It was just before last Christmas that Heather Steinbrink found out that she and her 4-year-old daughter Audrey had to cross Christmas cookies, crackers and gravy-soaked mashed potatoes off their list of holiday indulgences. After Steinbrink’s mother was diagnosed with Celiac disease—a form of gluten intolerance remedied with a gluten-free diet—she and her daughter also tested positive.
Approximately 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies, with 6.9 million allergic to seafood and 3.3 million allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
If you or one of your family members do have a food allergy or intolerance and you want to eat, drink and be merry this holiday season, there are some simple tactics you can take to make holiday eating safe.
Steinbrink, 39, says she and her family have found gluten-free recipes they’ve tried to be “hit or miss.”
“We did last Thanksgiving gluten-free and this Thanksgiving gluten-free,” Steinbrink said. “We made the gravy without wheat flour, but it wasn’t as good. We made cornbread stuffing, but that wasn’t the same either.”
But Terry Traub, a food allergy expert and author of the new book, Food to Some, Poison to Others: The Food Allergy Detection Program, has made it her business to cook allergy-free meals that are also tasty.
“The trick to cooking allergy-free is not to make a separate meal for the family member who is allergic,” Traub explained. “The secret is to find safe recipes that the whole family can enjoy.”
Over the years, Traub’s kitchen has become a laboratory where she’s tested recipes that her sons and her husband—all of whom have Celiac disease—can enjoy. For Thanksgiving, she cooked an organic turkey, gluten-free stuffing (recipe below), organic mashed potatoes and pumpkin chiffon pie with a rice crust. According to Traub, her guests who didn’t know her meal was allergen-free “didn’t know the difference.”
Traub adds that allergy-free cooking is just cooking with a different mind-set. “When you’re trying to thicken something, you just pull out the rice flour instead of the wheat flour,” Traub explained.
Native New Yorker Sloane Miller, a food-allergy coach and advocate who runs the organization Allergic Girl Resources, has suffered from food allergies her whole life. Miller believes that communication is key when it comes to managing food allergies during the holidays or any other season.
“Speak to the host of the party as soon as you’re invited,” Miller said. “Explain your needs and communicate clearly, concisely and politely. In the best-case scenario, a restaurant or hotel will say they’d be happy to help you. If it’s a family meal, always offer to bring something that everyone can enjoy that’s free of an allergen.”
And, if all else fails and you’re going to a holiday event where you know there’s going to be chestnut stuffing and you have a nut or gluten allergy, Miller advises having a small dinner before you leave so you won’t find yourself “starved, anxious, hungry and angry.”
Even those who don’t suffer from food allergies will feel better eating more mindfully during holiday feasts.
“People feel bad eating over the holiday season because they’re overindulging in foods they don’t normally eat,” said Daniel Hoffman, associate professor of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University, adding that the stress of being around family can trigger gastrointestinal problems. “Drinking water is always helpful. A lot of people will head straight to the alcohol, [which is dehydrating,] and then overeat.”
Terry Traub’s Savory Chicken (Turkey) Stuffing
AF (Dairy-free, Egg-free, Corn-free, Gluten-free)
1 homemade, day old, gluten-free bread, crust removed, cubed
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
3/4 to 1 cup Chicken Stock* or Organic Chicken broth
2 tablespoons margarine, melted, dairy-free, corn-free
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Slice bread and let it dry out for 2 hours. Cut bread into cubes and put into bowl. In saucepan, place oil and heat. Add onion and celery, sauté 3 to 4 minutes or until onions are transparent. Cool slightly and add to bread cubes. Add liquids, margarine and spices. Mix together and put into 2-quart casserole dish, cover. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover and cook for another 10 minutes.
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