I recently invited a group of friends over for a casual get-together at my house, and no get-together is complete without food. I love having the opportunity to share food (and my love of food) with friends. However, for this party my decisions as to what food to make didn’t hinge just on what groceries were on sale or which recipes were my favorites. Some of the guests I invited have multiple food allergies. When providing food for people with allergies, you can employ to make eating safe and enjoyable for everyone involved. The easiest strategies would be (1) not to invite those friends; or (2) to fix whatever you feel like, forcing them starve or risk a reaction. However, in the interest of kindness and friendship, I recommend a few other strategies that require only a little more effort:
People with food allergies are used to dealing with their specific needs but are not used to other people caring about them. Far from feeling embarrassed by your asking what foods they can and cannot have, most likely they will feel honored that you care enough to consider their needs. (A caveat on this: often children do feel embarrassed that they are “different” in their food needs, so I’d advise asking a parent/guardian about food restrictions, if possible.) Whenever I’m inviting someone over or taking food to someone new, I simply ask, “Are there any food allergies or strong dislikes that I should be aware of?” It’s short and simple, but it provides them a non-awkward open door to share their needs.
2. Clean and separate
Make sure that at every stage of preparation and presentation, allergen-free foods remain allergen-free. Clean counter tops and appliances before preparing these foods. Use separate measuring cups, knives, cutting boards, etc. for allergen-free foods. If placing food on a buffet, try to place safe foods where crumbs or pieces of allergens won’t fall or spill into them. (For example, if a guest has a milk allergy, place the cheese in front of the bowl of chili so that shreds won’t fall into the pot while people are serving themselves.)
3. Keep it simple
You don’t have to make elaborate dishes designed to be allergen-free. Find “normal” foods that already fit the bill. For my party, I had a bowl of cubed pineapple and a raw vegetable tray. They’re recognizable foods enjoyed equally by both those with allergies and those with none.
4. Identify allergens and safe foods
Clearly yet unobtrusively indicate which foods contain allergens or do not. I decided to use serving dishes as my means of communication: All allergen-free foods were served in/on blue dishes while allergen-containing foods were in glass dishes. Get creative in how you want to mark foods: If you want to label dishes, use different colored papers or even denote “contains eggs” underneath the food’s name; or place allergen-free foods all on one side of the centerpiece, allergen-containing foods on the other. Then, when your guests arrive, you simply have to tell them your “code” and they can enjoy the food without having to come ask you a question before taking each bit of food.
5. Divide responsibilities
Instead of trying to create an entire allergen-free meal or buffet, why not make it a potluck so that those with allergies can bring their own safe foods? Do your best to provide some safe foods, as well, and they will have at least a handful of foods they can enjoy without fear.
Perhaps not all your friends can have their cake and eat it, too, but with some concern and foresight on your part, you all can have your fellowship and eat something, too.