If you or your kids have food allergies, you know all too well that eating at holidays can be tricky. And if you’re doing the cooking, it’s also something important to be aware of. We asked Cybele Pascal, author of the new book Allergy-Free and Easy Cooking: 30-Minute Meals Without Gluten, Wheat, Dairy, Eggs, Soy, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Fish, Shellfish, and Sesame, to share her tips for safe eating and hosting. (Scroll down for a bonus recipe from her book!)
1. Be inclusive, not exclusive: This first tip has been on my mind a lot recently after a friend’s daughter was excluded from a holiday activity at school because of her food allergies. If you are a teacher or parent making something festive for the holidays with a bunch of kids, be sure you choose something that all the kids can participate in. Choose a recipe that’s free of the top eight food allergens—dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish—(I have hundreds!) or do something with crafts, instead of cooking. One out of 13 kids has a food allergy in the United States, so chances are you’re going to have at least two kids who have food allergies in your group. Try to do something inclusive, not exclusive.
2. Find safe treats: Looking for safe stocking stuffers? Luckily there are now many allergy-friendly candies that will let your children feel truly indulged. Look for them on Peanut Free Planet, Divvies, Vermont Nut Free Chocolates or Navan Foods. From candy canes to chocolate Santas, there is no need to avoid holiday treats!
3. Learn about your guests’ allergies: If you are hosting a holiday party or dinner and you know that there will be people with food allergies attending, you need to know what the allergies are and determine the severity. (Conversely, if you have food allergies, or somebody in your family has food allergies, let your host know what they are.) If, for example, you have somebody coming who is anaphylactic (has a life-threatening allergy) to tree nuts, I’d avoid tree nuts altogether. It’s not that hard to find a plethora of alternative ingredients. If you have questions or would like suggestions, please feel free to email me (allergyfriendlycook [at] gmail [dot] com), I’m always happy to answer ingredient substitution questions. Consider making several, if not all, dishes free top-8-free. My cookbook, Allergy-Free and Easy Cooking, is full of many great recipes that nobody would ever know are allergy-free if you didn’t tell them.
4. Bring a dish: If you have food allergies, bring a dish or two to parties that you know are safe for you, that everyone will enjoy, so you are assured something safe and yummy to eat. By doing so, you’re also spreading the word that allergy-free doesn’t mean taste-free. And, trust me, your host will appreciate the additional food!
5. Keep things clean: If you are hosting somebody with food allergies and you’re only doing a few allergy-free dishes rather than a whole allergy-friendly meal, be aware of cross contamination and cross contact while cooking and serving. Sanitize your hands, thoroughly and often. I can’t stress how important this step is. Wash your hands between each step while prepping and cooking, with warm water and soap, and dry them on a clean paper towel or fresh dishtowel. Clean and sanitize food-preparation areas before, during and after the cooking process. Wash down kitchen surfaces. Don’t just wipe or brush them off — clean them thoroughly.
6. Serve safe: Consider labeling dishes with ingredient cards. If the meal is going to be served buffet style, serve the food allergic person first to avoid cross contamination. If you’re doing a sit-down meal, prepare the food-allergic person’s food first and then cover it and set it aside to be sure nothing migrates into it from serving utensils.
7. Carry your epi pens! I can’t stress this enough. I carry my epi pens at all times. When I go to parties, they fit perfectly in a pretty little holiday clutch. There is no need to forsake safety for fashion. For kids, get them one of the new generation carrying cases, perfect for any gear head—check out OneSpot Allergy.
Enjoy this healthy squash recipe from my book, Allergy Free and Easy Cooking. Happy Holidays!
Stuffed Acorn Squash with Millet,
Spinach, Cranberries, and Hemp Seeds
1/2 cup millet
1 1/2 cups water
2 small acorn squash, halved and seeded
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped sweet or yellow onion
2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 (5- to 6-ounce) bag baby spinach
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup shelled hemp seeds, toasted (see note)
4 heaping teaspoons fine gluten-free breadcrumbs (I like Ener-G for this)
4 heaping teaspoons Earth Balance soy-free buttery spread or olive oil
Combine the millet and water in a small pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, for 18 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Don’t stir the millet or it will become creamy. You want it to cook up like rice, and refraining from stirring will accomplish this.
Meanwhile, spray the insides of the acorn squash halves with cooking spray or brush lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place face down on a large microwave-safe dish (I just use the microwave tray). Cover (I use a large mixing bowl—it’s okay if the squash halves have to overlap a bit) and cook for 16 minutes, or until the squash is tender.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large heavy pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, until tender. Add the garlic and cranberries and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the spinach and cook, stirring often, until wilted, 2 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar, stir, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the hemp seeds.
While the millet is cooking, preheat the broiler on high.
Once the millet is cooked, fluff it lightly with a fork. Combine 1 cup of the millet with the spinach mixture and toss. Put the squash halves cut side up in a broiler-safe pan or on a rimmed baking tray. Divide the filling evenly among the squash halves, mounding it slightly. Top each squash half with 1 heaping teaspoon breadcrumbs and dot each with 1 heaping teaspoon buttery spread. Broil 8 inches from the heat source for 4 to 5 minutes, until browned.
* Note: To toast hemp seeds, heat a small frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the hemp seeds and cook, stirring often, for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden and aromatic.
Find more tips and recipes for allergy-free cooking at cybelepascal.com.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Allergy-Free and Easy Cooking: 30-Minute Meals Without Gluten, Wheat, Dairy, Eggs, Soy, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Fish, Shellfish, and Sesame by Cybele Pascal, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.