Cooking a holiday meal for a friend or family member with food allergies can be stressful—for them and for you. Recipes have to be adapted and ingredients swapped out. Any mistakes can have serious consequences—from skin rashes, to an itching mouth, to anaphylaxis. But there’s a lot you can do to protect the people you love while making a fabulous meal. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Understand the allergy
Talk to the individuals with food allergies to learn exactly what they are allergic to and how serious their allergy is. Find out if having an ingredient manufactured in a facility that also manufactures allergen-containing foods is a problem. Ask if the cooking process impacts their allergic reaction. The best way to protect someone is to be aware of the full scope of their food allergy and to adapt your recipes and processes to keep them safe.
Clean the cooking area thoroughly
Before you begin cooking, wash counters, cutting boards, pans, and utensils in hot soapy water to remove trace allergens. Thoroughly clean appliance parts that come in contact with food, too. Also, be sure to replace kitchen towels, kitchen rags, and bathroom hand towels with clean ones—all of these items could contain residual food allergens.
Make the entire meal safe
If possible, consider cooking an entirely allergen-free meal. For example, if someone is allergic to dairy, use coconut butter in all the dishes, not just a few. That way your guest will know that every dish is safe and you won’t have to worry about cross contamination. Many of the top eight allergens have easy substitutes. For example, real eggs can be replaced with flax seed eggs or a banana, and wheat flour can be swapped out for wheat-free, gluten-free flour.
Cook the allergen-free food first
If you can, prep the allergen-free food first, then store it in a sealed container at the top of the fridge. This way you don’t have to worry about accidently using a wrong ingredient or a utensil from another dish. If this isn’t possible, clear a special area in your kitchen where you can prep just the food that needs special consideration.
Watch the condiments
Don’t use any condiments that might have been exposed to an allergen. For example, a jelly jar can contain traces of peanut butter or gluten from bread crumbs.
Invite people to bring their own food
Some guests may feel more comfortable if they bring a meal that they know is safe for them. You can also ask guests to contribute an allergen-free dish to share.
Be prepared to share how food was cooked
Keep packaging so your guest can check ingredient lists for themselves, and be open to answering questions about how food was made. If your guest chooses not to eat something, don’t take it personally. An individual with a severe allergy can never be too careful, and your party is going to go a lot smoother if no one has an allergic reaction.
People with allergies often find that having to avoid certain foods encourages them to try different ingredients and recipes. In the end, they may prefer cauliflower crust to a bready crust, or almond butter to peanut butter. Many times, people with allergies have already perfected what swaps work best and are happy to let you in on their secrets.
Dr. Carrie Caruthers is an Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Department specialist at Vancouver Clinic. She cares for patients of all ages, working with them to create an individualized care plan that allows them to function without limitations.