Practicing Hospitality When Your Guests Have Food Allergies

Today we are going to tackle another question from a reader. Her question is highly relevant to me and I think many of you will find it relevant, too.

How can we safely practice hospitality when so many individuals have dietary restrictions due to food allergies and other health conditions?

Rosie in New Jersey asked the following:

“It seems that everyone today has food allergies and intolerances. How do you safely welcome these folks into your home for dinner?” 

The reason it seems like “everyone” has food allergies is because the number of individuals with food allergies has increased significantly. In recent years, about 5.1% of U.S. children had food allergies. A decade ago, only 3.4% of U.S. children had food allergies (source). The prevalence of celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that is often lumped with allergies, has also increased. About 1 in every 133 Americans has the disease (source).

My sister and her family are coming to visit over their spring break. I’ve given some thought to welcoming guests who have dietary restrictions because my sister’s youngest child has celiac disease and allergies to several foods. Here are some things I’ve learned while preparing for their visit.

Though it can be challenging, make the effort to welcome guests with dietary restrictions.

Moms of children with food allergies have told me previously that they and their children often feel isolated. When these children attend birthday parties and holiday celebrations, they are often unable to eat the foods that are served. Declining food can feel awkward and means that the children can’t partake of an important component of celebrations. Some children with very severe allergies even have to avoid certain settings due to the presence of allergens. Adults with food allergies can experience similar feelings of isolation.

Try your best to prepare suitable foods.

Ask your guest about the details of his or her dietary restrictions so you know what foods you need to avoid. Select dishes that are appropriate and then carefully read food labels to make sure you avoid the problematic ingredients (gluten in the case of celiac disease or allergens such as peanuts or soy in the case of food allergies). If you’re not sure about a particular recipe or ingredient, check with your guest! He or she likely won’t mind and will actually appreciate your efforts.

Recognize that you may not be able to safely feed some guests with dietary restrictions.

If a guest has celiac disease or a severe food allergy, then even trace amounts of the problematic substance can trigger a response. Even if you use clean dishes and equipment, sometimes cross-contamination can occur. Cutting boards and waffle irons, for example, can contain traces of problematic substances even after they’ve been cleaned. Because of the risk of cross-contamination, sometimes it is best to use one of the following approaches.

Invite your guest to bring a safe dish to share.

If cross-contamination is a concern or you’re uncertain if you can prepare a meal that is free of the problematic ingredient, then invite your guest to bring a dish or two to contribute to the meal. This may not be conventional when inviting a guest over for dinner, but it may be the best way to make sure there is safe food for your guest to eat.

Hospitality doesn’t have to involve food!

A lot of times we equate hospitality with having people over for dinner. Fortunately, hospitality is a much broader concept! You can have guests over without feeding them dinner. For example, you could host a pool party or a yard game party during the summer months and simply provide a variety of drinks for refreshment. Likewise, there’s no need to serve a meal if you invite your neighbors over to play board games or have a new friend over for Bible study.

I’m clearly not an expert on this topic, but some of you are. If you or one of your family members has dietary restrictions, then we need your input! Please share your suggestions in the comments section below.

Shared at the following link party:

Coffee and Conversation, Healthy Living, Think Tank Thursday, Shine Blog Hop, Funtastic Friday, Friday Frivolity, Small Victories Sunday, and Home and Garden Thursday.

Comments

  1. Great ideas! In addition to these, if I buy any packaged food, I keep the package in my kitchen for the guests to double check rather than throwing it away. That way the concerned parent can make double-sure that I didn’t miss any allergen, and I am also relieved of some of the responsibility of knowing everything about every possible ingredient that could have a trace of the allergen in it.

  2. I haven’t had the experience of inviting others over who have many food allergies (yet), but I think these are such helpful ideas! I think it’s also good that you mention how hospitality doesn’t have to involve food. Food is very important (which we see in the Gospels countless times), but I think it’s really easy to get overwhelmed at the thought of having others with bad allergies over, because we think that it has to be a meal. A game party with drinks or light snacks is a great idea! Or even just having others over for a cup of tea or coffee is a wonderful way to socialize without having to figure out dealing with tons of allergies.

    • Hi AnneMarie,
      I often have to remind myself that there are options other than meals. This isn’t just helpful when food allergies are involved, but when you are busy, on a tight budget, etc. Other types of get-togethers can be just as meaningful as a meal!

  3. My Son has allergies to some preservatives and dairy products that contain growth hormones. I always ask, what is being served when we are invited to eat somewhere. I explain that he has allergies and then I bring the ingredients that he would be allergic to and help prepare the meal. This has always worked out well. The people who we spend the most time with have learned how to cook for him from these experiences. It has also made them more aware of food allergies and how to recognize them.

