I realized after talking with a few friends about Thanksgiving that I'm surrounded by "cooks" in my own family and not used to attending family gatherings with the "non-cooks" of this world.
It's difficult enough to try to make sure your child has a safe meal at a dinner party if the hosts are cooking the food. But what about people who choose to cater the entire meal? Obviously that's the best choice for some people, but a catered meal can be a nut allergy minefield.
Treat a catered meal like a restaurant meal. You need to know everything that goes into the food and the environment in which the food is prepared--just like at a restaurant. It also means that you may end up discovering that the meal doesn't meet your standards for allergy safety. For example, the roast chickens on a spit that are sold at my local supermarket say that the chickens were processed in a facility with nuts, as well as several other food allergens. I'm guessing if your hosts go the supermarket catering route, the same goes for turkey.
How do you find out what's safe? You need to ask your hosts where the food is coming from and then call the venue to find out how the food is prepared. Sometimes the food won't be safe for your family because of cross-contact concerns or ingredients you can't have.
Here are some questions for the caterer:
What other foods are being prepared in this kitchen?
Are you able to accommodate food allergies? Do you have any procedures for separating foods?
What in the menu contains nuts or may contain nuts? (Of course, you will want to avoid desserts or sauces--just like in a restaurant. Too much risk.)
Are there any nut products in the turkey stuffing or side dishes? (Pecans are a popular addition to stuffing as well as sweet potatoes).
Please be aware that simple foods like mashed potatoes--when prepared outside of a home kitchen--sometimes contain ingredients like peanut oil for smooth consistency. You must ask about everything.
Personally, I'm not comfortable serving a catered meal to my daughter because there are just too many variables. And not everyone has the same level of food allergy awareness, so they may believe something is safe when it isn't. It's good to have a backup meal for your allergic child and it's always a great idea to bring a side dish or dessert that's safe for your family. That way, your child can participate in some of the foods on offer.
It's hard to single your child out at a party as having to avoid foods, but it's very important to be cautious. Tree nuts turn up everywhere in Thanksgiving recipes. I always want everyone to be safe, even if it means skipping one or two dishes--or even the entire meal--in order for that to happen.
Holidays are a time when it's tempting to let your guard down, but don't. You need to keep the same rules for food and eating that you usually do, now more than ever.
How do some of you handle the catered meal challenge?