The weather's finally warmer, so it's time for barbeques, picnics and al fresco dining. But for people with food allergies and sensitivities, potlucks, barbeques and buffet-style parties can be a source of uncertainty and anxiety. Many common warm-weather party foods - hot dogs, buns, and even many barbeque sauces - contain gluten, dairy, eggs, or other common allergens. People with food allergies and sensitivities don't need to hibernate this season - they just need to take some precautions.
Alicia Woodward, Editor-in-Chief at Living Without Magazine (www.livingwithout.com), the nation’s leading magazine for people with food allergies, offers these tips:
• Communicate. Call well before the party to alert your host to your food sensitivities. Be specific about your food “triggers,” clearly explaining what you can (and can’t) eat.
• Politely "grill" your host about the grill - The grill can be a huge source of cross-contamination, so explain your food allergies and politely ask if your host could accommodate your needs. Ideally, they'll use a clean grill to avoid cross-contamination and will cook plain food (like a hamburger) before grilling foods containing your food allergens (like the dairy in a cheeseburger). When in doubt, feast on the plethora of delicious side dishes instead - like potato salad, bean dip or a delicious Asian slaw. Just double check the ingredients before you indulge.
• Bring food with you. Bring a favorite dish (that you can safely eat!) to the party. Going to a cookout featuring burgers or hot dogs? Consider bringing your own gluten-free buns.
• Eat beforehand. Don’t arrive hungry, when you may eat something “risky” that you’d never try on a full belly.
• Keep it simple. Stick to simple, whole foods – like plain fruit, vegetables and meats that haven’t been processed, coated or mixed. Avoid sauces, dips, marinated items, casseroles and desserts unless you know for sure what’s in them.
• Eat seasonally. 'Tis the season of juicy watermelon, ripe tomatoes, and other delicious fruits and veggies. Forgo the decadent sides and desserts in favor of sweet produce.
• Share something celebratory. Celebrate the beautiful weather and fresh produce by bringing homemade salsa or guacamole with veggies for dipping. Make a big Panzanella salad, using gluten-free bread. Or share a batch of chilly sherbet pops.
• Go first. If the party is buffet-style, be the first in line to avoid any potential cross-contamination (e.g., scattered ingredients, mixed-up serving spoons.) Or ask your host if you can prepare a plate before the buffet starts.