Ah, the joys of entertaining: theme selections, menu decisions, decorating elements…with it comes the pleasure in creating an ambiance for your guests that will not only compliment the menu and occasion, but also show your care and consideration for their tastes. I've yet to host a get together, even the most casual, that didn't take at least a few hours of preparation.
It can get even more complicated when one of your guests has a food allergy or limitation. How on earth do you prepare food for someone who can’t have soy, corn, dairy, and/or gluten? And if they have an allergy that could lead to a severe anaphylactic response, it is of utmost importance that special care be taken. If you are or will be faced with the task, here are some basic steps to take to make the event your hosting a success for everyone.
Ask questions. People with food allergies are used to the way they must eat and are often experts on the topic. Not to mention, they usually enjoy instructing others in the finer elements of making a gluten free meal, for example. So if it is someone you are close with – such as a family member or friend – don’t hesitate to ask how you might best prepare food to ensure his or her health. They may ask you not to bother, that they will bring their own dinner. If so, trust that they have their reasons. Some people are extremely sensitive, and they recognize that no one can be as careful or as knowledgeable about their condition as they are.
Keep it simple. While you may wish to make a special dish that involves a complex recipe, say, dairy-free macaroni and cheese or gluten-free bread, when cooking for a specific allergy for the first time, stick with the basics that don’t need to be altered, like basic meat or fish dishes with a side of vegetables. If serving appetizers that require bread for dipping and you are having a gluten free guest, gluten-free crackers or corn chips are easily purchased at almost any grocery store.
Separate everything. For those who are sensitive, it’s imperative that foods be kept separate. For example, if someone has a corn allergy, make sure any corn products are kept in a separate bowl, away from the vegetable tray. I once attended a function where the hostess had gone out of her way to purchase a fruit tray so I could partake in the refreshments, only to unload a container of cookies into the middle of the fruit, getting crumbs all over the fruit. For someone who has celiac disease and cannot eat even a crumb of gluten without an immediate reaction, this made it impossible for me to eat the fruit. When in doubt, put things is separate containers, and keep the offending items off to the side, so guests have easy access, but cannot drag crumbs over other foods. Also, use serving spoons in dips and spreads, so your guests will not use a crust of bread or the edge of a corn chip to dig out their serving, thus contaminating the dish for the allergic.
Be detailed. Keep the labels from ingredients and make sure you check each and every label for the offending food issue. Allow your guest with the allergy to review the labels to be sure the foods are safe. Few people guess that soy sauce has wheat in it, or that chocolate bars can contain soy. Some folks with food allergies are hyper sensitive, and cannot eat foods made on the same grill or pan as the offending food.
Don’t get offended. Despite your best efforts, the allergenic may fear eating your creations. Whether they worry you weren't careful enough, or are simply in the habit of avoidance, try not to take offense. For some of us, we've gotten ill despite the best intentions of our loved ones, and we are a bit shy to try anything. Because food allergies often affect digestion directly, your guest may be currently battling a digestive ailment, and simply not be up to risking any further illness.
Be honest. If you aren't up to preparing foods for a food allergy, or quite honestly, don’t have the time – they can be a bit complicated – don’t hesitate to tell your guest before the event. While I appreciate the effort friends make to ensure a gluten free option for me, I also know it may be more than they can offer. In the event that you can’t provide a specially made meal, but still want to offer something, check with local restaurants or caterers if they can provide a meal for your guests. Often, that is the easiest way to be sensitive, while still allowing for the other preparations you need to complete.
Preparing for a get together can be fun – and at times, stressful. When a guest joining you has a food allergy, it can complicate the situation. But using the above suggestions should help get you started down the right path to having a successful event. If you need some additional thoughts, here’s a great article by the Gluten-Free Girl about cooking for a gluten free guest, and this could be applied to almost any food allergy issue.
What tips do you have to share that have worked for your get-togethers?