December 23, 2019

Your Guide To Allergy-Friendly Holiday Dinners

It’s the holiday season, which means gathering with family and friends, eating delicious food, and enjoying each other’s company. However, cooking for the family can be stressful enough, and that stress multiplies when you’re cooking for guests with food allergies. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! We’ve got everything you need right here, including recipes and instructions as well as a few tips and tricks that can help make a tasty and safe holiday dinner.

A food allergy is an immune reaction to a protein in a particular food. The body mistakes the protein as harmful and releases chemicals like histamines to fight it off. These chemicals cause symptoms that range from mild to severe - from hives to anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction). Food allergies can be lifelong, but they're treatable with changes in diet and medication.

If you're struggling to figure out what to eat this holiday season, you’re not alone. Almost 32 million Americans struggle with food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. That's 1 in 10 people! Luckily, when it comes to managing your family's food allergies during the holiday season, a little preparation can go a long way. 

Here are some tips for managing your family's food allergies this holiday season.


How to avoid food allergy reactions when cooking

What are the most common food allergies?

The Big-9 are the most common allergies and account for 90% of all food allergies.

These allergens are:

  •       Wheat
  •       Peanut
  •       Egg
  •       Milk
  •       Soy
  •       Fish
  •       Shellfish
  •       Tree Nut
  •       Sesame Seed

It can be daunting to try and check all your labels for allergens, but it’s helpful to know that these are the major nine that you need to look out for.

Reach out ahead of time; communication is key 

If someone in your family has a food allergy (or multiple allergies), then you should take extra care when planning the menu for your event. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so ask all your guests if they have any allergies or sensitivities that need to be avoided at all costs. Even if you know that your cousin has peanut allergies, it’s always safe and nice to double check that there isn’t anything else you should look out for. This is also a good time to remind your friends and family about any allergies your family (and the other guests attending) has, so they know what to avoid with their side dishes.

Read all your ingredient labels.

Even if you think a product is allergen-free, read the label. Manufacturers can change their ingredients or even where they make the food, which could introduce new unlisted allergens.

If you’re having trouble finding a certain ingredient or food without allergens, check out our list below for our favorite food allergy friendly recipes for holiday dinners!

Teach yourself about cross-contact.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year... But if you have food allergies, it can be a bit of a nightmare.

 The stress of preparing for holiday meals and parties can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get distracted, forget about food safety, and cross-contaminate foods.

We all know the hectic, chaotic place that is a kitchen during a holiday dinner. If you’re planning on using a dish that does contain an allergen, you need to be confident that you’re avoiding cross-contact. We recommend setting up your food allergy safety zone in one area of the kitchen. This will help keep everything organized and prevent cross-contamination between foods.

Separate your foods: Setting up a food allergy safety zone is the best way to ensure that those with allergies will not come into contact with allergens. If you don’t have enough counter space, consider setting up a separate table or area in the kitchen where allergen-free foods can be prepared and served.


Clean all surfaces: All surfaces that come into contact with food should be cleaned thoroughly before cooking begins. Wipe down counters and stovetops with a disinfectant cleaner like Clorox Regular Bleach Disinfecting Wipes, which kill 99.4% of bacteria and viruses on surfaces.


Prevent cross contamination: Wearing an apron helps keep clothing clean while cooking and protects your clothing from spills or stains during the holidays! Also, when preparing allergen-free foods, never use tools or utensils that have been used for cooking regular meals or baking treats.


Cook safely: Use separate pans for allergen-free foods, and cookware that has been washed and separated from pans that might have been contaminated with other allergens. 


Freeze dishes ahead of time.

Save yourself some time on the day of your holiday meal by preparing safe dishes ahead of time and freezing them. Holidays are a flurry of activity in the kitchen. Shop for and prepare dishes when you have lots of time to read labels. Stick them in the oven when you’re ready to bake them. Be sure to plan some extra cooking time if you bake them frozen.

Prepare sauces, gravies, and other prepared foods that can be frozen ahead of time by following package directions for safe preparation and storage. Freeze in an airtight container or heavy Ziploc bag before adding to your dish. Use within three months for best results; avoid refreezing thawed foods more than once unless otherwise directed by the manufacturer.

Make sure you label everything clearly with the date it was prepared so you know what’s what when you go to use it later on! You can also write down instructions for each item if need be.

Make mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, or stuffing a day or two before Thanksgiving, then freeze them. You can also bake pies and other desserts ahead of time. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve them. Just be sure that they’re completely cooled before placing them in the freezer so that they don’t spoil. Also, keep in mind that some foods, like stuffing, may take longer than others to thaw completely when removed from the freezer.

Our favorite recipes for an allergy-friendly holiday season

Appetizers & Sides 

·        Allergy-Friendly Garlicky Sweet Potato and Kale Mash

·        Five Minute Gluten-Free Gravy

·        Homemade Gluten-Free Stuffing

·        Instant Pot Cranberry Sauce

·        Instant Pot Vegan Mashed Potatoes

·        Creamiest Mashed Potatoes

·        Green Bean Casserole

·        Quick and Easy Sweet Potato Casserole



·        Allergy-Friendly Glazed Roast Turkey Breast

·        Holiday Honey Baked Ham

·        Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin

·        Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Sweet Potatoes


·        Eggless Chocolate Cookies

·        Festive, Vegan Sugar Cookies

·        Allergy-Friendly Gingerbread Cookies

·        Classic Pumpkin Pie with Flaky Gluten-Free Crust

·        Gluten-Free Dutch Apple Pie with Streusel Topping

·        Pumpkin Blondies with Maple Glaze

If you or your family members have food allergies, you’re probably dreading the holiday season. You want to be able to enjoy these special occasions with those that you love, but it can be difficult when there are so many ingredients in traditional holiday recipes that can cause allergic reactions in some people. If you’re looking to treat your food allergies, visit our food allergy page, which provides detailed treatment plans and frequently asked questions about food allergies.

About The Author:

Stacy Silvers, MD