Handling Food Allergies Around the Holidays
The holidays, a time for family, food, and happiness-or at least it is supposed to be. To be honest, when you have food allergies, the holidays can be a huge reminder of your "otherness" because suddenly there are parties, sweet treats, and merriment all around that you can't participate in. Sometimes the people around you aren't as supportive as you would hope, which doesn't help. Hopefully some of these tips can help you get through this time of year with a little bit less stress.
1. At work, keep a few safe treats in your desk for emergency use.
There are lots of holidays parties, gatherings, and surprise treats in the breakroom this time of year. I have tried the approach of explaining my allergies to coworkers and hoping they pick out exactly what I said is safe, rather than leaving anything to personal interpretation. I'll save you the trouble-it doesn't work. It might work once or twice, but as soon as someone gets creative, things turn south. This is even more important for homemade items. People forget ingredients all the time, and cross contamination is typically rampant in home kitchens. Having some safe treats in your desk means you are prepared for last minute gatherings, and you don't have to stand around watching everyone else eat. It also helps you avoid the awkward, "Why don't you grab something?" every few minutes.
2. Have the conversation with your friends/family about your dietary needs BEFORE the holiday meal.
Whatever your level of comfort is regarding eating food someone else prepares, it is better to have the conversation before you show up at the holiday meal. The conversation may be awkward, but it is important to set expectations before hand. This can avoid fights on the day of the event, particularly in front of others. Sometimes you will be surprised how accommodating people can be, but they also can't be cautious and prepare if you show up without any pre-coordination.
3. Don't be afraid to bring your own food to an event.
The first time you have the conversation that you won't eat a family member's food, it can be tense. "What about my special recipe? Is my cooking not good enough? Do you not TRUST me?" I recommend re-framing the conversation around what dishes the person will be preparing so that you can make safe versions for yourself to bring. This will also help on the day of the event because your menu will match others guests so you feel less out of place. After the first time, this conversation gets easier, so don't give up if you have had poor experiences in the past.
4. Don't be afraid to say NO if you do not feel comfortable with the food safety situation.
We have all been there. Someone swears up and down that the food is safe, that they didn't put butter in, that they know what they are doing, etc. It is not worth getting yourself sick to make someone happy that you ate their cooking. If you were at a restaurant and the food came out clearly unsafe, you wouldn't eat it. Setting boundaries is completely fine with your family/friends as well. You may think you are trading the uncomfortable situation of bringing your own food by trusting the host. I don't recommend this approach, though, because if you arrive and there is no safe food, you now just have to sit hungry while everyone else eats. Even if the host is planning on making you safe food, bring a back up dish if you are worried. It will save the host the embarrassment/stress of you sitting hungry on their watch.
5. For a potluck event (or with the hostess gift you bring), make/bring a dish you know is safe for you!
This is my favorite piece of advice because it is probably the least difficult one to incorporate into your holiday plans. Most people will bring over a hostess gift for any meal, and obviously if it is explicitly a potluck. Why not take advantage of that fact and bring a safe item for you? You may end up helping another person at the event who has similar restrictions and now has more safe options.
The holidays are a fun, happy time, but they are not without stress. When you have food restrictions, holidays focused on large meals can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to not be able to fully participate. Planning ahead and having smart conversations with your friends and family can help lower that stress for everyone! Happy holidays everyone and stay safe!