1. Don’t Stress Out (aka: Don’t Feel Bad About Accepting Their Offer to Bring Something).
This is the most important thing to your guest with food allergies. Nothing makes them feel worse than causing unnecessary stress to the host. They are happy to be invited and spend time with you. If they offer to bring something, don’t feel bad about accepting that offer.
Also, realize that they will not question their own dish. Your guests might prefer having control and avoiding the awkward feeling of having to ask you what ingredients you have used to make something and if you took steps to avoid cross contamination. (And no joke, they really hate needing to ask). They know how easy it is to miss a hidden wheat ingredient in a broth, or a milk ingredient in hot dogs. Or, how easy it is to forget old habits where one might accidently prepare gluten-free toast on a pan that still has wheat bread crumbs on it or dip a knife back into the butter that had bread crumbs in it.
So, if you don’t want to think about it, or worry about your menu items or cooking methods, know that your allergenic guest will appreciate you being flexible and allowing them to keep control to avoid a reaction.
2. If You Make an Allergen-Free Recipe, Save the Food Labels for Them.
Your guest will deeply appreciate the extra work you have done to include them in the food part of the celebration. They may also worry that you may have missed something (see point 1). Do not be offended by this. Your guest has learned a lot about ingredients and what contains hidden allergenic ingredients – the hard and painful way. They have made the mistake of consuming it, suffering the reaction, and doing the detective work to figure out what happened.
Your guest knows that you don’t live like they do. Therefore, they don’t expect you to know that barley malt extract in a wheat-free sauce still has gluten; or that soy sauce is made from wheat; or that those hot dogs have casein milk proteins; or that soy cheese is still made with dairy (to name a few). So, be prepared to tell them how you made it. Not only will they appreciate that you have taken their allergy seriously, they will feel deeply cared for if you set aside the ingredients labels for them to evaluate.
Remember that it’s for their peace of mind. They trust you. They just don’t trust food manufacturers and the ingredients they use to make something that *should* be only what it says it is. Again, they learned the hard way that something wasn’t safe when they thought it was. It’s nothing against you.
3. Plan Ahead, Stick to the Basics and Forgo Buying Special Food Items
Unless you enjoy learning about food allergies and want to spend an extra hour in the store reading ingredient labels, go take a look in your pantry for things you already have and that are already allergen-free such as beans, rice, potatoes and tuna. Also, look in your freezer for meats and your refrigerator and garden for fresh veggies and herbs. Proteins and starches are the most satisfying menu items at a party. You can easily make and serve deviled eggs (boil eggs, mix the yolks with a little mustard and sweet relish, scoop into the whites and that’s it!).
Here are some more quick ideas:
- Cook some rice and turn into a beautiful rice salad with fresh minced veggies, fresh herbs, and homemade citrus vinaigrette.
- Make some tuna salad with a vinaigrette dressing instead of a mayo dressing.
- Chicken tenders can be coated with oil, dusted with salt, pepper, sage, garlic powder, onion powder and dry mustard, cook in the broiler until done and put in the fridge to get cold. Put them on skewers on a pretty platter with honey mustard and sesame dipping sauces.
- Roll up slices of Hormel All-Natural Lunchmeat Ham or Turkey and stick a toothpick and an olive in each roll.
- Cut up some potatoes, and toss them in olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper and bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Serve warm or turn into a roasted potato salad made with red wine vinaigrette and fresh herbs.
- You could also roast and season fresh broccoli, mushrooms, eggplant, carrots or red peppers.
- Offer plain tortilla chips and plain potato chips with salsa and hummus which are usually allergen-friendly.
- Search the plethora of allergen-free recipes online, add “easy” and “simple” to your search. Also try “Paleo”, “Vegan” and “Raw” as your search terms.
You’ll be surprised that preparing for them can be an easy, stress-free experience.
4. Make a Simple Fruit Dessert Instead of Baking.
When you are not used to allergen-free baking, you will find that it can be a complicated, time consuming and expensive endeavor. While it may be fun to learn and try it, you will invariably have many other tasks on your to do list when preparing for a party. Almost all from-scratch allergy-free baking projects require a learning curve, a few special kinds of flours, leavening agents and binding ingredients that can’t be found at your regular food market.
