Summer barbecue ideas for families with allergies

The weather is finally warm, school is about to end and soon, it’s BBQ time! But hold on, you mean you might have someone that comes to your party with food allergies? Let’s talk this through, so every guest that comes to your home feels welcomed and invited.

I’ll never forget a couple of years ago, my husband brought us on a business trip to Indianapolis. The company was having us all over for a company dinner party. I was nursing my son at the time, so I made sure I brought extra food for myself and my daughter to eat on the trip. To not be rude, I just navigated my way through the dinner party based on what I could and could not eat.

To my surprise, the hostess came up to me and said, “I just want to let you know these are gluten-free crackers, and this over here is gluten-free, so you have plenty to eat while you are here.” I literally could have kissed the cook right then and there.

She proceeded to say, “I went to Whole Foods and I told them I was having a guest over for dinner that needed to eat gluten-free, so they gave me a tour and let me sample all of the gluten-free crackers. It was fun and I learned so much.”

And that, my friends, is how we should make our guests feel when they are coming to a party at our house.

And why not? There is so much that goes on in our minds that it is no longer enjoyable to eat at a party with friends. Is it fair that we have to bring our own meals to your party? Is it fair we have to eat in fear of being cross-contaminated, knowing we’ll be down and sick the next day… or two? Or our child will suffer and we will have to watch them in agony or suffer the behavioral issues.

The great thing is, now you can walk into any grocery store and there is a gluten-free aisle. I do understand it can be overwhelming and nerve-racking because you don’t want to buy something your guest will not like.

Common concerns

When I inquired through Facebook about what party hosts would like to know, the responses were sincere and honest. Here was some of their feedback:

“I want to know how to best feed my friend and her son when they come over to our house.”

“Summer party season is particularly stressful for those of us with allergy kids, particularly the little ones who aren’t old enough to know where all of the dangerous foods might be lurking. We attended a graduation party this weekend, and of course, brought food for my 3-year-old who is allergic to dairy and eggs. Naturally, he wants to feel included in the party, too. We let him eat some fruit and veggies, but only because we got there right when they were set out. Both trays had dairy-filled dips in the center that had been dripped on the fruit and veggies by the end of the party. Keeping condiments/dips on a separate tray and with their own utensils is always helpful.”

“If you are serving something that isn’t homemade that came with the ingredients listed, you might try stashing the packaging under the table or somewhere else nearby so that parents could check to see if it is safe.”

“I always ask my guests if they have food allergies/aversions when extending an invitation. This way, I have ample time to plan alternate dishes to accommodate those guests. Being proactive is the key. The sooner a host knows about allergies, the sooner he or she can create a menu everyone can enjoy. I like setting up bars, like a salad bar, so guests can pick and choose what to eat. Keep each ingredient or dish in a separate bowl, so there is no chance for cross contamination.”

Tips for hosting

Here are some tips I’ve gathered and some of my own to help you be the best allergy-free hostess around:

  1. The common theme among hosts is to ask on the invitation. Planning ahead is key.

  2. If you are hosting at a restaurant, simply call ahead and ask if there are options for your guests. Don’t rely on the online menu; it most likely is not up-to-date, unless they cook seasonal items. Speak to the person who is helping you plan your party so everyone will feel welcomed.

  3. If you are catering your party or hosting a picnic, call ahead and ask if there is something for your allergy-free guests. For example, if you are having Italian Beef, you can go to the store and buy gluten-free buns. If there are cheese and croutons in the salad, ask for them to be on the side so your allergy-free guests can enjoy, too.

  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations on foods or brands your guests like. That will take some of the guesswork out when you are planning your grocery list.

  5. Accept the offer for your guest to bring something to share, even if it is another pasta salad.

  6. Don’t forget the sweet treats, too. One of my favorite brands is Namaste, which is free of all major allergens, including corn. All of their mixes are easy to follow, just as you would another boxed mix.

  7. Label the foods at your party. Save up some of those old wine corks and use them as label holders.

I have often learned that when my friends make gluten-free goodies, those foods go first, and when I make something to bring, there is nothing left over. I take that as a compliment because allergy-free and gluten-free doesn’t mean free of taste either.

Have a safe, happy and healthy summer.

You can find my healthy posts and tips on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter and a collection of my Gluten Free and Allergy Free Party Salads. My gluten-free, nut-free vegan pesto pasta is a hit every time!

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