The holiday season is upon us. It is the time of year for family gatherings, parties, and celebrations that only come once a year. The season of giving should be care free and stress free…or at least it should be if you are not the host of the party!
When I ask a patient what is the most enjoyable thing about their holiday, the one thing that I unfailingly hear is the food. A holiday is based on traditions, and traditions that are passed down from generation to generation 99% of the time have to deal with food.
Thanksgiving is upon is. It is a day filled with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and various other traditions that stem from past generations. The experience of the holiday is the sharing of these foods. What was left out of that story is a difficulty that today’s world deals with more often than in the past, the forgotten difficulty of food allergies.
To reveal a truth, each year as the holiday season approaches, while everyone was getting prepared and excited to consume all of these holiday foods, take out the stretchy pants, and try a little bit of all the different pies on the table, I was filled with bitterness. At the time, I was recently diagnosed with food allergies to gluten, nuts, and dairy…three things that were in almost EVERY dish.
Each holiday always went the same. Family members noticed I wasn’t eating, and would feel guilty and try to give me foods they thought did not contain those three allergens. When I asked what they made the foods with, I discovered the allergens were within these foods. Then they would ask what would happen if I did consume them, and I would have to provide every gruesome detail. This made me dread the holiday season.
As the years went on, family members tried to cater to my needs so I would feel included. They would make a gluten free dish, a dessert that tasted like cardboard that I had to eat because it was made for me, mashed potatoes without the milk, and really tried to cater to my needs. However, I would never fail to get sick, most likely due to cross contamination upon cooking with the same utensils.
The holidays seemed to be a never ending trap of reminding me what I was restricted from, or that I could never just choose a dish without asking how it was prepared, what exactly was in it, and a dictionary of every morsel of ingredient. By the time I found out from the host, my food would be ice cold!
It took years to learn these simple steps to overcoming (and enjoying) the holidays with food allergies. My hope is that someone stumbles upon this gem to learn what I wish I knew the past few years. Here are the tricks I picked up to enjoying the holidays!
- Be the host. Volunteer to host at your house so you are in control of the majority of the foods. If you are the one doing the cooking, you know that you used the spoon only for the mashed potatoes, and the tongs only for the turkey while cooking. This will reduce potential allergen risks that are not always identifiable during the holidays.
- Prepare a few dishes to bring to the feast ALONG with the utensil for them. This is a fool proof way to have a balanced meal, while reducing the risk for cross contamination (and you will appear to be an AWESOME guest!)
- Always try a recipe before the day of the holiday. Even though gluten free, dairy free, and nut free recipes can be listed as “delicious” online, more often than not autocorrect must have stepped in and thought “tasteless” meant “delicious”. Always prepare a test batch and serve them to your most honest friends that aren’t afraid to reveal the truth. Foods that lack gluten have a VERY different composition, so different substitutes might be needed.
- Always use digestive enzymes. Whenever I go out to eat or choose to eat something out of the ordinary, I always take a couple of digestive enzymes before the meal to give me a little extra gut power! There is ALWAYS a risk of cross contamination, or just foods that your body is not used to digesting when someone else prepares the food. This will help alleviate any uncomfortable or embarrassing side effects from the food…which can make our holidays a drag as well!
- Don’t be afraid to communicate. Although it may feel embarrassing and you may feel like a burden to the host, always remember: you are your own advocate. Avoiding the questions and details is NEVER worth getting sick over the holidays. You deserve an enjoyable, tasty holiday just as much as anyone else does.
Do you need recipe ideas that have already been tried and taste tested by a valuable (and honest) source? Do you need further tips, or need a professional who actually understands what you are going through? Do you just need an ear to listen?
Call 609-738-3143 today to schedule an appointment with one of our dietitians. Spots are limited, secure your time today!
Michele Wroblewski, RDN
Caruso Physical Therapy and Nutrition, LLC
1278 Yardville Allentown Rd. Suite 3
Allentown, NJ 08501