Hosting a family dinner this holiday? There's a very good chance that a guest at your table will be allergic to something you're thinking of serving. Here's what you need to know about food allergies and how to be hospitable, no matter who you're hosting.
All about allergies:
Many recent studies suggest that food allergies are on the rise, especially in children. According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), the most common food allergens include peanuts and other tree nuts; milk, eggs, fish and shellfish; wheat and soy. For those who are afflicted, allergic reactions can range from mild to severe. The most serious reaction, anaphylaxis, causes constricted airways and swelling in the throat and can ultimately be fatal.
Facts & figures about food allergies:
- It's estimated that about 15 million Americans have food allergies
- Teenagers and young adults with food allergies are at the highest risk of dying from anaphylaxis
- It's possible to develop new food allergies in adulthood
- Food allergies are more common in boys than girls
- Fatal allergic reactions are more likely to happen outside the home
Food allergy vs. intolerance:
An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system has an abnormal response to a protein that is normally harmless. When someone has a food intolerance, eating that food may cause discomfort and even symptoms that mimic a true food allergy but they are not in danger of having a fatal reaction.
If you're cooking for someone with a food allergy, here's what you can do:
Inquire: Although somebody with a serious food allergy is likely to let you know, it doesn't hurt to ask guests whether they have any allergies you should be aware of, and let them know that you'll do your best to be accommodating.
Be low-key: The last thing somebody with an allergy wants is for you to make a big fuss about their special needs. Keep your voice low, stay casual, and don't announce their situation to others, loudly or otherwise.
Do what you can: A good host will make an effort to accommodate guests with food allergies or other dietary restrictions, but that doesn't mean you have to make a separate meal or do something beyond your means. If, for some reason, you can't accommodate your guest's needs, be honest about it.
Accept help: If a guest with an unusual requirement offers to bring something they'll be able to eat, say yes! Similarly, don't be afraid to delegate a dish or two if you're feeling overwhelmed.
Remember what it's all about: As wonderful as a holiday meal can be, it's not what's most important about gathering for the holidays. Focus on bringing your guests together and making them feel welcome and your menu will work out just fine.
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