Joanna Smyers
Healthy Living

Navigating Food Allergies During the Holiday Season

Dec 2 2022

There are two things people love doing during the holiday season: gathering and eating.

Unfortunately, mealtime can become a little tricky for those with food allergies. In fact, studies show that more than 20 percent of the world’s population suffers from a food allergy or intolerance. This can make things tough – whether you’re the one preparing a holiday meal or you’re the one showing up to a dinner that you didn’t prepare yourself.

“Holidays can be stressful, especially when going over to family members’ or friends’ homes for these large food gatherings where there may not be signage or awareness of your special diet needs,” Joanna Smyers, a registered dietitian in our Greenville market, explains.

Joanna believes communication is key to having a satisfying meal that’s also safe. So, if you’re hosting, make sure to ask your guests in advance if they have any special menu requests and start taking those into consideration at the store.

“When you’re purchasing foods, make sure you’re looking for those allergens on the ingredients list,” Joanna says, warning that research and preparation are important.

“One thing that can be a source of allergens that a lot of people don’t think about is vegetarian or vegan options. A lot of them are soy- or wheat-based, which can trigger a reaction to a soy allergy or gluten intolerance.”

Once you have all your groceries, preparation is the next step that can be tricky, as food allergens can transfer from surface to surface.

“Keeping foods separate as you’re cooking them and serving them is best practice, so use different utensils and cooking equipment,” Joanna shares. “You’ll want to change out your cutting board or completely clean it with soap and water between uses when you’re preparing these different dishes. Then, after they’re prepared, keeping them separate at the table with different serving spoons can really help with making sure those stay separate, too.”

If you think ahead, you can even have two versions of a dish to accommodate everyone.

“Something as simple as cranberry sauce with nuts can cause an anaphylactic reaction, so if you’re preparing cranberries – put a little aside before adding the nuts in to keep that completely separate.”

You can also make substitutions that will help make certain dishes more appetizing for those with special diet requirements. For instance, use chicken broth instead of cream or milk when blending up your mashed potatoes. That way, a guest who is lactose intolerant can still enjoy this holiday favorite.

“You can also have people bring their own dishes that they enjoy and know are free of any allergens,” Joanna suggests. “Or have them tell you which dishes or recipes they would be able to tolerate.”

There are also things you, as a guest with special dietary needs, can do to ensure the holiday feasts remain fun and safe. For instance, if you know you have severe food allergies, don’t forget to pack your Epi-pen just in case something does go wrong.

“It’s also important, especially if you’re traveling, to be aware of where the closest medical facilities might be to where you’re going,” Joanna advises.

Learn more about food allergies as well as allergy and immunology services we offer at Bon Secours. 

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