Whether you are cooking for a crowd, volunteering at the local soup kitchen, or cooking for the immediate family, the holidays can be a stressful time when you have guests have food restrictions. Those of us who deal with food allergies on a daily basis know the drill, but if you are hosting the meal and your sister is bringing kids with food allergies, your Dad is on a sugar-free diet, your best friend is lactose-intolerant, or your Aunt was recently diagnosed with celiac disease, you need strategies to get through the meal with success.
The first step is to gather information. Well in advance of the event, ask your guests if they have any food restrictions; ask them to be as specific as possible and collaborate with them on solutions. This could include asking your guest to bring the bread or desserts, or finding the specific brands or food alternatives that will work. Each food allergy situation is unique, and each meal will be unique, but understanding the restrictions prior to planning the menu is key.
The turkey often takes center stage at holiday meals, so that dish needs to be prepared in a way that all can enjoy it. Two simple solutions to include many with food allergies are to use olive oil rather than butter for browning and basting, and to replace the bread stuffing with rice stuffing. Keeping the wheat and dairy out of the turkey dish eliminates the most common allergens found there.
If at all possible, try to prepare foods that everyone at the table can eat rather than preparing special dishes for those with food restrictions. For example, substitute non-dairy milk for cow’s milk in the mashed potatoes. Instead of serving cheese and crackers (off limits for those with wheat and milk allergies) try serving corn chips with hummus.
Try to make at least one dessert that everyone at the table can eat. If you don’t have any allergen-free recipes in your arsenal a simple berry cup (without the whipped cream) is likely to be suitable for most guests.
Make the breadbasket gluten-free. There are many great-tasting gluten-free breads that can now be bought off-the-shelf, and many of these are also dairy-free.
Be sure to check the ingredient labels to make sure that what you are buying to prepare the meal is safe for guests. Keep track of ingredients and keep the labels from any packaged foods you used so your guests can check themselves when they arrive.
If you unable to make the entire meal to avoid food allergens, be aware of contamination issues. Utensils, crumbs left on the counter, and well-meaning guests who want to help stir the gravy with a spoon used elsewhere could all contribute to cross-contamination.
If you keep an open mind, your guests are sure to appreciate the changes you made to your traditional meal to accommodate and include them.