Holiday hosting is a big job that can be stressful — cleaning the house, making sure you have enough seating, planning the menu, braving the grocery store chaos, and, of course, cooking. Throw a guest or two with food restrictions into the equation, and you can almost feel your hair turning gray!
Though the holidays are a time for indulgence, this isn’t so easy for those with food allergies or intolerances. These guests aren’t trying to be difficult, nor are they just glorified picky eaters. While food intolerances aren’t potentially life-threatening like food allergies are, they can still cause a tremendous amount of physical discomfort and gastrointestinal distress, and nothing kills the holiday spirit like a stomachache.
So it’s important to consider guests with special dietary needs when planning menus for your holiday shindigs, however big or small. And, with just a little preparation and creativity, you can accommodate guests with dietary restrictions while completing your hosting duties with your sanity intact!
When inviting guests to your festivities, ask them to inform you of any dietary restrictions. They’ll be grateful you did, and knowing this information ahead of time will allow you to properly prepare.
Some of the most common food allergens are dairy, gluten, eggs, nuts, soy, and shellfish. A guest with restrictions will most likely mention one or two of these. But if they respond with a seemingly endless list of restrictions, take a deep breath. You’re a holiday host, not a personal chef who can cater to one person’s every need, especially someone on the more extreme end of the spectrum. Nightshade intolerances? Low-FODMAP diets? It’s perfectly fine to respond by politely saying, “I’m sorry, but I can’t accommodate this many restrictions. I will, however, make sure the main course and two sides are prepared so you can enjoy them. And please feel free to bring your own appetizer, sides, and dessert should you like! Thank you for understanding.” Far more often than not, they’ll understand and be thankful for your consideration.
If you’re planning a potluck-style party, perfect! Guests with intolerances can bring a dish suited to their needs. Let them know to do so when you’re assigning appetizers, sides, and desserts to guests.
The Difference Between Allergies and Intolerances
Both food allergies and food intolerances seem to be on the rise. While only 2 to 5 percent of Americans have a true food allergy, 15 to 20 percent suffer from a food intolerance. But what’s the difference between the two?
Food allergies are triggered when your immune system misidentifies a particular protein within a food as harmful, to which it responds with fast-acting immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. As a result, symptoms of food allergies usually present themselves quickly and seriously — they can even be life-threatening, as in the case of anaphylaxis. This is why so many individuals with food allergies carry an EpiPen, a potentially lifesaving treatment.
Food intolerances, on the other hand, are typically digestive rather than immune-driven. Causes range from an absence of specific digestive enzymes in the body (as in lactose intolerance) to a sensitivity to food additives (such as sulfites). Reactions may be delayed, but usually present as gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, heartburn, headaches, or inflammatory skin issues. While not as life-threatening as true food allergies, food intolerances are uncomfortable and may significantly impair quality of life.
Substitutes for Common Food Allergens
Even if you’re hosting a potluck dinner, you’ll want to be sure your guests have multiple food options to enjoy. Most recipes can be made allergy-friendly by simply using substitutes in place of the most common food allergens: dairy, gluten, eggs, nuts, soy, and shellfish.
Again, not every appetizer, entrée, side dish, and dessert needs to accommodate your guests with dietary restrictions. But aim to have at least one of each to offer these guests, and preferably two side dish options that are edible for everyone.
Most grocery stores have sections dedicated to specialty diets and food allergies where you can likely find the alternative ingredients listed below. If your local store doesn’t carry these items, not to worry! You can easily purchase them online through websites such as Vitacost, Thrive Market, iHerb, and even Amazon.
- Coconut oil for high-heat cooking and baking (Refined coconut oil has almost no taste, while unrefined coconut oil retains a coconut flavor.)
- Avocado oil for medium- to high-heat cooking and baking
- Olive oil for low- to medium-heat cooking and dressings
- Coconut, almond, cashew, or soy milk
Heavy Cream Substitute:
- Full-fat canned coconut milk
Whipped Cream Substitute:
- Whipped coconut cream using full-fat canned coconut milk
- A gluten-free flour blend designed to replace wheat flour in a 1-to-1 ratio (Only use flour alternatives in well-tested recipes that call for gluten-free flours, such as almond flour, coconut flour, oat flour, and others.)
- Ground flaxseed (Whisk 1 tablespoon finely ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons water until it becomes gelatinous. This mixture can be used to replace 1 egg.)
Appetizers without Common Food Allergens
An allergy-friendly Yule log, pumpkin roll, or green bean casserole? If the challenge excites you, go for it! Otherwise, feel free to keep your allergy-friendly options simple (in other words, stress-free).
Simple, Allergy-Friendly Appetizers:
- Green salad with a dairy-free dressing option and other additions that
suit the needs of your guests with restrictions. (Offer ingredients such as croutons, nuts, and cheese on the side for guests without food restrictions.)
- Gluten-free crackers to accompany dips and cheeses.
Simple, Allergy-Friendly Side Dishes:
- Steamed, roasted, or baked vegetables prepared with a
dairy-free fat, salt, and spices
- Dairy-Free Mashed Potatoes Recipe
Simple, Allergy-Friendly Desserts:
- Whipped coconut cream with fresh fruit
- Pie with a gluten-free crust
- Dairy-free ice cream
You can find easy-to-make, allergy-friendly recipes by following the links below:
- Allergy-Friendly Pumpkin Pie Chia Pudding Recipe
- Allergy-Friendly Whipped Coconut Cream Recipe
- Allergy-Friendly Corn Muffins Recipe
- Allergy-Friendly Mashed Potatoes Recipe
Nadia Neumann is a nutritional therapy practitioner, author, and founder of Body Unburdened, where she helps readers adopt a holistically healthy lifestyle rooted in real food, natural beauty, and a healthy home by making it as simple as can be.