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Partying with Food Allergies. Is that a thing?
Get togethers are a great way to see family, friends, and even meet new people…but food allergies can complicate them. If this is your first time hosting a friend with allergies or if you are a guest attending a gathering, don’t panic. There are some things you can do to have an enjoyable safe gathering with as few “bumps” as possible.
Whether you are a guest with allergies or the host of get together, there are a few things which can make the event enjoyable for everyone!
The first three tips are for guests and hosts. The rest are for those of us with food allergies as people ask why we might be eating foods different than what the host is offering. Are you ready? Let’t get to it!
1. Make Contact Ahead of Time.
Guest—As a guest with allergens I inform the host of my allergies ahead of time. This allows them to process how difficult it is for me to eat safely without having to wait on guests. They can ask me questions and they have time to listen to me without tending to other guests. We get any awkward questions out of the way ahead of time, in private, and they aren’t caught off guard! I can ask the host about what they plan to serve. I inform them I’ll bring a small cooler or food purse of safe foods for me. I certainly don’t expect them to revamp their whole menu. You might want to inform your host as to the severity of your allergies. If you could possibly need to take medication or use an epi-pen as a result of exposure, someone else at the gathering should know. If not your host, then a close friend or family member who can help you, should the need arise.
Host—In addition to preparing the space for the gathering, inviting everyone, coordinating food, setup, and clean up; individual dietary needs can seem impossible to accommodate. Some hosts will ask you to bring your own food so you’re sure to have a safe meal. Some hosts will offer to make a few safe foods, for example omitting an allergen from a recipe they plan to serve, and making it available on the side. You have time to ask your guest questions so you can plan for the gathering you were hoping for! When I host, I ask if foods will need to be labeled or put on a separate table depending on the severity of allergies. I tell my guests what I’ll provide and invite them to bring anything they might like to enjoy the day.
2. Make A Plan.
Guest—What is the host serving that you can enjoy safely? What can you bring to share with everyone? Are other guests bringing foods that will be safe for you? Will there be foods you cannot come into contact with? Will you bring a cooler with safe foods for you to enjoy separate from what you will share with the other guests? Will you be able to use your host’s fridge? When you pack your safe foods in your cooler or food bag, I use a food purse, include any medications or epi-pens you might need.
Host—What are you already planning to serve that will fit your guest’s dietary needs? Is another guest bringing a dish that will be safe for your guest(s) with allergens? Would you be willing to slightly alter a recipe to make it Allergen Friendly, maybe keep the cheese out of the salad or serve it beside the salad? Which foods should your guest avoid to enjoy the party safely? Do foods need to be labeled to ensure safety–this can be especially important if your guest requires use of an epi-pen if exposed.
3. Enjoy the Party
Guest—You know what you can enjoy ahead of time, and you know what you should avoid. You have your own food and some to share. Eating a few different foods than the other guests might surprise some, so I often prepare some one liners ahead of time. “I have food allergies, so I bring safe foods for me to enjoy during the party.” “Thank you so much, this pasta salad is as delicious as it looks. Would you like the recipe so you can try making it at home?” This helps me include others while not feeling bad about eating different foods, or feeling like I have to share my safe foods.
Host—You have prepared the space, you’ve prepared food, and now you can enjoy the party…as much as any host can. You know what your guests’ allergies are, you know what they’ll bring and if you can offer them fridge space. Every host should be able to sit and enjoy time with their guests without worrying. I hope you get at least a few minutes to enjoy the wonderful gathering you have prepared. You deserve it!
Nina’s Survival Strategies—
Here are some ways I make a gathering more enjoyable. These tips help me enjoy get togethers whether they are allergen friendly or not.
4. Don’t Go Alone
Every host wants their guests to enjoy the party and with multiple allergens its helps to have someone with you who won’t ask you questions about what you’re eating or why you’re eating it. They can discretely ask about ingredients in some of the food without you having to be on the spot and be an advocate if needed. My fiancé is amazing at this! If you are accidentally exposed to an allergen, you’ll have someone to help you follow the protocol you need to. Whether it’s a spouse, partner, best friend, or someone you can count on, a sidekick is a must!
5. Bring an Allergen Friendly Version of the Foods Your Host Will Serve.
If your host is serving something you absolutely can’t miss out on—in my case this is dessert—make sure to bring one you can enjoy. Watching people eat inspires a deep level of sadness…and a desire to cheat. I bring my “food purse” with safe foods for me. Let’s take Mary Poppins’ advice here, “Well begun, is half done.” Bring that dessert and any other foods that will make the party enjoyable for you. Your personal cooler, bag, or food purse isn’t an accessory, it’s essential! If you need recipes, I’ve got some for you! Click here for my desserts.
6. Bring Something To Share That Everyone Can Enjoy.
If your host is asking guests to bring something, bring something safe for you. There’s more to this than just having another safe item at the gathering. This is a gateway to talking about how you avoid allergens while enjoying delicious foods when someone asks. It will show people there’s nothing strange about it. (Maybe a nice allergen friendly pasta salad). When people taste my Chocolate Chip Cookies, they stop asking how I live without allergens and they start asking for the recipe. Feel free to bring the cookies and share the recipe!
7. Don’t Minimize.
Missing out on amazing foods is hard! Avoiding allergens as people tell you, “You’re lucky you can’t eat this, you’ll stay thin.” Or “I guess it’s easy to plan what you eat. Just a lot of salad” Having safe foods you can enjoy helps a lot. Telling yourself you don’t need those foods, or that you’re better off only goes so far. It’s normal to feel sadness or even despair about missing out.
8.Know Who to Engage and Who to Avoid!
There’s a reason I tell people I cook with Unicorn Farts as my secret Allergen Friendly Ingredient! It’s confusing and disarming. Once they laugh, I can calmly tell them about why I eat the way I do. Avoid the person who is intent on singling you out for your dietary needs. Be firm if you need to. When all else fails, excuse yourself to go gather Unicorn Farts.
9. Decide What Information You’re Going to Share Ahead of Time.
You may want to tell people only about the foods you avoid and those you enjoy; instead of explaining the reasons you are avoiding / enjoying them, or you may not want to get into it at all. This is private medical information, and you don’t have to share it. If someone asks, you can tell them there are so many more enjoyable topics to discuss…I usually go back to talking about the Unicorn Farts here. They either laugh or go find someone else to bother.
10. Do More Than Eat!
So much effort goes into preparing the food for a gathering, we often focus on it more than we should. Enjoying a nice walk around the area, meeting a new person, learning to do something new are all things that can take the focus off food. Play a game, admire the scenery, talk to people. If you aren’t having a good time, consider whether or not you should stay.
11. Have An Exit Strategy.
Sometimes things don’t go well and it’s better to leave. When this happens a quick exit is the best exit. I usually bring the dish that I share in what I call my “I don’t care dishware.” These are dishes I can afford to lose, a trip to dollar tree and $5 will set me up for the season! If I need to leave earlier than planned I can grab my food purse, my other belongings and head out quickly. It’s okay to leave without saying goodbye to everyone!
I hope these tips are help you manage get togethers and food allergies. Food is more delicious when we enjoy it together because the company of those we share our meals with adds dimension and richness that no seasoning can match!
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