I’m a bit hesitant to suggest a baking mix for brownies or cookies, but I will go ahead and suggest it, provided you are careful to know if your guest also needs to avoid dairy or eggs or nuts as many baking mixes don’t avoid multiple food allergens. So, if your guest is also allergic to eggs, you will have to figure out the best way to substitute for the eggs following instructions on the mix. My favorite mixes are from Bob’s Red Mill as they are good at helping the baker avoid multiple allergies.
That said, baking, in general, adds a bit of time and stress to your entertaining endeavor. And I’d hate to see you go to all that trouble and find out that your guest still can’t have it because you didn’t know that oats or certain kinds of starches are hard for some celiacs to digest.
My best advice would be to come up with a creative fruit dessert such as:
- Sorbet or Smoothies made into popsicles
- Poached pears in a ginger simple syrup
- Cinnamon baked apples
- Grilled pineapple slices with cracked-pepper honey
- Grilled plums with balsamic reduction
- Strawberries dipped in melted non-dairy chocolate chips such as the Enjoy Life brand.
- Candy using melted non-diary chocolate chips, dried cherries and sunflower seeds, dropped by spoonfuls onto wax paper which will set when cooled.
- Raw food websites are also a great place to find easy and creative fruit based desserts.
- Popcorn balls (if no corn allergy) are great for any party, not just Halloween.
- Gluten free rice krispie treats using Kellogg’s gluten-free rice krispies, regular marshmallows (if no corn allergy) and Earth Balance dairy-free butter.
- Cracker Jacks are a great party fun food if no one has a peanut allergy.
- Swedish Fish, Starburst, Skittles and Smarties are gluten-free and diary-free. (as of this writing, I only know that Smarties are vegan, so check candies for other offending allergies if needed).
- Homemade vanilla or chocolate pudding made with arrowroot starch and topped with fresh fruit.
Those are just a few ideas, but whatever you do, keep it simple and you’ll save lots of time, money and energy!
5. If You are Going to Prepare Food , Be Very Mindful of Cross-Contamination.
It would be great if no one had to worry about this but it happens every day that a person with allergies gets sick or is hospitalized due to cross contamination. It might have happened because their safe food was cooked on a pan that had allergens on it, or the cook’s hands weren’t washed after working with wheat flour. There are many ways that cross-contamination can happen. When in doubt, use another pan or get a clean knife or buy another jar of jam that hasn’t been used to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I know you don’t want extra dirty dishes, or more jam than you need, but what would you rather have, an extra knife to wash or a really sick guest? If extra diligence is needed, you may want to go the extra mile and inform the other guests to avoid bringing peanut butter cookies or anything with tree nuts if your guest is prone to airborne nut proteins threatening their life.
6. Don’t Focus on Their Allergies if They Don’t Want to Talk About it.
This is one you’ll have to feel out.Your allergenic guest thinks about their food allergies almost all day, every day. They need to talk about and think about something else. They want to enjoy your company, listen to your stories, laugh with you and have fun. Some allergy sufferers appreciate the opportunity to educate others on food allergies, especially when they feel heard and not judged as being too careful about it. Being dismissed and treated as if they are “too protective” is a sore spot since they encounter that attitude a lot. If it seems that they don’t want to talk about it, move on to another subject.
Kids who are food allergic can be even more sensitive and don’t want to hear the adults talk about them. Kids worry that their friends will make fun of them (and some do). So, if the kids are within earshot, and you are going to bond about parenting, stick to subjects that apply to all of the kids such as their sports or piano lessons and the challenges of limiting TV and Nintendos.
7. Enjoy the New Entertaining Experience, and Celebrate Life
We live in a time where food allergies can kill the whole person in an instant via anaphylactic shock or via a destruction of intestines over time. People with food allergies may have a life expectancy much shorter than everyone else’s. So, as the saying goes “Live and Let Live.”
Their allergy might be inconvenient, but it won’t hurt you to help them avoid it. But if they don’t avoid it, it will hurt them. Be patient, understanding, accommodating and celebrate the joy of who they are outside of the food allergy. There are worse things in life than food allergies but do treat it like a digestive disability, because it is. They may look good on the outside but they hurt on the inside. And I dare say, it’s even a social disability because of the lack of ability to participate in so many social food events. Continue to be understanding.
And from the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading, sharing, helping and supporting organizations that research cures for food allergies. Wonderful people like you are the ones that make the world a better place to live.