    • Thanks for sharing about your experience, Melanie!
      Your “team work” approach to preparing the meal sounds like a great idea that benefits everyone.

  4. I’m in my 20s and just starting down the road of food allergies (dairy, in particular, which is in everything…). My tip would be just to not make a big deal out of it if someone has to turn down food, brings their own food to an event, or just doesn’t eat at an event. Like you said, turning down food feels awkward and I’m always afraid to hurt someone’s feeling or for someone to think I’m being rude. It makes things a lot easier if people just don’t make a big deal out of it and move on. Great article! Thanks for sharing!

    • Great points, Alyssa!
      In some cultures it is perceived as rude to decline food and hostesses from any culture may feel rejected if you don’t accept food. We must grow thicker skin, so to speak, so we can handle these situations well. Not making a big deal out of it is key!

  5. We have one child with multiple food allergies and it can be a challenge (and heartbreaking) to go places where she can’t eat what’s being served. She is always feels special when someone thinks of her and makes her something that she can eat.

    Next week we have a missionary family with different food allergies than our daughter and I am at a loss as to what to feed everyone for 3 days. It’s like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle 😉

    Love these tips!

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Ana,
      A jigsaw puzzle is a good way to describe it! I hope you find some meal ideas that work for everyone.

  6. Thanks Shannon! Love the tip on having your guests bring over a dish, we have done this before and it worked out beautifully! I think the biggest thing about hospitality is making sure everyone feels comfortable, and in order to do that, you have to be prepared. So don’t assume anything! Ask as many questions as you need to, including where they buy groceries, recipes, and don’t be afraid to try something new in order to accommodate!

    • Shannon says:

      “Don’t assume anything” is a great way to sum things up, Monique. Better safe than sorry, as the saying goes!

  7. There have been many cases when I’ve hosted a play date and invited Moms and Kids that have restrictions. It’s so great that all of the Mom’s ask what they can bring, and those with allergies are happy to bring something that they can enjoy. It gives us a chance to try something new too.

    Who knew gluten free banana muffins tasted so good?!

  8. A lot of great ideas.. Our grandson has just found that he has an allergy to fish. So many are allergic , I find and it does make it a bit complicated especially for the parents… xo

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Faye,
      It certainly does require parents to be extra vigilant. I hope that we can help relieve this burden a bit by offering to prepare suitable foods.

  9. My son is allergic to eggs and peanuts which means no cake and sometimes ice cream for him at birthday parties. So far I have had success with just bringing another snack for him to have while everyone else is eating their cake. Your advice to let others bring a dish, is great! When we go to other people’s homes I usually ask ahead of time what they plan to serve and then I usually bring a couple of things that my son can eat as well.

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Emily,
      Thanks for sharing this. It’s always good to know that this “potluck” approach works for parents of kids with food allergies.

  10. great post! hubby and i both have an odd allergy – onions (and anything in that family to include garlic) so eating at others homes can be tough since everyone adds onions and if they don’t chance are it’s in the prepared item. Thanks for sharing this from those of us with food allergies!

  11. This is a great topic, Shannon. I have a family member who has a severe food allergy and this can be tricky for friends who try to accommodate us. I love the idea of bringing along a allergy-safe meal to share.
    Thanks for the tips.

  12. Really interesting post! I’ve never really been in this situation yet; we usually go for the buffet approach when people are coming over, so they can pick and choose and it makes it a bit easier. It’s much harder when you’re actually making a meal, I think, because people can feel so obliged to eat. Thanks so much for sharing at #FridayFrivolity! x

    • Shannon says:

      Good point about feeling obligated to eat, Jess. The buffet or potluck approach makes this less of an issue.

  13. This has become so much more of an issue in recent years, so thanks for highlighting it and offering suggestions. I’ve started contacting the parents of my daughter’s friends to ask about allergies since they are by necessity experts on their children’s needs. I’m also finding that the more I cook from scratch using real food, the more easily I can work with the often-conflicting allergies. Thanks for sharing at the Healthy Living Link Party!
    Blessings, Leigh

    • Melanie says:

      I agree on the cooking from scratch. It makes such a difference.

      • I agree, Melanie and Leigh. Cooking from scratch with real food ingredients is the easiest way to prepare allergen-free foods. Just last week I needed to make a pasta salad that was free of milk and egg. It was easiest to prepare a dressing myself than to use one from a bottle because I could control exactly what went into it!

  14. I just stopped by to let you know I featured you at the Healthy Living Link Party. Thanks for linking up and I hope to see you again this week!
    Blessings, Leigh

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