The Etiquette of Food Allergies

etiquette of food allergies, entertaining tips, etiquette

With the rise of so many food allergies, entertaining at home can be scary or overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. So today I am sharing my thoughts about the etiquette of food allergies as well as some encouragement for those who may feel insecure about hosting people in their homes.

I think it’s sad that my generation does not entertain in their homes as much as past generations. I think there are several reasons for this: the pressure to create a Pinterest-worthy table and the rise of the “foodie” who may expect to be treated to something akin to a Top Chef’s creation being some of them.

But entertaining graciously doesn’t have to consider either of those things. I truly believe it is about the company and conversation. Last weekend, for example, I entertained 18 people in our small house. I was worried it was going to be too tight and people were going to jet out early due to the claustrophobia – but that was far from the case! Just about everyone stayed late into the night, enjoying each other’s company. The bottom line: once we get over our insecurities about entertaining, we are usually blessed by serving and loving others in this way.

Now, another issue that may scare us from entertaining in our homes (but shouldn’t!) is food allergies, particularly when you are unsure about them. So I’ve detailed a few tips for both the host and guest when it comes to dealing graciously with this issue:

For the hostess:

  • If you know one of your guests has allergies reach out to him/her beforehand and see how you can help. In most cases, it’s not too difficult to set aside some salad before you dress it or not marinate a steak before you cook it.
  • If you don’t know your guests well, you may consider putting “Please advise of any dietary restrictions” or something similar on the bottom of the invitation or email.
  • If you are unable to accommodate the guest, hopefully he/she will offer to bring his own meal (see below). As a last resort you can always pick up a meal at an approved restaurant – or have it delivered – earlier in the day and just reheat before dinner.
  • And this is not necessary, but when people can’t enjoy dessert I like to buy a special treat for the guest just to make them feel loved. Central Market and Whole Foods type stores have individual gluten-free cupcakes (or sugar-free if someone is diabetic).  In the freezer section of most major grocery stores, they have gluten-free (and other allergy friendly) cakes  and cookies that are easy to serve!

For the guest:

  • First and foremost, take it upon yourself to make it easy on the people who invited you.
  • Reach out to the hostess at least a week before the party to inquire about the menu and to make sure they don’t count you in their food count. You may think your friend knows you can’t eat a particular food, but she may not. Showing up at the party and realizing you (or your child) are unable to eat the meal may make the hostess feel bad (and there may not be anything for you to eat!)
  • At the same time, if you cannot eat what is being served, offer to bring your food or food to supplement. Don’t expect special accommodations, but be grateful if they offer! For children’s parties, bring a treat for your child to enjoy if he/she can’t have birthday cake.
  • My sweet friend, Lindsey, gave this great advice: “At dinner parties we all just want to relax and feel part of the group so if I have to bring my own food, I try to find something that fits in with the meal and is more discreet.”

A word on diets of choice (rather than diets due to health factors): If we want to lessen the stress of entertaining in our homes,  we cannot expect hosts to accommodate every trendy health kick, diet, or cleanse. If you are on strict eating regimen by choice, I would say eat what you can on the plate and definitely don’t draw attention to why you choose not to eat something. (Comments about why bread is terrible for you may make the person sitting next to you, who just downed four dinner rolls, feel a little sheepish!) If you are worried about being hungry, either eat a little something beforehand or just decline altogether. Remember, being gracious is about putting others first and you never want to offend the person who kindly invited you into their home.

Any tips you’d like to add? Tell me in the comments below. And please share this post on Facebook if you think this was helpful!

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10 thoughts on “The Etiquette of Food Allergies

  1. Lee, can you share tips on entertaining in a small home? We love to have to have people over but I always worry about numbers and how to seat people, etc. LOVE your blog!!!!

    1. Yes! I need to do a post on that – thanks for the idea! I typically rent a table or two if I’m having a seated dinner. It’s not very expensive to do that and I just borrow chairs or rent a few extra if I don’t have enough. This time I used my dining room table (8-10 people) and rented a 60″ round (8-10) and put them both in my dining room. Even though it was tight I think people like being all in the same room. I also like to entertain in the spring/early summer when we can sit outside and have more room to spread out. I’ll think of some more tips and wrote a post!

    1. Well my husband cooked this Supper Club and he made very traditional fare: homemade French onion soup, beef tenderloin, pork tenderloin, twice baked potatoes, and an amazing Gorgonzola salad. He cut off a piece of the tenderloin for my friend before he marinated it and we set aside some salad for her without cheese and she brought her own dressing.

  2. Great post, Lee! As a mother of a child with a severe peanut allergy, I just want to know she is safe and having fun when she gets together with her friends. A quick phone call before a party or play date puts everyone at ease! I am always happy to pack my daughter a lunch or bring her a special treat so she doesn’t feel left out when the cake is served. However, quite honestly, kids with food allergies tend to toughen up early and realize they can’t have every treat their friends offer them. I like to think of this as character building 🙂 Thanks for reminding us of another way we can love those around us well!

  3. Great post Lee! Love how Lisa commented that it’s just another way to love those around us well! As someone with food allergies, I appreciate this post and how to handle it graciously from both sides! It can be an awkward thing to navigate!

  4. What a great post, Lee! As someone that is gluten-free, I always try to give a heads up to the hostess (even if she is a friend) in case she isn’t aware, and never make a big deal about it if I can’t eat something.
    My friend recently made me my very own mini gluten free key lime pie for a dinner party we had, because she had made regular key lime pie for everyone else. It was so kind of her to go through the extra trouble, and the gesture made me feel included and cared for. Thanks for the tips from both sides, as we will probably all find ourselves in either one or both of these positions at some point!

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