Lynn and I are in the middle of a series focused on nut allergies. So far, we've talked about what allergies are, how one adjusts to life with a nut allergy and what things one can eat when diagnosed. This week, we focus on one of the most challenging aspects of having a nut allergy: talking with family/friends about our allergy and letting them prepare food for you. Hope you stop by Lynn's place to hear what she has to share.
* * *
How can I cook for you?
That's one question I've repeatedly been asked since being diagnosed with a nut allergy.
It's a question that evokes two reactions from me:
(1) Thanks for the concern and interest in wanting to cook for me
(2) Eek! Someone else is going to cook for me.
Let me tackle the first one off the top. I always appreciate the offer and gesture that my friends/family make when they say they want to cook for me. I know that it's part of hospitality and caring for one another to feed our friends and family. We're wired that way. And, it's often more awkward for the hostess than it is for me. For, I know my boundaries and if I'm not comfortable with eating then I won't. I pack snacks. I eat before hand. It's my new normal.
But, it isn't "normal" for other people. And, since food is such a HUGE part of our culture, it's natural that people want to cook for me. And, it's likely that you might be cooking for someone with a food allergy.
To help minimize the second reaction to your desire to cook for me (eek!), here are a list of some of my suggestions:
- Discuss the severity of the allergy.
- This is important, as one fear of an allergic person is that the host thinks "oh, it's just a little, that won't be a big deal", and is not as cautious as they would be in preparing food. Recognizing and understanding the severity of the reaction is the first step in preparing a meal for an allergic guest.
- Have a conversation and get in writing what foods are completely off-limits.
- For me, this includes: anything with nuts, peanut butter, seeds or nut/seed oils
- But, it also includes things like granola bars, ice cream, and snack mixes because of cross-contamination.
- Ask what brands your guest is able to eat.
- Some brands are better than others; their labeling is better. Your guest will have a familiarity with "brands" and their safety.
- Think: Cross Contamination.
- Start Clean. Scrub, using soap/dishwasher, all utensils, pots/pans, counter tops, measuring cups/spoons, etc. that are involved in preparing your dish.
- Use new ingredients. Even though butter doesn't have any nuts in it, if the knife you used to slice it last time was contaminated, chances are there is enough residue on the butter to cause a reaction in your severely-allergic guest.
- Think: Flour, sugar, anything that you put utensils into to measure.
- Wash your hands frequently. If you store your almonds next to your flour and have to move the nut bag to get the flour out of the cupboard, your hands now contain nut residue.
- Use new towels and wash cloths to help minimize cross contamination
- Read labels carefully.
- Be sure to read the label -- look for the allergen and also look for the "may contain" or "contains traces of nuts". The latter two show up in places one would not expect. For example, some bagged salads have this warning because salads now include packages of nuts.
- Offer to let your guest help prepare the dinner with you, or to bring a portion of the dinner
- This helps take the burden off of you and also provides something that the allergic guest knows is safe.
By taking these precautions, your guest might not go "eek!" when you ask to cook for him/her. But please, do not be offended if you go through all the trouble of preparing a nut-free meal for your guest and he/she still doesn't feel comfortable eating what you've prepared. In my experience, this is often the hardest part of sharing a meal with someone who's highly allergic.
Know that we recognize your effort and precautions.
Know that we appreciate your effort.
Know that we are thankful you care enough about us to want to cook for us.
Despite all these things, the fear of having a reaction can over power us at any time. If we don't feel like taking the risk that night, we will likely pass at the food. We'll enjoy the conversation and pleasant evening rather than risk ending the night in the hospital.
I am not a medical doctor, nor do I pretend to be one of this blog. I'm just a girl, living with a severe allergy to nuts who wants to share her journey with you.