Monday, November 23, 2009

A Safe, Nut-Free Thanksgiving with the "Non-Cooks"

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?


Anonymous said...

DS is still so young that he thinks it's a big treat to eat something different from everyone else. We've attended several catered meals at church events, so I found out if there was at least one thing DS could eat. I generally ask about the meat dishes and the breads (his 2 favorites) and just assume any sides and desserts are off limits (esp. if it's potluck sides)! We usually just pack safe snacks and a special dessert for him. I always try to make sure it's something different than what he eats at home just so it's extra special! Hope your Thanksgiving is "uneventful"! :) said...

I can totally relate with this Jenny. For years the entire family would go to my sister in law's for Thanksgiving for a catered meal from the grocery store. That was fine...until my son's allerges. With a dairy, egg and nut allergy, he could eat nothing...not even a roll. So we've stopped going and the past few years made our own traditional allergen free dinner. This year we are going to my sister's house in Kentucky. She is ULTRA allergen aware, and has made all sorts of accomodations, including baking from my book. Thanksgiving is such a special holiday that is centered around food. But catered meals are a nightmare for us!

Anonymous said...

My in-laws will be serving a catered meal this year, but I will be making separate food for my peanut and tree nut-allergic son.

His school had a catered Thanksgiving meal today, and I sent him to school with his own meal packed in a Thermos - I was able to send pretty much the same thing that everyone else had, the turkey and veggies stayed hot in the Thermos, and he had his own pumpkin pie bar made at home. DS was a happy camper!


jenny said...

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!
BTW, Jenny, do you know there is now the new designed epi pens?

Night Owl's Menagerie said...

Thank you for this post. I honestly did not think of the mashed potatoes being a possible problem. Not that my child would eat them but still!