Do Not Be Afraid of Food Allergies When Taking a Meal
Taking a meal to someone with a food allergy can be extremely intimidating. We have two children with peanut and tree nut allergies, so I'm used to being careful about ingredients. With that said, I still find it challenging to prepare a meal for a family with a different allergy from ours. The first time I was invited to take a meal to our friend with Celiac disease, I opted for a gift card to her favorite restaurant because I wasn't confident enough to prepare a meal.
In many ways, friends with food allergies are even more appreciative of meals because they know cooking for them can be a little challenging. Don't let the list below intimidate you. The intent is to equip you to take your meal with confidence.
As a family with food allergies, here are some tips I've learned along the way:
1. Go with a basic menu.
This one tip will make taking an allergy-friendly meal so much simpler. Think of whole foods that go well together and then evaluate each one against the known allergies. A great starter meal would be baked chicken, a vegetable, rice and a fruit dessert. You can get more complicated over time, but this first step will make the rest of the preparation much easier.
2. Make sure your kitchen tools and ingredients aren't cross contaminated.
When you aren't dealing with food allergies in your own home, you might tap off your measuring cup after scooping out some flour and return it to the drawer. You also might use that same measuring cup to scoop out some sugar. These shortcuts are not bad for your family, but you'll want to keep this in mind if you are making a meal for a family that cannot have gluten. Washing your kitchen tools or buying a small bag of new ingredients will keep the family safe.
Another consideration is thinking about where you might be double dipping ingredients. My children cannot eat jelly sandwiches (instead of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) when they are visiting friends because families without allergies will sometimes use the same knife for peanut butter and jelly. Again, no one is doing anything wrong, but think about the ingredients you are using in your recipes to make sure this isn't an issue.
If in doubt, use newly purchased ingredients.
3. Read the ingredient list on all items used in your recipes.
When planning your meal, be sure to read the ingredients on EVERYTHING that will be used for the meal. Also, let the receiving family know what brands/ingredients you used in case you miss an allergen. Maureen, who is very familiar with food allergies and maintains our site's recipe section, recommends sending along your recipe as well, so the recipient can double check everything. Items like salad dressings and barbecue sauce may surprise you with what they contain. If your recipe calls for an ingredient that contains multiple ingredients, read the label just in case. I was surprised to learn that most soy sauce contains gluten and almost accidentally used it in a friend's meal.
4. Send a meal that everyone can eat unless the family specifies.
If someone in the family has a food allergy, I typically send a meal where that person can enjoy all of the dishes. This limits any chance of cross contamination as well. In some cases, the recipient will insist on not accommodating the allergy and in that case I respect her wishes. Otherwise, I take a meal that everyone can enjoy together.
5. Use new containers.
I often will transport my meals in disposable dishes that I can leave with the family. Sometimes, a friend will return a disposable dish and I'll reuse it. In the case of taking an allergy-friendly meal, I always use new dishes and containers for transporting the meal. This way, I know that there wasn't anything served in the dish that may contain the allergen.
6. Check out our RECIPE SECTION.
On our site, we have a FABULOUS recipe section that is broken down by specific allergens. Maureen, who is our well-deserved, yet informal, food allergy expert, has collected and tested all of these recipes for us. If you are looking for recipes that will suit some common food allergies, you can find them on our site.
7. Give a restaurant gift card.
If you are intimidated for any reason about preparing an allergy-friendly meal, don't hesitate to show your kindness in another way. Ask the recipient where their family loves to eat and offer to pick up carry out for them or mail a gift card with an encouraging note.
8. Don't get offended.
This tip might seems a little odd, but sometimes when cooking for someone with allergies, it can seem like the person is being picky. This is not the case at all! I dread when I have to ask a fellow school mom about the ingredients in her cupcakes to know if my child can eat one. For the most part, people are understanding, but it can feel like I'm being difficult or judging the cupcakes (or the mom). For some with food allergies, it really is a matter of life of death. For others, it is days of feeling sick. The consequences are severe and the person would never chose to have the allergy.
Also, don't get offended if the person declines your offer for a meal. Some people have allergies that are so severe that it's just not worth the risk. Again, this isn't rudeness, but protection.
Like I wrote at the beginning, it's possible to take an allergy-friendly meal with ease as long as you keep the above tips in mind. These individuals and families in particular are especially appreciative of your effort because they know it takes some thought. So, if you decide to take on the challenge of taking an allergy-friendly meal, you will be spreading a little extra kindness.
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