Holiday food can be a minefield when your children are allergy sufferers. Here are some helpful hints and tips for getting through the festive season safely, including substitution ideas for common ingredients; some tips for navigating holiday parties safely; and places where you can find allergy-friendly recipes and products online.
When you have children with allergies, particularly if they’re severe or even life threatening, you’re likely to find holiday meal planning and parties full of potential pitfalls. Some of the most common allergy causing ingredients – gluten, wheat, dairy, seafood and nuts – all tend to feature heavily on seasonal menus.
Make it safe – using substitutions
The obvious way to be sure your Christmas food is safe for consumption is to make or buy it yourself, using substitutions where necessary.
Some suggested substitutions for common festive fare:
- Cakes and puddings: This can be one of the trickiest areas as unfortunately there isn’t one wheat-free flour that works equally well for all types of baking. Rice, buckwheat, sorghum, potato, corn, coconut and tapioca flours, nut meal and flours or gluten-free flour mixes are all good options, but it can take a bit of experimentation to work out what works best for which recipes. You can, however, make your own gluten-free flour to replace all-purpose flour by mixing six parts rice flour to two parts potato starch and one part gluten-free cornflour. (Ground almonds can also be used in place of the potato starch, assuming your children don’t have nut allergies.)
- Biscuits: A mix of corn flour and rice flour is typically a good solution for biscuits, particularly shortbread, as it gives them a light texture. Other good options for gluten and wheat-free sweet treats are flourless chocolate brownies, meringues and slices made with gluten-free ingredients such as puffed corn or gluten-free oats or muesli.
- Stuffing: Stuffings often call for breadcrumbs and gluten-free breadcrumbs aren’t always a great substitution, as they can taste ‘heavy’. Good substitutions include polenta, cornmeal, dried fruit and nuts, cooked rice or quinoa.
- Sausage: Watch out for the breadcrumbs that are frequently added to sausage meat. Choose products marked gluten-free or make your own.
- Bread sauce: Simply substitute gluten-free breadcrumbs.
- Sauces and condiments: Hidden gluten can be found in things such as gravy, sauces, salad dressings, prepared soups, spiced nuts, cooking wine and frozen desserts. Always be sure to read labels carefully and call the manufacturer if need be.
- Cakes and puddings: Look for dairy-free (vegan) recipes or substitute dairy-free margarine for butter and soy, rice or almond milk for milk in equal amounts.
- Roasts: Use olive oil instead of butter to moisten meat and fry vegetables.
- Mashed potatoes: Use either olive oil or dairy-free spreads in place of butter and cream. You can also add soymilk for creaminess or stock for extra flavour and moisture.
- Stuffing: Nuts in stuffing, puddings and salads can often be replaced with chopped dried fruit to add texture and taste.
- Christmas cake: Christmas cakes are frequently made with marzipan or almond essence, which contain almonds. Decorate cakes instead with Royal Icing or Fondant or top with crystallised fruit.
- Fruitcake: Plenty of fruitcake recipes are nut free. Try to find one if you can rather than substituting and hoping the amounts work out. If not, substitute the same quantity of chopped dried fruit for nuts.
- Christmas pudding: Replace ground nuts with an equal quantity of flour and a tablespoon of butter or dairy-free spread.
Where to find allergy free recipes
Vegan recipes are fantastic for people with dairy allergies and there are plenty of recipes online. Try The Vegan Society of New South Wales and Vegweb.com for starters. Also, try this collection of allergy-free Christmas recipes from About.com.
Buying safe products online
These days, allergies and intolerances are, thankfully, much better understood than they once were, so it’s easier for sufferers to buy safe products. Try Allergy Assist or Allergy Friendly Foods for starters.
Tips for surviving holiday parties
Always let your hosts know about your children’s allergies well in advance and don’t be shy to specify what they can and can’t eat. People are usually happy to oblige if they can but a lot of people still aren’t clear on what ingredients might be risky, particularly when it comes to gluten.
If the risk is severe, call ahead and let your host know you’ll be bringing your own food and why. Even with the best intentions people may not understand the risks of cross-contamination and may otherwise be offended if you bring your own food.
Keep a stash of easily portable safe snacks on hand that you can take to gatherings in case there’s not enough there that your child can safely eat.
Make sure your kids have eaten something beforehand. That way, they’re less likely to be tempted by unsafe food or upset about being told they can’t eat certain things.