LIMA — The Thanksgiving spread, appetizers for the holiday party, feeding relatives for a week, a dish for the work carry-in. Food over the holidays requires significant planning. Now add in a diabetic uncle, the son’s new girlfriend who’s vegan, cousins with a wheat allergy and lactose intolerant co-workers. What’s a holiday cook to do, to keep up with food needs and keep everyone safe?
Formal and informal, two-way communication is key, area dietitians said.
“Communication is so important,” said Julie Russell, a dietitian with Blanchard Valley Hospital in Bluffton. “There’s no easy solution. It takes work and effort to know what is in food.”
That communication works both ways, Lima Memorial Health System dietitian Kayla Monfort said.
Someone hosting a meal and preparing food can ask in formal (special requests on a party RSVP card) and informal (a phone conversation with a family member) ways about food requirements. Guests also need not be shy about their needs, making a condition known or asking about specific ingredients in a dish.
Doing so avoids miscommunicating or weirdness, Monfort said.
“That way, no one is thinking, ‘Why didn’t they eat that?’ or asking, ‘Why wasn’t there anything for me to eat here?’” Monfort said.
Russell and Monfort both suggest people with allergies or intolerances offer to bring a dish, provide a recipe or help plan a menu, if appropriate. Hosts and cooks can also label food, especially with multiple things set out at a large party. A simple “gluten-free” card, or “shrimp dip,” is helpful to people who have to be careful about what they consume.
Federal law identifies the eight most common allergenic foods that account for 90 percent of food allergic reactions, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The eight are: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.
Starting Jan. 1, 2006, federal law mandated labeling food source names of all ingredients that are or derived from those eight most common allergens. Learn more about labeling at www.fda.gov and follow links first to food, then ingredients, packaging and labeling.
Reading labels can be time consuming and confusing, but it’s the only way to know what’s in something, Russell said. If you’re hosting, ask for help with labels from your guest who is most likely used to label reading. Label readers also know that they must check the package each time they buy a product, because manufacturers change recipes.
Russell offers another solution: Cut down on processed food.
“You can think lunch meat is just turkey, but there are preservatives, food colorings, all kinds of things you may not think about. If it’s in a package, you have to look,” Russell said. “Something that helps is to serve less processed food, which is probably healthier anyway. If you have a bag of carrots, you know you have carrots, and that’s it.”
The other issue for hosts and cooks to be aware of is cross-contamination among utensils, cutting boards, pans and serving ware. Think about what gets prepared in a restaurant kitchen, or using a spoon that had given a nut topping a stir before you used it to mix cake batter — and all of a sudden your nut-free cake with nuts on the side has nuts in it, too.
The issue comes into play with people with severe allergies or people with increased sensitivities.
While some people have a medical diagnosis of an allergy, others are choosing to abstain from certain foods for personal or other health reasons. For example, someone may have celiac disease, a serious condition resulting from a wheat allergy, or they may just choose to limit their gluten.
Doctors and dietitians are leaning a great deal about the gluten-free diet, Monfort said. People with a whole range of issues, including irritable bowl syndrome and other gastro-intestinal problems, are finding a gluten-free diet helps them feel better, Monfort said.
Monfort said it’s important to respect and honor a guest’s wishes, no matter where the issue falls on a spectrum, and to maintain that good communication.
“You want a person to feel welcome, and not shunned,” Monfort said. “You want them to be able to participate in the celebration.”