The allergic person’s guide to eating

Food allergies don’t have to keep you home for the holidays. Here’s a how-to.

As if living with food allergies isn’t challenging enough, holiday get-togethers can feel like a nightmare before Christmas. Family gatherings, friends’ parties and social engagements usually have food as the main attraction.

Because there is no cure for food allergies, the only way to prevent a reaction is strict avoidance of the trigger foods — and sometimes all foods if they are prepared in the same kitchen with the same utensils as allergens.

Food Allergy Research & Education Inc. (FARE) offers these strategies to stay healthy at holiday gatherings:

RSVP immediately. Talk with the party host as soon as you get the invitation. Gently explain your concerns about food allergens and cross-contact — when foods containing an allergen come in contact with foods that don’t, making them unsafe to eat. Have a conversation about food allergies in general to avoid offending your host while helping to find ways to create a safe environment.

Follow safety rules. If you have children with allergies, remind them to check with you before eating any food. Ask your host about ingredients and check food labels if possible. By law, manufacturers must list the eight most common food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Many labels also indicate if a food is made on the same equipment or in the same facility as products containing these allergens. Don’t forget to carry an EpiPen and other rescue medications you use.

Bring a safe dish. Offer to bring at least one food item that is safe for you (or your child) to eat. Make enough to share.

Start a trend. Make a card listing all the ingredients in the food you bring to the party and display it with the dish. It’s a great way to raise awareness about food allergies.

Take turns watching the kids. Plan for your partner or another adult to help you keep an eye on children with allergies. That way you can make sure they stay away from unsafe foods and you can both enjoy the party.

Host your own party. Make a few allergen-free dishes and display an ingredients card with all the food you prepare. Keep the labels from processed foods you use in case one of your guests also has a food allergy. If your guests want to contribute something, ask them to bring nonfood items such as cups, napkins, their own beverages or flowers for the table.

Additional tips

  • Fill up first. Before going to a party, eat a snack so you won’t be tempted to eat foods that might not be safe.
  • Be fashionably late. Attend parties after the meal or later in the evening so you enjoy just the socializing. Be considerate and let the host know ahead of time that this is your plan.
  • Just say no. When in doubt about a food, don’t eat it. Trying a bite to “see if it’s OK” is a common cause of accidental exposure to allergens. For many people, that’s enough to cause a dangerous reaction.

For more information about managing food allergies in various situations, visit FARE’s website at

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