Baylor College of Medicine

A spread of Thanksgiving food and drink.

Keeping your holiday feast food allergy friendly

Aaron Nieto


Houston, TX -

While holiday feasts bring friends and families together, it’s important to keep those with food allergies in mind when creating your holiday menu. A registered dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine gives advice on how to keep meals accessible to everyone in your circle. 

“There are eight most common allergens,” said Courtney Cary, senior registered dietitian with the Department of Medicine-Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Baylor. “These are: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. If someone who is attending the holiday meal has an allergy to any food, it is important to fully disclose the ingredients of what you prepared so they can avoid a potentially life-threatening reaction.” 

It is important to account for food allergies during the planning process for holiday meals. Cary says “allergy friendly” is a broad term, so asking each guest for specific allergies clears any confusion or potential reactions. With enough lead time, guests can be sure to take precautions. 

Cary also suggests avoiding introducing new food items to young children who have not yet been tested for food allergies.  

“If your child has never had eggs, for example, the holidays are not the time to have them try key lime pie,” Cary said. “You are in control of what your child eats.” 

One of the biggest threats to a person’s food allergy is cross contamination, as even the smallest particles of allergenic foods can cause reactions. To avoid cross contamination when serving food, make sure a serving utensil of an allergy-free meal is never mixed with a food that contains the allergen. To avoid cross contamination when cooking food, prepare each dish with completely separate, sterilized utensils on surfaces that have been untouched by the allergen.   

“This can even mean trading out a baking dish that has just been hand-washed that previously contained that allergen,” Cary said. “Even the smallest particles of allergenic foods can cause a reaction in a person who is very sensitive or has severe reactions to foods.” 

In keeping holiday meals accessible, many people will use vegan or vegetarian recipes found on social media or online to accommodate for all diets. Cary warns that substitutions could also contain allergens in them. 

“Ground flax seed mixed with water can be an egg substitution, or vegan butter can be used for dairy butter,” Cary said. “There are gluten-free flours that can be used in the same ratio that typical wheat flour is used, but be sure to get a full list of allergies from guests as some substitutes can also contain common allergens. Research thoroughly all ingredients you are using in a recipe to ensure they do not contain common allergens.” 

Cary also notes common ingredients such as chicken or beef broth, cheese, eggs, butter, milk, honey, condiments such as oyster sauce or Worcestershire and salad dressings such as Caesar may be overlooked for vegetarian and vegan diets and should not be included.

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