Holidays not Hives: Catering to Guests with Food Allergies

November 17, 2020
| Created by Melanie Taylor, MS, RDN, CD

Food allergies don’t take time off during the holidays. Allergies and intolerances are much more common than those without them may be aware; around four percent of adults and eight percent of children have food allergies and many more have lactose or gluten intolerance. Alarmingly, 200,000 people in the US each year require medical attention for allergic reactions to food. Don’t let that be the way your festive holiday party flops. When planning, consider whether or not your guests have food allergies or intolerances. Here are some tips to follow that will help you to hold an allergy-safe party.

  • If you are not sure whether your guests have an allergy, make a note on your invitation asking guests to inform you. Allergies can develop over time, so don’t assume that Aunt Susan has no allergies just because she didn’t when you last hosted 10 years ago.
  • When preparing food for your party, check each ingredient rather than assuming the food is safe and be careful to ensure that no cross-contamination occurs. For example, use different cutting boards and knives to prepare allergen ingredients and dishes from allergen-free recipes. Consider preparing allergy-friendly foods at a different time to cut down on cross-contamination risk if you have a guest with severe allergies.
  • If a guest with a food allergy asks to bring a safe dish, respond positively and ask them to bring enough to share. Most people with food allergies will prefer to bring something they have confidence in eating. For example, I will bring this stuffing to Thanksgiving for the rest of my life to ensure it is gluten free. Worth it!
  • If you are hosting a potluck, ask people ahead of time to bring foods that do not contain those ingredients that are of concern. This is particularly important when you have a guest with a severe food allergy. Some allergies are so severe that even airborne particles can cause a reaction.
  • If food is served buffet-style, make sure there is a serving utensil in each dish, so that food is not inadvertently cross-contaminated. If space permits, consider putting allergen-free foods on a separate table. If not, you may want to ask guests with food allergies to serve themselves first.
  • Make table decorations useful by including an ingredient list on a cute label or card for each dish. Have extra cards available if guests are bringing items or ask them to bring one with them.

The “Big 8” food allergens are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat. and soy. With some ingredient modifications, even the most traditional family recipes can be allergen-free and delicious. Try things like almond milk instead of cow’s milk in mashed potatoes, corn starch to thicken gravy rather than wheat flour, or an egg substitute in place of the real deal in rolls and desserts.

Would you like specific, allergen-free product or recipe recommendations? Email  We are happy to help!