For many of us Christmas is a time to indulge, eat lots of food and drink more than usual, imbibing lots of Christmas spirit!
However, when, like me, you live with allergies or food intolerance, instead of a time of celebration, Christmas can become a time of anxiety.
When everyone else is looking forward to visiting family and friends, eating out for staff Christmas parties, and general get-togethers with people you haven’t seen for an age… you are probably hating to keep making excuses not to attend, because the thought of being near food that can be a life-threatening danger scares you.
Or the thought that if you do attend you’ll be seen as a ‘pain’ or ‘fussy’ or be subject to humiliating stares or comments.
Often people prepare buffets at Christmas too, which is one of the riskiest options for eating out. The chance of food contamination is so much higher.
7 Tips for eating out at Christmas when you have allergies like me.
Here are some ideas to help you plan safe eating at Christmas-time.
1. If you are eating at a restaurant, contact them before hand to ask about the ingredients included in the menu, to find out if any of them are problematic foods for you. Don’t forget to ask about drinks too – some have allergens in them.
2. Ask about their preparation space, and if they use different utensils to prepare allergen-free meals.
3. Ask about cross contamination in terms of food servings… are foods kept separately, and again, are different utensils used?
Eating at Friends:
4. When eating at friends’ houses, give them a list of the foods you can and can’t eat, and talk to them about food preparation, in terms of contamination. Considering the same points as above.
5. If they are to serve a buffet, ask for you to be able to be served first, to avoid other foods mixing with yours.
6. Take some colourful paper cups with your name written on to use for drinks, so no one else drinks from it. People get confused after a couple of glasses, and often pick up the wrong glass. The last thing you need is for someone else to drink from your glass, when they have just eaten nuts!
7. Be aware of drinks too, because many of the seasonal drinks are flavoured or spiced and can include, pine nuts (beers), almonds (some gins), milk in cream liquors and gluten in beers and spirits.
8. If you are really worried – take your own food. Stay for the social interaction and that’s it. However in my case I’d still have to ask for nuts to be excluded from the party as I’m at risk even from airborne allergens.
7 Tips for preparing a Christmas meal for someone with allergies
This year, when hopefully we will all be together, people will probably be so pleased, they will go all out to cater for family and friends, cooking and baking a Christmas storm! Don’t forget your friends and family who can’t eat everything you can!
1. Check if any of your visitors have food allergies or intolerances well in advance – giving you time to either re-think your menu, or add special editions.
2. Once you know someone is joining you for a meal, and they have allergies, make a list of foods and ingredients they are can and are unable to eat. Ask about any alternative names they may appear as on food labels and packaging.
3. Check all of the labels of any packaged, tinned or bottled food you use in your food dishes to ensure they’re not included.
4. Ensure there is no cross-contamination in preparation and serving of food. Make sure separate utensils are used for allergen-free foods.
5. Shop for allergen-free alternative ingredients.
6. Stick labels on dishes (making sure they are not easily removed), so people know what is in them.
7. Be aware of the severity of some people’s reaction to nuts – a common Christmas ingredient (also often used in vegan roasts), and also a traditional food. For some people, me included, I can suffer a dramatic reaction just being near someone else eating nuts.
8. In fact it may be easier to simply have an allergen free meal for everyone to minimise any risks!
Have a festive eating-safe Christmas!