Ways to accommodate guests with food allergies

  • Guests with food allergies may require some meal preparation creativity around the holidays. Dreamstime

Chicago Tribune
Published: 11/12/2018 10:17:27 AM

Two kids with food allergies have required Eric Katzman to become creative about holiday meals. Those allergies also have required his extended family to be accommodating as well. The key to keeping the cook from becoming frazzled by too many special requests is to plan ahead, says Katzman, a public relations consultant.

Not using dairy in mashed potatoes, for instance. "We find that oil mixed with some onions in the potatoes forms a sort of casserole that my wife's family calls mashed potato pie," he says.

Chef Brian Schreiber faced the same challenge a few holidays ago when the family Thanksgiving dinner grew larger with the inclusion of his stepmother's family. The first step, he says, is to ask your invited guests about any food allergies. "Food allergies can develop over time, and you may be surprised to learn that even those close to you developed a new allergy over the years," Schreiber says.

The second step is to write out your menu. Try not to think too much on the allergies at that point. Instead, incorporate some of your family's traditional dishes, but don't be afraid to add some new ones as well.

Step three, Schreiber says, is breaking down the dishes "to the bare bones." Long a tradition at the holiday meal table, his father's sausage dressing is made traditionally, but with some set aside without the sausage to accommodate a few members of his extended family who are kosher.

"Lastly, when all else fails, remember that the holidays are about family and sharing. If there is a particular dish that's requested but would require a lot of modifications, don't be afraid to ask your guest to bring the dish themselves to share."

Etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer of Austin, Texas, agrees. To keep the host cook from burning out, guests with special needs can best prepare parts of their meals in their own allergen-free kitchens. However, some easy substitutions can also be made in your own kitchen. Try modifying favorite recipes with almond milk rather than dairy, rice flour instead of wheat flour, or an egg substitute. "It may also be wise to ask ahead of time whether anyone has a severe contact allergy and whether you should take steps to prevent cross-contamination," adds Schweitzer. "If there's someone who suffers anaphylactic shock from food particles alone, take this into account during your food preparation and meal planning beforehand."

It's a good idea to prepare allergy-friendly foods at a separate time to minimize the risk of cross-contact, says Toby Amidor, author of "The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook." She says "preparing for guests with food allergies doesn't mean you need to prepare more food or special dishes. But, you may need to do a little extra homework."

The holidays are a time of inclusion, but no one with food allergies expects anyone to bend over backward for him or her, nor should a host feel like she has to, says certified nutrition coach Jenny Finke, founder of Good for You Gluten Free. "You can now find delicious recipes that are free of some or all or the top eight food allergies," says Amidor, a registered dietitian. Many traditional holiday foods are naturally gluten-free and vegan, says Kerry Clifford, a registered Chicago dietitian for Fresh Thyme Farmers Market.

Specifically, fruits and vegetables such as white potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, corn, cranberry sauce and green beans would fit into most diets, she says. "One tip to easily satisfy someone following a specific diet would be to separate items before you add things to them like butter, sugar or salt," she says. "Someone following a gluten-free diet may also avoid bread products or even gravy or beverages that contain wheat, barley or rye."

Ingredient substitutions are fairly easy to make, according to Schreiber. Milk substitutes: Soy milk, rice milk, almond milk.

Substitutes for cream and/or butter: Margarine, soy yogurt.

Substitutes for eggs: One packet of gelatin and two tablespoons of warm water.

Substitutes for nuts: Any type of seed, dry cereals, sunflower or soy nut butter.

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