In Nutrition

Whether your best friend is gluten free, your cousin has a dairy allergy, or you are avoiding sugar, holidays aren’t as simple as they used to be. We all know someone (or are someone) with specific dietary needs. Now, more than ever, people are aware of their food sensitivities and typically want to get through a special occasion without pain or repercussion.

Through allergy testing, elimination diets, or self experimentation, people know foods that work for them, and foods that don’t. It’s time to really trust and believe loved ones when they say they cannot eat gluten, dairy, sugar, or other specific foods. They either have to avoid certain items to stay alive (more rare, but extremely important, obviously), avoid food for allergic reactions, to avoid pain, to heal autoimmune disease or other disease, to reduce anxiety, and to improve health. This doesn’t have to change during the holidays, and all of these reasons are worthy of our respect.

We took an informal poll on Facebook, and the consensus among people with food exceptions is pretty linear- no one expected a holiday host to do anything special for them. That’s right- you are totally off the hook- you don’t have to do anything! Your loved ones are most likely going to eat before coming over, come over expecting to eat very little, or may even eat with you and just deal with the repercussions.

But, I know you want to make the holidays inclusive. You want people to leave feeling well fed and well loved. You trust and believe them, but perhaps don’t know where to start. How do you support someone with something you may not be very familiar with? Here are some simple action items to help you help your guests this holiday season:


Make the holidays inclusive. You want people to leave feeling well fed and well loved.


Ask for specifics.

This is not expected, but very much appreciated. You’ll get some handy key words to help point out foods they will want to avoid. “The mashed potatoes have dairy in them” or, “Do you want (insert kid’s name) to eat the turkey? It was cooked in peanut oil”, are all families are really looking for. You may even get them to send a list of what they can and can’t eat before you decide what you will make.


Have ingredients or packages handy.

This goes above and beyond, and your friends and family will absolutely appreciate this gesture. Where turkey is gluten free by nature, the brine, additives, and seasoning we use, may not be. Someone who needs to avoid gluten will appreciate having these details.



A helpful way to support someone is to simply snap some pictures of labels, seasonings, and ingredients for them in advance, or put the label or package aside for them to check out. Disclose everything that you can, and don’t assume that you completely understand what they’re looking for. You may not know that paprika and cayenne are nightshades, but someone who has to avoid nightshades will know…



Put aside food before adding sauces or seasonings.

Some items are easy to let dinner guests assemble, such as salads. Even kids and adults that don’t deal with food sensitivities may appreciate the blue cheese dressing or spiced pecans on the side

Erica H. goes above and beyond when it comes to putting food aside. “For my family, we have some that can’t eat certain things. When I know I’m preparing for them I will sometimes do a smaller dish with the things omitted for them or if it’s a pot of veggies or something I will dish them some out before I add the ingredients they can’t have. It takes a couple of seconds of my day to make sure they can have an enjoyable meal with me”



Let them bring a dish to share.

You may end up loving it and wanting the recipe! At the very least, there is definitely something that they can eat available to them. I can’t think of anyone with an allergy or intolerance that would oppose bringing a dish to share.

“It’s wonderfully nice when there is something my kids can eat (especially dessert), but if I know ahead of time, I can bring something for them.”
— Chelsea S.


Don’t take it personally.

I think that this is the biggest thing we can do to set the tone of not only an event, but our relationship with someone who has specific dietary needs.  Someone’s food allergy, sensitivity, or elimination is not a personal attack against you, or your family’s timeless recipe, I promise. Erin C. said that she “would never refuse foods if I didn’t know how yucky I would feel for weeks after eating them.” Your guest doesn’t want to step on your toes and they don’t want to offend you, but they may have physical repercussions from something that others don’t have to think twice about when it comes to building their plate.



How can we implement this?

After talking to people who struggle with food issues and with those trying to (or not) accommodate them, it seems as though most resistance comes from being personally offended. Why is it that our ego can be the biggest stumbling block with supporting loved ones in their health? We can get past this! Someone else’s food choice is just not personal. I think that many of us have grown up hearing statements like “This is what I’m making, and there are two options: eat or go hungry.” We don’t have to do that anymore, though, especially when it comes to helping those we love avoid food triggers.

Instead of thinking “Why do they require special accommodations on my part? I’m working hard on this meal, and everyone will eat the same thing,” we can say “I want to help encourage them in any way that I am able.” Whether you’re making special accommodations or not, the verbiage and body language we use can set the tone for a stressful, uncomfortable meal or a welcoming, fun event. Let’s take the welcoming route every time.



Oh, and one more tip.

If you have done all of these steps yet see someone who has special food requests decides to enjoy a bite of something that could trigger health issues, chances are, they’ve weighed the pros and cons and are prepared for their own consequences. They’ve got this handled. Or, they are just human and emotions are winning over any physical consequences that may occur. They’re on their own journey and it’s not our place to judge.


What are some of the ways you are planning to help your loved ones this holiday season? Can you share with us how people have helped you?


Jen Zetterstrom


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