Take the 'Guess' Out of Guests with Food Allergies
What's better than an invitation to the next greatest party? Planning and hosting one! But what if one of your guests has food allergies or Celiac Disease? What do you do? How do you plan? What do you serve?
Many good hosts make the mistake of wanting to surprise a food allergic (or Celiac) individual. They want to provide safe, suitable, fun party food to the one person they know is always left out. Don't make this mistake.
When planning a party, if you know that one of the guests has dietary restrictions, contact them. Find out what they are actively avoiding and whether or not they are comfortable allowing you to provide them food. Don't let your feelings get hurt if they prefer to bring their own edibles. Think of it this way, it takes the pressure off of you! Ask if there are any specific brands to look for when it comes to individual drinks (boxed juices, sodas, water); they know what is safe or how to direct you to find out.
If they aren't comfortable with you providing the food, it's still polite to consider them when planning the menu. Some allergies are airborne as well as ingested. Flour in the air, peanut fumes, and spilled milk are all potentials for disaster that you, as host, can help prevent. Don't serve nuts if a nut allergy will be in the room, scoop ice cream and spray whipped cream in a separate room, and don't plan on using flour or flouring surfaces while guests are around. (Who would flour a bread board with guests in the room? Some people do...) Be aware of crumbs and the potential for them. Set up a buffet instead of passing dishes around (but let the allergic individual get first dibs) or serve from the kitchen.
If they are comfortable with you providing the food...well, then just be communicative. Don't use any wooden spoons, and remember to double check all in ingredients (including the non-stick spray you automatically reach for every day) Be careful about cross contamination. Cross contamination is what happens when otherwise harmless crumbs find their way into food that wouldn't have otherwise had an allergen in it. Your peanut butter often has bread crumbs, as does the margarine tub, and the jelly jar has traces of peanut butter and bread crumbs. Since it's easy for condiments to accidentally get cross contaminated, use new ones when cooking for someone with food allergies. Keep all containers for them to double check, and let them be served first or serve themselves first at the buffet. All spoons and serving ladles should be kept with their individual dishes, again, to prevent cross contamination. And if bread is served that isn't safe for the one with a food restriction (be it allergy or Celiac Disease), set the loaf or slices or rolls at the end of the serving station. That way crumbs will be traveling away from the rest of the dishes.
When dealing with food allergies, the little details like crumbs and serving spoons become vitally important. Which is why so many food allergy families and folks with Celiac tend to shy away from food-centric events.
When food restrictions are involved, it's easy to focus on the food. After all, that's the problematic element, isn't it?
The thing is, parties aren't all about the food. As a society we tend to place a little too much emphasis on our taste buds. A party is a chance to socialize. It's a chance to meet and greet new people or to reconnect with old friends. It's not just a food fest. (well, it's not supposed to be anyway!)
Concentrate on decorations, and ice breaker games (grown ups may not care much for games where everyone gets involved, but kids love to pin the tail on the donkey, go on scavenger hunts, or participate in dance contests. They love crafts, too.) Set out photobooks for birthday guests to peruse, or an anniversary album if it's an anniversary party. Put on a game like "Scene It" to keep guests engaged if the conversation lulls. Get creative. Even if not everyone participates, they enjoy watching.
Parties are about having fun, and they can happen anywhere. Consider a 'bring your own lunch' picnic, or go for a hike at the local nature preserve. Get together at a park, providing a soccer ball and a volleyball equipment. Hang balloons. The point is to enjoy each other's company, not to eat.
And don't be offended if the allergic individual creates their own timeframe...they may come late, leave early or both. Accept it as it is, especially if it's someone recently diagnosed. There's also always the risk that they won't show up. Don't take that personally, either. Food allergic families are just as prone to colds and flus as any other family. And they may find the social scene a little more intimidating than the average family. So if they flake on you, chalk it up to a practice run and enjoy the rest of your guests.
When (and if) your food-allergic guest arrives, invite them into the kitchen to double check your preparations. I f they brought food, keep it covered and put it away until meal time. Then leave the rest up to them. They may want to discuss every aspect of allergies and cross examine you about every aspect of your kitchen from sponge to dishwasher, or pretend that allergies don't exist and they're on a new diet. Having any sort of food restrictions feels awkward any way you work it, don't take it personally. Remember that they are the ones actually dealing with the allergy, you're just hosting it for the night. Whatever works for them, as the hostess your job is simply to make your guest comfortable by following their lead. And if you aren't sure you're making them comfortable...ask! That's the best was to skip the guesswork.