Making your guests with allergies feel safe requires sensitivity, proper planning, and a basic understanding of the consequences of allergic reactions. So what should you do if you have a relative or friend with a food allergy or sensitivity?
1) Don’t panic and don’t cross them off your invitation list. By speaking with your guest, you may be surprised to find out that she would be happy to bring something she can eat and relieve you of the burden of having to read labels as well as the responsibility of ensuring that everything she consumes is safe. Communicating to her that you are concerned about her health even if you don’t understand her situation fully will go a long way in establishing trust.
2) Show sensitivity - It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that this person will also deal with figuring out what dishes will maintain their integrity during traveling as well as the logistics of cooking and transporting enough for herself and possibly for several other members of the family who also have one or multiple allergies. The number of people with allergies will determine the level of difficulty. Don’t be offended if your guest opts to join you for dessert only to keep things simple and stress level low. If she is staying with you, she will gladly shoulder the task of preparing a dish or two and relieve you of the burden of figuring it out on your own.
3) Allow them to choose freely - Your guest with allergies will likely not consume anything at the table if she cannot accurately determine the source of the ingredients and ensure each ingredient is allergy-free. That would certainly be the case if the dishes come from different sources as in the case of a smorgasbord. Quite often, well-meaning cooks may be unaware of every single ingredient in a dish but insist that it is safe to eat. You are showing understanding when you don’t push your guest to try a dish if she has doubts about its safety. A wonderful dish is never worth the risks of ingesting a harmful allergen.
4) Provide separate areas - In case of severe allergies, provide her with a separate table and utensils, and inform your other guests not to use the serving utensils on the allergy-free table. A fun and carefree atmosphere can lower our guards and result in inadvertently mixing utensils, which may have traces of nuts or gluten; this can lead to cross-contamination of the food without anyone noticing and result in serious health consequences.The best solution is to advise your other guests to eat from the regular table only. Alternatively, you might place a legible sign on each table to ensure everyone is on board even when you leave the room. Often, those without allergies unwittingly deplete the food for those with a limited diet who already have fewer options available to them. At the very least, your other guests should wait until those with allergies have been served from the designated allergy table. Non-allergic guests have more options that are readily available to them compared to the amount of time and effort normally required for allergy-free meals.
5) Keep what's truly important in sight - Last but not least, remember the true reason for the holidays and the whole point of enjoying a meal together: Building great memories and enjoying one another’s company. With love, consideration, and preparation, your holiday meals should underscore your appreciation for one another and strengthen the bond of love and friendship.
If you are wondering what to do with that friend or relative with allergies, follow the steps above, and you and all your guests will be well on your way to an enjoyable holiday season.
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