Accommodating food allergies and preferences can sound like a daunting task when it's your year to host the big holiday party. Between cleaning the house, preparing guest rooms and cooking the main meal, planning for the festivities is often nothing short of stressful.
Before you start to panic about which dishes need to be peanut or gluten-free, consider these strategies to help ensure your guests are fed and happy on the big day:
Talk to each guest with an allergy
First and foremost, it's a good idea to get a list of all of your friends and family members who have food preferences and allergies, suggests Canadian Living. Reach out to each guest - or the parent of a young guest - to confirm the allergy and its severity. Your guests with allergies should be familiar enough with their condition that they take the necessary steps and precautions on their own. In some severe cases, the guest may even bring their own food to the celebration. For those guests who have food preferences, chatting with them will help you understand what they can and cannot eat.
Once you've compiled your master list, you can begin to create your menu.
Ask for recipe suggestions
Perhaps it's your first time cooking without dairy or you've yet to attempt baking a gluten-free pie. While experimenting with new recipes can be fun, it's likely you may run into a few hiccups on the first go. If you've exhausted your resources and can't stand to look at another vegan cookbook, the best thing to do is reach out to the guest with the allergy or food preference and ask for ideas. Chances are, he or she will be more than happy to share a favourite green bean casserole or pecan pie recipe.
Not only will your friend or family member feel special for contributing to the celebration, you can be rest assured that your appetizer, side dish or dessert is certified gluten or dairy-free.
Ensure safe preparation and practices
One of the most important parts of hosting a holiday party for attendees that have allergies is the food preparation. As Huffington Post Canada noted, it's crucial to remove any and all ingredients that a guest has a life-threatening allergy to. Common ingredients linked to severe allergies include nuts, soy, milk, eggs and shellfish. Before you start chopping, slicing or dicing, ensure your hands have been thoroughly washed. This goes for all countertops, pots, pans and serving utensils as well.
"Safe cooking practices are essential when hosting guests with allergies."
When it comes time to set the table, using name tags and labels can be very beneficial for all guests. If possible, seat similar food preferences at the same end of the table. This way, if there is one dish specifically for them, it requires less touching and passing from other guests. It can also be helpful to label each dish and highlight which ingredients it includes, especially if there are many guests. This is helpful if the gathering will be large and loud. Rather than shouting a list of ingredients all the way down the table, guests can see for themselves individually.
Have something for everyone
Just because you have vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free guests attending your holiday party, that does not mean that you have to make three of every dish. The important thing to remember is to have at least one dish at each course that each guest can dive into. Fruits and vegetables are key for appetizers as these are generally safe for most guests. Huffington Post Canada also suggests having a variety of soups. As many call for basic ingredients, it's easy to create them with allergies and food preferences in mind. Best of all, soups are something flavourful that you can make in advance, saving you time on the big day.
Salads are great because they can work as both a side dish and a main dish. A pasta salad or a rice and bean salad, for example, can serve as a substantial, hearty meal. All other side dishes such as veggies, potatoes and rice can easily be tweaked to accommodate the needs of your guests. Finally, leave dessert up to your friends and family members! By having each family bring one sweet treat, you'll have plenty of options for all food preferences.
Don't forget the sauces and condiments
When planning a holiday meal that includes guests with allergies, it can be easy to overlook the little extra things on the table such as toppings, condiments and sauces. The good news is that creating a dressing that omits an ingredient or two isn't that difficult. As the Food Network explains, you only need three ingredients to make a gravy that's gluten-free. Combine chicken stock, water and either arrowroot or cornstarch and you've got a tasty topping for those who can't enjoy gluten.
Consider non-food treats and fun
While the big Christmas feast may stand out as the highlight of the celebrations, there is more to the party than what is for dinner. One way to create safe fun for all is to ensure that there are other goodies that have nothing to do with eating. Consider crafting festive ornaments that can be brought out with the dessert, or setting up a family game of scrabble or charades. You can even find the supplies for a non-edible gingerbread house. As Little Bins for Little Hands suggests, take a drive around your town to admire all of the Christmas lights. Or, help the little ones create snowflakes from white coffee filters.
When the focus is taken off of the food, those with allergies will likely feel more comfortable. And you as the host can relax as well!