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Tips for Hosting a Food-Allergy Friendly Thanksgiving

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For many families, Thanksgiving is the one day – or weekend – each year to all come together, catch up, and eat to your heart’s content. For people or families that need to manage food allergies, though, Thanksgiving can be a pretty stressful time.

More than 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies, according to numbers from the Mayo Clinic and the U.S. Census Bureau, and these 8 ingredients — milk, wheat, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish — are responsible for the majority of allergic reactions each year.

Thanksgiving Roadtrip

We’ll be driving the 1,400 mile round-trip to take our twin 17-month-old boys to visit my mom’s side of the family for the first time.

Max is badly allergic to peanuts. Our hosts for the family gathering freaked out a bit about what to serve, and what others could eat and still play with Max. I think from those conversations with my mom and her cousins, I can suggest these general tips for hosts. And from our end, we’ve notified the host, gotten Max a child-size medical ID bracelet from Hope Paige as a conversation starter – the blue “Cars” one, and we’ll be with him at all times to ask family to wash their hands after snacking or eating before playing with him.

Advice for the party planner

  • Make sure you know, or ask, about everyone’s allergies. Sometimes people who have problems with gluten are also sensitive to soy or dairy, for example. If there is a question, clear the ingredients with your guests while you’re meal planning, and before buying and cooking.
  • Use separate and clean dishes and utensils for the dishes you are making specifically allergen-free. Cross-contamination is a real hazard.
  • Make sure to check the labels on all of your ingredients. For instance, spice packets, mixes, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, et al., can have gluten, food starch (code for wheat or soy), or be processed in a facility with nuts.
  • Make sure your susceptible guests know what dishes they should mark as off limits.
  • If you aren’t 100% sure a dish is safe, say so. Don’t guess.
  • At Thanksgiving, at least with our family, it’s courtesy to try everything. But, if there’s a special side dish made just to accommodate a special guest’s diet, let everyone know about the plan. No one wants to be the jerk who ate someone else’s stuffing.
  • If you aren’t allergic to rice or corn, there are a lot of readily available pre-made gluten free ingredients like piecrusts that will make your day easier.
  • Gravy and other sauces can be made gluten-free by thickening with potato starch or arrowroot instead of normal flour. Since Thanksgiving staples like potatoes and sweet potatoes are usually safe, you can adapt many recipes like stuffing and gravy, rather than rethinking the entire meal.
  • Did you know that some manufacturers inject gluten into the birds during processing? Fresh turkeys are usually safe, but make sure you read the ingredients or check with the company before your pick up this year’s bird.
  • All gluten-free flours are free of wheat, but the reverse is not always the case. Substitutes like potato flour and almond meal can be great replacements, but if you go with a ground-nut flour, make sure you are careful about changing baking dishes in case of nut-allergies.


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About Brian P. Russell

Brian Russell lives in University of Florida's Gator Country. He enjoys exploring new places and learning new things, plus sharing what he's found with others. Turnoffs include double spaces after periods and emails with unneeded CCs. He plays H-O-R-S-E at 3 p.m. EST every weekday at 352 Media Group.
  • Judy

    How about showing appreciation for the accommodations non-allergic hosts make to keep people safe.
    Do you feel that every single dish has to be allergy friendly or is it acceptable to have some dishes that those with allergies can eat?

  • Brian Russell

    Judy, You’re absolutely right about showing appreciation to the host. I don’t think every dish has to be allergy friendly. Sometimes grandma’s recipe doesn’t taste as good when there’s a substitution.

    One of the unfortunate truths of living with food allergies is that some things are off limits. Another truth for families of people with food allergies is that sometimes accommodations must be made. In there is a balance to be found.

    As a host, let any special guests know what’s off the menu for them, or let everyone know if there’s a special dish made just to accommodate a food allergy.

  • Meredith

    Great article, Brian. Your points are great. We also wrote a similar article which touches a bit on Judy’s point too — perhaps the host can make a few allergy-friendly dishes or we allergic can bring our own dishes in cute tupperware. If you’re so inclined, here’s our guide to mastering Thanksgiving with food allergies.