If you’ve ever had serious allergies, you know how daunting it can be to even consider accepting an invitation to dinner. From what I can gather from my friends… Inviting someone with allergies to eat food you’ve made is almost worse. That said… I have a few ideas on how to make it less stressful for everyone. Hope it helps!
One idea: Bring your own meal!
Having food allergies can be an incredibly isolating adventure, especially as almost every social occasion involves food. But we are built for community.
As a host: Make it less awkward by clearly letting them know that they may bring their own food, if they feel more comfortable.
As a guest, I like to try and make something similar to what the host was planning. Especially when children are in attendance, I’d rather not be the cause of a “I WANT EAT THAT” tantrum… Besides which, it makes me less likely to throw such a tantrum myself! Sometimes it’s microwaveable, or I bring dehydrated food, or if the neighbours just invited me for BBQ I’ll bring a self contained foil packet. Doesn’t quite taste the same but it’s safe & hot!
Another option: Cooking safely
The trick to creating a safe meal for someone with allergies is to avoid cross-contamination. Allergies are when the body recognizes a food protein as a dangerous substance. For very serious allergies, it doesn’t matter the amount- even a microscopic amount could trigger a reaction.
So, if you’re planning on cooking for an allergic guest, be sure to ask whether traces would be ok. Some allergies are only to the raw ingredient, as well, so find out as much as you can about the allergens you need to avoid. Assume the worst if you’re unsure.
Start by putting the allergens away and then wash everything you want to use for cooking: counters, stovetop, utensils, microwave handles, dishes- and especially your hands. THOROUGHLY. Don’t trust the dishwasher, and if it’s something like a sieve that can’t be easily cleaned, don’t use it. Or ask to borrow one from your guest.
Then you’ll want to gather the ingredients. Unless you have been very careful not to dip utensils back into things… If it’s already open, consider it contaminated. Butter, spreads, jams are great examples of this. Even ice cream can easily get contaminated by whatever is in the cone. Some of my most allergy concious hosts have told me they just buy all the ingredients they need fresh- including spices that they might have dipped a teaspoon into. For mild allergies that would be overkill, but ask your guest! They would probably be willing to bring some safe ingredients from home and help with the cooking- I know I would probably insist on helping to be sure everything stays safe!
As an allergic guest, I’m always careful to ask my hosts for the recipe and the ingredients before I eat. I usually ask them to save the ingredient list from packaging, or to take a photo with their phone.
Hosts: If you know all the allergens your guest needs to avoid, read the ingredient list on EVERYTHING. Be wary of blanket terms like “spices” or “natural flavours” as a lot can fit in those caregories. Spices are notorious for additives like wheat (as filler) and sulphites (anti-clumping).
But save the lists of ingredients anyways- many of us allergic guests are highly appreciative of being able to double check ingredients. For me, it’s because I know I have poisoned myself by missing something before… So I know that even the most cautious host could miss something. We’re all human, right?
Planning for the worst case scenario
First off- If you’ve just invited me to dinner, and I accepted: I trust you! I know you’ll do what you can to avoid my allergens. That said, I don’t trust my body. It keeps on reacting to new things!!!
Let’s be cautiously optimistic. If i do react, we can hope it’ll be mild. But, we can be ready for something serious. The most serious outcomes are ones that involve breathing problems (ie coughing fits, throat closing) or blood pressure dropping rapidly.
In either case, I appreciate being told if I’m getting blotchy (sometimes I’m ignoring it) so that I can decide what to do next. If I am unable to make such a decision… For example if I’m curled up in a ball and answering “maybe” to all queries of “are you ok?” Then that’s the time to tell me what to do. My brain doesn’t think well during serious reactions. Coach me to take the epi, count down, or give it to me yourself if I’m shaking, unconscious, or otherwise unable to do so. Afterwards (or during), call 911. Tell them I have a history of serious allergic reactions and that you think I’m having one. After epi, I will probably feel better almost immediately- but I will still need to go & hang out at a hospital. You are not obliged to come, but I do appreciate company if you would like to.
Any questions? Ask! Breathe deeply: I love that you’re making an effort, and I trust that God will take care of me no matter the outcome.