Living with food allergies and issues such as celiac disease can be challenging, especially during the holidays when you may be sharing food with friends, family and co-workers.
Safety for those of us living with food allergies is easiest to manage when we're preparing all of our food at home, where everything has been purchased carefully after scrutinizing ingredient labels in search of offending ingredients. We have to watch labels carefully, even on our favorite products, as manufacturing processes can change over time.
The holidays throw us entirely new curveballs. Like most people this time of year, we're forced out of our comfort zones and regular habits and into a world of specialty foods prepared in other homes, often with unknown ingredients. For those of us with food allergies, it's a world full of land mines, and even adapting favorite recipes or trying new flavors can pose challenges at home.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by adapting old recipe favorites, then it might be time to make some new family favorites and traditions. Try a new recipe, make a special version of a family favorite or add a new ingredient to an old favorite.
Some common recipe substitutions can help make life easier:
Eggs in cakes, pies and other baked goods: Mix 1 T flax meal and 3 T water per egg and allow to gel for 10-20 minutes before adding to other ingredients.
Milk: Most cow's milk substitutes found in the dairy case work well in recipes. Almond, soy, goat and lactose-free cow's milk all work well as substitutes. Canned coconut milk can be very inconsistent in texture and thickness, so is not recommended. It's safest to stick to products found in the dairy case at the grocery store.
Thickener in gravies: If you need to replace flour (wheat gluten) in a roux for sauces and gravies or corn starch, rice flour can be a god substitute. If you normally use corn starch to thicken gravy, make a roux instead by melting a tablespoon of butter to a tablespoon of rice flour. You may achieve better results with a rice flour blend which might also contain potato, tapioca or other starches. Potato flakes can also be used to thicken soups and gravies.
Cream cheese: Silken tofu (made from soy) can be an excellent substitute for cream cheese in equal amounts if soy allergies aren't an issue. Soft tofu can also be put through a blender or mashed if silken tofu isn't available. Add a few drops of white or cider vinegar to mimic the tangy flavor found in cream cheese. A paste made from chick peas or black beans can also be substituted for cream cheese in treats like canolis or other pastries.
Peanut butter: Any nut butter can substituted safely for peanut butter, as peanuts are legumes, not nuts. However, one can be allergic to both, so if you're cooking for someone else with a food allergy, make sure you know if they're allergies to nuts, peanuts or both.
Nuts: Coconut is not a tree nut and can be substituted for nuts in recipes.
Corn syrup: Simple syrup made from equal parts sugar and water heated until the sugar melts, then boiled for one minute is an easy substitute. It isn't quite as thick and sticky as corn syrup, but works well enough in recipes, although baking time may need to be increased.
Corn can be found in other common ingredients such as baking powder, so anyone with corn allergies needs to be mindful of hidden corn sources in foods. Similar risks
If you're visiting another household for the holidays and afraid to make food allergies known out of fear of being seen as burdensome, simply tell the host "I'll be bringing (insert dish here) to accommodate my (or family member's) allergies." This can open the door to conversation to determine how willing the host easy is to accommodating allergies. You may even learn others with allergies are attending as well.
If you're hosting guests with food allergies, please keep a few things in mind. First, with many food allergies, even a very tiny amount of the allergen can cause a severe reaction. Be mindful of cleanliness of surfaces and foods that may come into contact with each other during preparation. What a person with food allergies can't see or taste can hurt them.
Also keep in mind, when hosting people with food allergies or celiac disease, a reaction may not occur right away after eating or be visible to other people. Don't assume that a food issue is in someone's head if you don't see a visible reaction. With celiac disease, the reaction is internal and can take four to 24 hours to cause symptoms. Even if a person with celiac disease exposed to gluten has no symptoms, damage to the small intestine can still occur. Please take the safety of your guests seriously, and if you are unsure if tiny amounts of an allergen may be present in some foods, make sure guests know the risk.
While living with food allergies can be frustrating, and can even leave one feeling "on the outside" of many gatherings, don't forget how lucky we are to have access to many choices and substitutes. Be thankful for friends and family and remember the holidays are not about the many foods we'll see before us, but family and friendships and our ability to share what we have with others.
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