Going the extra mile to please everyone on your list, whether is knowing what gifts to buy or planning a menu that everyone can get on board with, is no easy task. And if you are multitasker, like everyone is nowadays, balancing food preferences, allergies, and food intolerances with the latest dietary trends, well, that’s just the icing on the cake. Because we feel you, we created a list of things that can help you navigate the holidays with the confidence of a worry-free table.
- Hosting at home is always the easier choice because you have complete autonomy of what to serve and how it’s cooked. Naturally it comes with the challenge of knowing your audience well, and educating the other cooks in the group, on what they can or can’t bring, if you have picky eaters, or a guest that needs to follow a gluten free meal plan, or one that is allergic to dairy, eggs, nuts or any other food allergen. With that said, including family favorites is also important, even if it’s not for everyone, in that case, make sure to avoid cross contamination of food allergens and label the foods so people will know what’s in them.
- Cooking from scratch is always the better choice, although not the easier one, but without a doubt the most rewarding. Not only will it give you absolute control of the ingredients you use, and by that, I mean leaving the food allergens out and replacing them with a consensus of accepted ingredients, but you get to showcase your cooking skills proudly. You might even find that you saved money because you can use the extra ingredients later with other meals. And that’s not all, with processed foods now on top of the list of foods to avoid, your homemade meal qualifies for the whole, unprocessed highly though out label.
- Swapping made easy. Yes, this one is a tricky one. I’ve had my fair share of misses through the years with dry, coarse corn muffins that could’ve been eaten to scrape tonsil stones out, or bland, unpalatable stuffing that could only be described as untouched food, but practice makes perfect, and today I’m the queen of the Thanksgivings stuffing. You can modify family recipes by cutting back on fat, oils, salt or sugar by substituting for other ingredients. For example: eggs can be replaced by flax or chia seeds, sugar with applesauce, dairy milk for nondairy beverages, and wheat for gluten free grains such as oats, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, quinoa, corn or sorghum.
- When in doubt, read the label, but just to be safe, do it regardless. Sometimes foods can be contaminated with food allergens during harvest or processing. Oats is a perfect example of that. Although a naturally gluten-free food, many oat products in the market may contain trace amounts of gluten. For kids with celiac disease, the smallest particle of gluten can trigger the release of antibodies which can result in damage to the small intestine interfering with the nutrients children need to grow and thrive. Lactose for lactose intolerant people can spell trouble within minutes and turn your bathroom into the most visited spot during the holiday celebration.
- Spotless, germfree, hygienic is not about obsessive-compulsive behaviors but it’s common sense. Frequent handwashing is above all, an act of love for everyone, but more so when dealing with food sensitivities and food allergies. Cross contamination can be as subtle as cracking a raw egg open and making a sandwich next with unwashed hands, or chopping fresh vegetables after cutting up a raw piece of chicken on the same board, or using the same turner to flip a fish fillet and a veggie burger, or cooking a nondairy meal in the same unwashed pot of a creamy dairy-based soup. Foodborne illnesses are no fun and can be life threatening for some people. Cross contamination can be avoided by thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water, and utensils, equipment, and work surfaces with hot soapy water before and after they come in contact with any food.
Hosting at home doesn’t come without challenges but the good news is that with a good plan and strategy you can navigate the holidays beautifully, and help create memories for years to come. Hopefully your children will follow on your steps, and create unforgettable and safe holidays for everyone on their list, too.