The holidays are upon us and you just found out your favorite relative (not so favorite relative), or friend has a new food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity. What do you do next?
1) Don’t Panic, your guest is probably more worried about imposing on you then you are about contaminating or making them sick, well, except maybe for that not so favorite relative. All kidding aside, if your guest offers to bring something, accept graciously and say something along the lines of; “Yes, that would be great, what are you thinking about?” Please don’t be offended, this is not a reflection on your cooking abilities. You may even be surprised how much you enjoy whatever they do decide to bring. Your guest will feel less anxious about imposing on you as well as knowing they can eat something at your table with confidence. Chances are, they will only eat a few things that look safe, but please be prepared to answer a few questions on how other foods were prepared.
2) Cross-Contact, Cross Contamination If you should decide to attempt an ‘allergen-free’ recipe, be sure and share a copy of the recipe with your guest and ask for feedback. Then do yourself and your guest-to-be a favor, and view this short tutorial on how cross-contamination or cross-contact of food allergens may happen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5P2AJR5cmw
Watch out for old wooden cutting boards, wooden spoons, mixing bowls and microwaved plastics that can hold on to leftover allergen particles. If you can, use glass cutting boards, Pyrex, or porcelain serving bowls and be sure to wash utensils to the best of your ability to remove any left-over crusted on foods. If your guest has celiac disease or a wheat allergy, be sure and make the gluten-free, wheat-free recipe first, before you bake your favorite gluten containing baked goods or gravy. Wheat flour dust, left on the counter or work area, can easily find its way into your gluten-free recipe from utensils or from your hands being placed down upon a counter top work area. Then once your allergen-free food is done, store it securely until ready to be served.
Serving your meal buffet style? Here’s a good tip; without making a big announcement, try your best to allow your food sensitive guests to go through the buffet line first. This works when serving family style as well. Discreetly, let all dishes start with your allergic/sensitive or intolerant guest, so they don’t have to watch everyone’s serving actions. Accidents do happen, so if a serving spoon from your sage and wheat crouton stuffing goes into the gluten-free mashed potatoes, your guest may avoid getting sick. You get the picture. Once someone contaminates a once allergen-free dish, it is no longer safe for your allergic or sensitive guest. The same goes for condiments. Don’t expect your gluten-free guest to use the butter tub that was used that morning for your breakfast toast. Try separate butter plates with newly opened product and again, allow your allergic guest to dip, dab, squeeze or slice first.
3) Adjust your Recipes. Many times traditional holiday recipes can be made allergen-free by adjusting a few ingredients. Ask your guest what favorite product brands or substitutions they prefer. There are a wide arrays of brands to choose from of non-dairy milk products and non-dairy butters on the market. We all have our favorites. Hidden dairy protein (caseinate) can be a real problem for anyone with a dairy protein allergy. Dairy is often found in some ‘non-dairy’ labeled coffee creamers and vegetarian soy cheese products. Don’t take a chance- read the ingredient list on the product label. Your guest will really appreciate you taking their food allergies or intolerance seriously. Your efforts to maintain safe foods will not go unnoticed.
4) Plan a simple menu
A traditional Thanksgiving dinner is actually one of the easiest holidays to make allergen or gluten-free. Turkey, ham, yams, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, cranberry sauce are all, in their basic forms, ‘top-8’ allergen-free. It’s the wheat based gravy, butter, milk, eggs, nuts and hidden soy in processed boxed stuffing’s, ready-to-bake breads and crusts, that make it challenging. So be careful, many turkey brands are also injected with additives that may contain wheat or soy oil so be sure to read the ingredients on the turkey. For a gluten-free verified turkey, check this list from my good friend Al Klapperich in Wisconsin, who is also a Gluten Intolerant Group leader: http://www.gigofecw.org/news/files/gf_turkey_2013.php
You can make mashed potatoes using a GF chicken or vegetable broth with a dairy-free butter substitute and no one will even noticed you skipped the milk. Earth balance and Spectrum both make dairy-free spreads and shortenings. Spectrum is also soy-free but Earth balance may contain soy- so again read the ingredient list.
Fresh or frozen, green beans, asparagus or salad make great side dishes. Rice is also an good choice with hundreds of options for combinations with vegetables (wild rice, brown, basmati, jasmine). Just be careful of the ready-to-heat pouched versions, many contain wheat, soy, egg and dairy. If your guest is severely allergic, please also pay close attention to the ‘allergen statements‘ on processed, packaged products. If it states: Made on equipment or in a facility with whatever your potential allergen: wheat, milk, soy, egg, nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, it’s best to pass on that particular brand. Better to be safe than sorry. Some people with a food sensitivity may be just fine with these kinds of risks, just ask.
For dessert, try fresh fruits, cut in chunks and a dairy-free chocolate fondue sauce in separate cups. If you are really ambitious there are many great recipes for dairy, soy, egg, and gluten-free pumpkin pie, just drop me a line and I’ll send you some of my favorite recipes.
5) And lastly, enjoy yourself and don’t focus on making your guest’s food intolerance the topic of discussion. They are there to enjoy your company. Discussing it may draw too much attention to something that could make them uncomfortable. Family members may find it easy to ridicule each other, and some may believe a food sensitivity or food allergy is not real. The gluten-free diet is not an option in those with celiac or gluten sensitivity and not all allergies are anaphylactic. The Holidays are a wonderful family time to share good times, with good friends and food is one of the many ways we show our love.
May your holidays be filled with love, joy and best of all safe, delicious foods.