Surviving Holiday Meals with Food Allergies and Special Diets

The holiday season is officially in full swing! Thanksgiving is tomorrow and it only unravels from there. Hanukkah is superbly early this year (starts Dec 2), so we basically have an entire month of dinner parties and potluck type meals ahead of us. Are you ready?

I try and stay calm about the whole communal eating thing for as long as possible, but the day(s) leading up to a big holiday meal at someone else’s home can be a bit unnerving. Unfortunately, as much as someone thinks they understand a dairy allergy, things like cutting into a dairy product or dish with a utensil and then using that same utensil to stir the what was a non-dairy dish happens on the regular. Cross-contamination, if the cook isn’t used to cooking for those with allergies is severely common. Corn and gluten also tend to hide in all kinds of spice packets and sauces that are commonly used to speed up the cooking process on holidays // make the food taste better.

So what’s an allergy queen // king to do, you ask?

My tips for surviving holiday meals and dinner parties with food allergies:

  1. RELAX. The mind body connection is real. The more you stress, the more inflamed your system will become even if the food ends up being 100% okay. Plus the fact that the whole point is to enjoy yourself and your company.

  2. Contact the host a week prior. This ensures they haven’t gone grocery shopping yet and can still be flexible. Find out what’s on the menu, collaborate on some dishes that could work for you (ex: my sister makes a dairy-free turkey and a dairy turkey so I have a main dish to build my plate on). Offer to bring a side or two that suits your diet that you think others will love.

  3. Share your food! People are often intrigued to see a different dish at the buffet line up. It’s also a great conversation started and makes things less awkward. It gives you the chance to explain why your plate may look a little more sparse (or more colorful!!) than everyone else’s at the table.

  4. Hit the buffet (if there is one) before everyone else or work with whomever is cooking to make your plate before everyone is invited to serve themselves. People are messy, especially after a drink or two. Gravy gets everywhere, utensils are used in multiple dishes, it basically turns into an allergic body’s worst nightmare. Grab your food before any of that happens.

  5. Bring a tupp! I do this ALL the time. It may feel funny the first few times you do it, but you get over it. I do this when I’m not able to contact the host before hand (ie: if it’s a friend of a friends dinner party or something thrown together last minute or thrown by a third party) or if after I’ve talked to the host, I don’t feel like there is anything I’ll be able to eat without being stressed. The most important thing you can do is feel comfortable about what you’re putting in your body. You won’t offend anyone if you explain the situation and how it makes you feel (that said, you have to use your voice and make this known!).

  6. Eat before and after the event. The worst thing anyone can do is show up to a holiday meal starving, that’s a recipe for disaster. If it’s a light-bite cocktail type event, I personally just don’t eat. I’ll eat a meal before, have a drink with everyone there, and make sure I have a snack waiting for me when I return home. Again, you can’t care what people are thinking — you need to be in charge of your own body and do what’s best for it.

I hope these tips are helpful!

I chatted with my sister on the phone yesterday and initially got a pang of stress. After years of dealing with this, having food conversations and standing up for my body can STILL be unnerving and that’s totally normal. The thing is, no one wants you to get sick — but they also can’t read your brain. Even after going to my sisters house for Thanksgiving for 4+ years, I still remind her and quiz her about what’s going on the turkey, to make sure it’s carved with a different knife if they’re also making a butter laden turkey, and to go over veggie side options to make sure I have enough to eat.

The whole point is to deal with // manage the stress around food before you get there so once you’re there you can be present with friends and family and actually ENJOY the holiday and the meal.

If you’re wondering about dessert, to be honest, most of the time I skip it and have chocolate upon leaving the dinner or event. In the case of thanksgiving though, I bring 2 pints of Vixen Kitchen Paleo Gelato (they sell it at Whole Foods in the Bay Area) — one in pumpkin (it literally tastes like pumpkin pie) and one in vanilla. The combo of the two is such a treat and it also gives everyone else an upgraded dessert option should they want it!

Wishing you the loveliest Thanksgiving weekend!