Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How can I cook for you?

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.

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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.


  1. Thanks for your prayers.
    We have no food allergies and I can't begin to imagine how scary some of them are.

  2. Oh my goodness! I have never considered all the ways that nut residues can enter a dish. I can see why you think, EEK!

  3. I have really enjoyed this series! Thanks for sharing.

  4. This was a great post. I've often thought of these things because I have thought about how wonderful it would be to have you into my home for a meal or even just a snack but I know I would be very nervous about it. Perhaps you SHOULD come over though, then I know I would have a reason to do a MAJOR clean in my kitchen as I disinfect everything head to toe :)

  5. These are great tips. Offering to bring or help with part of the meal is a great way to make sure you have something to eat. I often do this with my daughter. I also love the new blog look. I get you in my reader and had not clicked over recently. Love it!

  6. Thanks for posting this sweetie! I never realized exactly how stringent things like nut allergies the extent that residues could be left on things like butter! This is an awesome reference should I ever find myself cooking for someone with nut allergies!

  7. Wow--
    Those are great tips. I have workedwith chidren who have nut allergies and the precautions we took made one think about things.
    Food allergies are nothing to mess with. When were you diagnosed with this? Did you have a bad reaction
    to something?

    Good luck on your journey.

    Take care.


  8. I have been reading all your nut allergy post and I can't imagine how tough this must be for you. I don't have allergies, but have friends who do, and after reading your posts I just want to go and hug them.

    I find with my friends, it's best to let them bring a dish, or sometimes we just make something 'premade' like a lasagna or pizza of a brand of their choosing. I am way too afraid to try to cook for them.

    It's true that food is such a huge part of our culture! And I have definitely taken my ability to eat everything (which is why I have my girlish for granted.

    Hugs to you!

  9. Great post! I struggle with getting people to take my food allergy seriously. They say things like "it only has a little flour". It is hard for me to make them understand how much pain "a little bit of flour" can cause me!

    I usually try to host get togethers at my house or at least convince the hostess to allow me to bring a dish.

  10. Just a few more things a host may not think of are: lotions and soaps (a lot of people have almond in theirs), tissues with lotion(some have soybean oil for those allergic to soy), and scented candles. The last is a big one for me. I don't know if I would have an allergic reaction to it, but heavy scents make me paranoid and if I was hanging out in a house with a nut scented candle, I'd be apt to leave. Also, cooking food in an oven at the same time as something with nuts or cooking pb cookies or the likes during the party- these again I don't know if they'd cause a reaction, but I avoid them.

    I also wanted to say that it is possible. I have some fantastic friends whom I trust to cook for me. They have made my allergies play a role in their lives. (I'm allergic to soy, corn, carrots and nuts)They only buy canola oil so they don't accidentally use the wrong ones, they read all the ingredients in their pantry items and always choose the "liz-friendly" item if their is one, they always use a fresh knife in the butter or any jars and never double dip. I still ask questions about the items they cook for me and read the labels they save for me, but it's nice to be less afraid- and they also find more foods that I didn't realize I could eat!


Thanks for stopping by! I'd love to hear from you; especially how you're finding JOY in your kitchen.

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