Holiday celebrations mean family, fun, and food. Especially food! But navigating the buffet table is scary when you or your loved ones have food allergies or sensitivities. Here at The Good Grocer we and our staff have dealt with this issue for years – in fact, it’s one of the reasons we started our business!
Obviously, the easiest way to avoid allergens is to prepare every meal yourself! But this isn’t feasible and everyone loves to gift with food. Try these tips that we’ve learned to ease the food allergy issues during the holidays and check out the alternative ingredients options at the end of this article.
[FYI: we offer a full range of vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free snack boxes that make great gifts for everyone in your family! Check out the selection here.]
Be a vocal advocate! Out of necessity, you are the expert in in this area and your friends and family look to you for knowledge. They’re not accustomed to looking for ingredients and may not be aware how serious the reaction could be. They will make assumptions that could be deadly. How many times have you heard this kind of phrase: “Well, I didn’t put milk in it, so it’s safe.” ? Be patient but firm and tell them clearly exactly what NOT to include and how to look for it on packaging. (Bonus: they will gain a new appreciation for what you go through at the grocery store!)
Set some ground rules. People not familiar with cooking around allergies also may not realize how easy it is to cross-contaminate foods. For instance, serving with the same utensil at a buffet means that every dish is potentially contaminated. It’s okay to ask that no allergy-inducing foods are served (or present) while you or your child is at dinner. This can be hard to ask for but it’s all part of being an “allergy advocate” – it will get easier with time.
Educate and guide. Along with advocacy, you will have to give some shopping and cooking advice. People don’t realize that much of what we buy in the store is potentially cross-contamination or has hidden ingredients used as filler or binder. Your friends will recognize cheese, butter, or milk as a dairy ingredient but will they also know that casein, caseinates, lactose, and whey are just as bad? Similarly, folks must be taught to read every label, every time. Even if you’ve bought the same thing a dozen times, this time around it could be manufactured in a different facility with different contaminants.
Offer alternatives. Luckily, it’s become much easier to substitute ingredients for dairy or soy products and labeling has improved so the cook can always see what’s in each package. Share with them the ingredients you’ve found that work in old family recipes and give them info on where you’ve found those ingredients in your community. (See the substitution list below.)
Pitch in. The best way to sidestep the biggest issues is to offer to bring that dish yourself. Then you’ll know it’s safe and your extended family can sample a dish made with food allergies in mind. They’ll be pleasantly surprised and more likely to try your new ingredients the next time around.
Make bigger changes. Switching to whole, fresh, organic, and unprocessed foods often eliminates the worry of allergens. And this diet base is much healthier for everyone! Encourage your family to swap out processed foods for healthier alternatives.
We’re thinking of you all during the holidays!
Dairy and Soy Replacements (that are also high is calcium and protein)
Rice or nut milk, if fortified with calcium
Coconut milk yogurt
Goat milk products (check first, some people who are lactose-intolerant can eat goat milk or goat cheese)
Dark, leafy greens: broccoli, kale, parsley, spinach, and kale (high in calcium)
Dried Beans: chickpeas, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans (a good source of both calcium and protein)
Canned salmon with bones: high in calcium and protein but also a good source of Vitamin B12, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and a source of natural Vitamin D. Choose wild-caught salmon when possible.
Almonds, sesame seeds, chia seeds: high in calcium, protein but also fiber and vitamins and minerals
Quinoa: high in protein but also a good source of magnesium, iron, fiber, and manganese.
Other nuts and seeds: high in protein and fiber