Holiday Parties and Get-Togethers with Food Allergies

Posted 12.9.10 | Rob McCandlish, RDN

Many parents of children with allergies worry about how to handle children going to parties for friends where food will be served. But what should you do when you’re the host and you’re worried about visitors with allergies?

Every year I host a holiday party and share the same concerns. With friends who have allergies to wheat and tree nuts and vegetarian friends, what would Martha Stewart recommend?

Know Your Guests

When you send out your invitations it’s nice to ask if your guests have any allergies or sensitivities. By doing so, you let them know you’re aware of their concerns and give them an opportunity to share any concerns. If possible, you might even provide the menu ahead of time so they can be aware of foods that are safe and those that present a risk. If they offer to bring a “safe” dish, take them up on their offer. Better yet, host a potluck!

Before you start to cook for the party, clean your kitchen tools and surfaces thoroughly, and make sure you store prepared items safely so that they won’t become contaminated.

Know What You’re Serving

By knowing which allergies your visitors have, you can purchase prepared or packaged foods that are safe (your guests can tell you specific ingredients to look for - check labels carefully) or perhaps to prepare items yourself which you know are safe. Luckily, foods now have required labeling for the 8 major allergens. If you have questions contact the manufacturer to be certain.

Be careful when preparing food yourself. With recipe ingredients like celery, you know what you have – celery! But for other ingredients a recipe calls for, such as spice blends or sauces, the ingredients can be trickier to understand. Is that “protein hydrolysate” derived from soy, wheat, pork or something else? Again, it may be best to contact the manufacturer or run the item by your guest with a quick phone call. Keep the ingredient label on hand for the party, if possible. It’s also a great idea to keep hard copies of recipes for homemade items handy during the party in case guests have questions. The safest bet of all? Try some allergen-free holiday recipes.

Be realistic when planning the menu – you can easily prepare a batch of chocolate chip cookies without adding nuts for those with tree nut allergies, but it may not be reasonable to prepare a different version of EVERY dish you serve that presents an allergy risk. Guests with allergies will be happy to see a few items they can enjoy and usually expect they can’t eat everything on the menu. If you do have separate versions of some items, you can keep them on a different table.

Enable Your Guests - With Labels!

Especially for a large party it can be hard to keep track of telling each guest what foods are safe as they arrive. If you plan on serving buffet-style, consider labeling items for your guests. This could be as simple as using place-tags that provide a description and state what allergens are in the food. An even easier approach would be color-coded stickers that indicate what is or isn’t in the food. Labels on each item served of the 8 major allergens might be most helpful and can help cover your bases for unexpected guests or unexpected allergies.

If you have multiple young guests with allergies it might be more fun for them to see a special sticker just for them (such as a favorite animal or cartoon character) on foods they CAN eat. Labels eliminate the worry of having to tell each guest what is or isn’t safe; just make sure they know what the labels mean! A clearly posted guide to your labels at the front of the buffet could be helpful.

What tips have you used in the past when hosting get-togethers for guests with allergies?

- Rob

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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.