How to Beat the Isolation of Food Allergies During the Holidays


The holidays are a time of sharing as we get together with friends and family alike to celebrate. With cookie exchanges, holiday potlucks, and a variety of other traditions that seemingly always revolve around food, it’s no wonder why most people pack on a few extra pounds between that special turkey Thursday in November and January 1.

Well, all but those in my family (and many others with food allergies). You see, we often skip events or cannot participate because of our food allergies. According to Food Allergy Research and Education, up to 15 million people in the United States have food allergies, including about 1 in 13 children (and 30% of those children are allergic to more than one food.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (The CDC) reports that the prevalence of these allergies in children has increased by 50% in the time between 1997 and 2011.

If you’ve never had a food allergy yourself, or had a child who has, you may not completely understand the extent to which it changes your (and your family’s) life. No longer can you just show up somewhere and plan on eating what someone else is serving. Want to go to a movie or sporting event? You’d better pack some safe snacks or call ahead to secure some friendly options. Impromptu dinner out…not so impromptu anymore with your list of the family’s favorite allergen friendly restaurants (Chipotle take-out anyone?)! There is an intense amount of planning that goes into each and every outing. With so much of the holidays revolving around food, it can lead to a feeling of isolation.

I can’t speak for everyone with food allergies, but I always balance how big of a pain I will seemingly be by: requesting we go to a certain restaurant, asking what’s on the menu at someone else’s house, or bringing my own dinner. Sometimes, the benefits just don’t outweigh the social costs. And I’m sure that there are times that I am no longer on the guest list because people get nervous trying to make sure I would be included. Those of us in the trenches do not expect you to recreate your meals to accommodate us; we live it every day and know how exhausting it is. (I long for the day that my kiddo can attend a friend’s birthday party without bringing his own gluten-free, soy free, dairy free pizza and cupcake). 

I thought, with cookies and treats surrounding us every day between now and my next New Year’s Resolution, I thought I’d highlight some simple substitutions that can help to include all of those people whom you love so much.

1. Pumpkin muffins. (Gluten-free, egg free, nut free, dairy free, soy free)

King Arthur’s brand muffin mix is great. You can click here to see the ingredients.

I made pumpkin muffins by using canned pumpkin as a mix-in. You can easily substitute any dairy free milk option and vegetable oil to make dairy free, and I have used the Ener-G brand egg substitute successfully with this mix.

2. Stuffing. (Gluten-free, soy free, dairy free, nut free)

We used Aleia’s stuffing mix and just made traditional bread stuffing as we usually would.

3. Pies. (Gluten-free, soy free, dairy free, nut free/some egg free)

I was delightfully surprised when I went to my local Hy-Vee Health Market and found a plethora of allergen friendly pies in the freezer section. I found a lot of gluten-free, dairy free, and soy free options available. One of my favorites is the Katz brand cherry pie.

Something to be aware of is that each Hy-Vee Health Market stocks their own brands, so you may find a certain brand at one store, and not at another. I have found, however, that every Hy-Vee store is absolutely willing to order any product for me; they even call you when it arrives.

Most of the crusts on the frozen pies did have egg as an ingredient, so if you are not able to eat baked eggs, you may need to choose the Mi-Del pie crust and make your own pie filling.

4. Cookies. (Gluten-free, dairy free, nut free/some soy free)

Immaculate Baking Company has some great gluten free cookie mixes. You can find the varieties and ingredients here.

Cherrybrook Kitchen also has great gluten-free, dairy free, soy free, nut free options. You can find their products here. 

5. Green bean casserole (gluten free, soy free, dairy free, peanut free, egg free).

This was absolutely my pièce de résistance! I found a recipe online and adapted it a little. Here is the recipe that I used from the Minimalist Baker (which was adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe). It turned out absolutely amazing! No one in my family knew that it was not the traditional recipe; I call that a win!

My adjustments were: I substituted a gluten-free flour blend; Aldi brand G-Free Gluten-free French fried onions; and Chicken stock instead of vegetable stock, for the simple fact that I didn’t have any vegetable stock.

I hope these brands and ideas help you to reduce your stress during the holidays and have some fun carrying on your traditions!

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Erica is an Omaha transplant from Northern California and has lived in Omaha off and on since 1993. She is mom to two wonderful children who fill her with love and joy. Because her husband’s career requires him being gone for long stretches of time, she has learned to streamline being a career mama while flying solo for months at a time. Her middle school reading students add some excitement to her days, and her kids keep the humor going strong into the evenings. Erica also manages to have a Mary Kay business in her "free time". She has many tips for traveling with small children as well, since she travels internationally with the kiddos at least once a year. She enjoys reading, and belongs to the best book club ever; being active; and sharing an occasional cup of coffee or wine with friends. You'll find her out and about on weekends and evenings embracing every drop of motherhood.