Be a Better Host: Cooking for Guests with Food Allergies

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Navigating the holiday table when you have gluten, dairy or nut allergies can be stressful, but as a host, you can make simple changes to your menu so you can please everyone on your guest list.

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Holiday

Dairy-rich eggnog, gluten-laden sugar cookies and gingerbread and nutty pecan pie — these classic holiday foods can all mean disaster for guests with food allergies. With a little creativity, you can effortlessly tweak your traditional holiday menu into an allergy-friendly spread. From appetizers to desserts, these helpful hints will make your holiday affair one to remember — for everyone at your holiday table.

Appetizers
Offer a variety of tasty, crowd-pleasing appetizer alternatives to cheese and crackers . Here’s a quick holiday-appetizer idea you can make with easy-to-find ingredients: Set out rice crackers with a variety of toppings: chutney, hummus (which is naturally gluten free), olives and roasted red peppers or sunflower seed butter.

Get creative with gluten-free grains such as quinoa and rice. Quinoa-stuffed mushrooms are a great stand-in to bread-stuffed mushrooms. Fill mushroom caps with protein-packed quinoa and you have a nutritious and delicious spin to a traditional crowd favorite. Your guests will never know they're eating gluten-free!

For a spread that’s both appealing to the eyes and the belly, arrange a platter of nuts and seeds with an assortment of dried fruits (figs are particularly decadent for the holidays) that guests can nibble on throughout the evening.

Side Dishes
Veggies make for the perfect naturally allergy-free side dish to serve at your holiday table. Roast, steam, smash or sauté your favorite vegetables. Drizzling a combination of whisked balsamic and Dijon mustard to any veggie adds a delightfully simple flavor. For an alternative to a classic side dish like mashed potatoes, make a batch of mashed sweet potatoes instead. Add chopped apples and freshly-squeezed orange juice in place of butter. Or for the creamy taste everyone craves, use a splash of coconut milk in any of your veggie mashes instead of dairy, soy or nut milks.

Root vegetables like carrots and parsnips make a great addition to your turkey table. Simply chop into French fry-like shapes, drizzle with olive oil and a dash of nutmeg, sea salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet to roast in the oven at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes or until crispy. Don’t forget about cauliflower: This veggie can be chopped into florets and tossed with turmeric, rosemary, balsamic vinegar and olive oil and roasted for an aromatic and hearty side dish; toss the cauliflower with gluten-free pasta for an allergy-friendly, vegetarian main dish.

Looking for a soothing, warm-you-up dish? Soup is a great accompaniment to any holiday meal; serve warm butternut squash or pumpkin soup, leek or sweet potato soup with croutons made from gluten-free bread or polenta baked until crisp.

Creating a gluten-free and dairy-free dressing is easier than you think; try using a combination of apple cider vinegar, brown rice, quinoa, dried cranberries, roasted vegetables such as carrots and celery and fresh herbs.

What about a gluten-free gravy option? Combine cornstarch or arrowroot with water and chicken stock to make a silky, gluten-free gravy, the perfect topping for your juicy turkey and mashed potatoes.

And for all of you who love a good green bean casserole, my favorite allergy-free substitution is to use coconut milk instead of the usual cream, soy or nut milks.

The Main Course
Ready for allergy-free meats to take center stage this year? When selecting poultry, ham, lamb, fish, pork and even tofu, make sure they are free of any marinade or presoaked sauce, as these could contain allergens. Instead, use olive oil and fresh herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram along with fresh lemon, orange and grapefruit juice and their zest to add flavor. You can easily create an herb rub for your holiday turkey by combining honey with fresh herbs, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Be sure to carefully read labels to ensure your meat or meat alternatives do not contain additives as they may create a reaction among guests with allergies.

Desserts
There are plenty of ways to satisfy your sweet tooth this year without having to worry about food allergies, and without sacrificing taste. Focus on in-season fruits like apples, pears or cranberries to create fresh fruit crumbles, cobblers and crisps — gluten-free granola makes an easy topping for fruit seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice.

Pumpkin pie is a staple Thanksgiving dessert; you can easily create a homemade crust for this holiday must-have with crumbled gluten-free crackers or cereal such as Crunchmaster's Cinnamon & Sugar Grammy Crisps or Attune Foods' Erewhon Buckwheat & Hemp cereal. Pumpkin muffins are a surefire hit, too (if you need a store-bought gluten-free fix, Udi’s muffins are delicious). If you’re making your own, try using tapioca starch and canned pumpkin to create a moist consistency.

Some helpful tips to keep in mind for allergy-free baking: Instead of using eggs, try mixing chia seeds with a little water. 1 egg = 3 tablespoons warm water and 1 tablespoon white chia seed meal; mix together and let sit for 5 minutes to thicken before using.

For chocolate lovers, an allergy-free version of chocolate mousse is always a crowd-pleaser; whip coconut milk with cocoa and add mashed avocado — use a mixer, or if your avocado is quite ripe, mash it by hand to create a light, whipped consistency. Plain fruit makes for an easy dessert; serve fresh pineapple, apples and berries with melted allergy-free chocolate chips from for a fondue-style treat or bake cored apples with cinnamon, dairy-free butter and a dash of allspice. You can create a fun kid-friendly dessert by whipping up your own ice cream waffle sundaes by using gluten-free frozen waffles topped with coconut milk “ice cream,” hot fudge and unsweetened coconut flakes.

Leftovers
What’s the best part about holiday meals? Leftovers! Use turkey, gluten-free stuffing and cranberry sauce to make lunchtime burritos by rolling them in gluten-free tortillas. Top gluten-free pizza dough with chopped turkey, sliced apples and a drizzle of cranberry sauce for a post-Thanksgiving pizza. Shred turkey and add it to frittatas or pile it onto gluten-free toast or bagels with lettuce, tomato, avocado and mustard to make a hearty sandwich. You can even put leftover roasted turkey in the food processor along with fresh arugula, sea salt and pepper for a new spin on a savory spreadable pate you can enjoy with crackers and crudités. Leftovers don’t just have to be reserved for lunch or dinner. How about using your Thanksgiving food for breakfast? Take leftover sweet potatoes or canned pumpkin and combine with gluten-free oatmeal for a spiced-up and naturally sweet hot cereal.

Don’t let your allergies stop you from gobbling up the meals that make your holidays a delicious occasion. No matter the course, crowd or allergy concerns, these foolproof recipes ideas will keep you worry-free this holiday season, it just takes a little prep and planning. Remember, the holidays are about enjoying time and bonding over food with those you love. What better way to do so by preparing an allergy-free feast that will be impossible to forget?