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Holiday meal featuring turkey, vegetables, salad, and bread.

How to prepare a holiday meal with food restrictions in mind

More than 50 million Americans have an allergy of some kind. If you plan to host Thanksgiving or another holiday meal, here are some tips for planning your meal with allergies in mind.

Eight food allergies comprise 90 percent of all reactions. These are:

  • Eggs

  • Fish

  • Milk

  • Peanuts

  • Shellfish

  • Soy

  • Tree nuts

  • Wheat

“Many of the typical choices on Thanksgiving Day may include a number of common food allergens,” says Sarah Hankes, RD, LD, CDE, a licensed and registered dietitian at Piedmont. “Gravies frequently contain soy, wheat and dairy components. Side dishes – such as stuffing, vegetable dishes, salads and cranberry sauce – as well as desserts like pecan pie and brownies may include nuts and peanuts. Baked goods will also often contain eggs and milk.”

How to plan your holiday menu with allergies in mind

Hankes says there are several simple steps you can take as the host to help your guests safely navigate the table:

  • Ask your guests in advance if they have any food allergies, intolerances or restrictions.

  • Share your menu in advance, including appetizers, drinks and desserts.

  • Offer to provide a recipe card for each dish if your guest wants more detailed information on ingredients.

  • If other guests are bringing side dishes, inform them of the allergy or dietary need. Or ask them to bring a beverage, paper products or a “safe” side such as a bowl of mixed fruit.

  • For a guest with gluten intolerance, you may consider preparing at least one “safe” dessert such as a pie with gluten-free crust.   

  • Keep allergy-safe foods separate from dishes that may contain allergens.

  • Serve sauces, dressings and gravies on the side.

  • Provide a prepackaged allergen-free snack for your guest, so they can open it and serve themselves.

Holiday meal tips for vegetarians

If you have a guest who is vegetarian, you can make simple swaps to make dishes meat-free. Hankes suggests:

  • Using vegetable broth instead of chicken or beef broth in your recipes

  • Substituting soy milk and vegan margarine for milk and butter

  • Offering to pick up a pre-cooked vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner from a local grocery store

What to do if you’re the guest with allergies 

“If you are the guest, call the host in advance to inquire about what will be served,” she says. “Provide information about any allergies and offer to bring a safe side dish. If necessary, discuss with the host how some foods are prepared to determine more about ‘safe’ dishes.”

If you have a child with food allergies:

  • Inform your host about the allergy

  • Talk to your child ahead of arrival about which foods are safe to eat

  • Serve your child’s plate yourself

  • Bring along your child’s epinephrine auto-injectors, if prescribed

  • Pack an allergy-safe meal that can be heated up before dinner is served

Celebrating the holidays

“It is good to remember that the holidays are for more than just food,” says Hankes. “Make sure your guests have opportunities to enjoy the day in other ways, such as board games, taking a fall walk, watching a holiday movie or sharing a moment of gratitude.”

Registered dietitians/nutritionists are uniquely trained to help people manage their nutrition to achieve success. If you are interested in talking to a dietitian, consider reaching out to Piedmont’s Nutrition and Wellness Services at 404-605-3823.

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