GrapevineDec/Jan 2013 Issue

’Tis the Season for Feasting: Keeping the Holidays Allergy- and Gluten-Free

Our contributor examines food and diet during the Hanukkah/Christmas/New Year's holiday season.

©Image Shop/CORBIS

©Image Shop/CORBIS

Let’s talk about the eight days of Hanukkah, the 12 days of Christmas, the countdown to New Year’s and all the celebrations in between. For most, these weeks of culinary gusto prompt worry over weight gain. But for those on special diets, the festivities bring up a different set of concerns: enjoying safe and satisfying meals.

Whether you plan to host the party or dine at someone else’s table, keeping traditions and your special diet feels challenging. After living ten years on a dairy-free, nut-free and low-sodium diet, I know the anxieties that accompany holiday get-togethers. Will my needs be a burden? If someone makes food for me, will it be safe to eat? And if I don’t say anything at all, will my lack of food keep me from fully sharing in the merry-making and good cheer?

There’s no need to settle for an empty plate. As the gravy boats and breadbaskets are passed around the table, use these simple tricks to stay healthy—and full—throughout the season.

Offer To Host

When you control the kitchen, you can make a meal that pleases guests and meets your needs. Just remember, while people love the classics, the more creative you get, the more you’ll surprise and impress your friends’ and family’s palates. This means they’ll notice your menu’s unique flavors and not the lack of gluten, dairy, nuts or any other missing ingredient.

Bring Edible Gifts

Spiced garbanzo beans, gluten-free crackers and dairy-free cheese, and fresh-from-the-oven meringues not only say “thank you,” they are also best served immediately. Your host or hostess gift is likely to land on the buffet table, guaranteeing you have something to nibble on.

Be a Kitchen Consultant

If the host wishes to prepare a special meal for you, don’t be shy about providing information. Offer to (1) help revise the recipes, (2) provide recipes from favorite websites and magazines, (3) arrive early and play sous chef, as long as there aren’t too many cooks in the kitchen.

Do the Shopping

In order to cook up something special, the host will not only need recipes but your favorite products, as well. Offer to send a gift box of ingredients a few weeks before the event. Alternatively, use online grocers like safeway.com and freshdirect.com or hire an errand service like taskrabbit.com to deliver special ingredients straight to your host’s door.

Forget the View, Get a Kitchen

Sometimes it’s just easiest to prepare your own meal and bring it to the party. If you’re traveling, that means finding a place to make the food. Instead of a hotel room, stay with friends and family who aren’t hosting. Or better yet, use websites like vrbo.com and airbnb.com to rent a room with access to a micro kitchen (i.e., microwave, mini-frig, hot kettle) or even a full stovetop and oven.

Pack Snacks

There’s no shame in carrying a snack pack. Period. It’s survival smarts in case of a special-diet S.O.S. Pile energy bars, raw veggies, fruit, homemade granola, whatever you like that’s portable and relatively non-perishable into little storage bags or some sturdy Tupperware. Tuck them into your bag and suitcase. A few nutritionally dense items go a long way, especially during the holidays.

Jessica Goldman Foung, creator of SodiumGirl.com, lives in San Francisco.

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