Coping with allergies and food intolerances can be tricky at the best of times. Trying to find tasty alternatives to make for yourself or for someone you’re cooking for can add additional stress to an already onerous task, but when you add Christmas into the mix, suddenly what was meant to be a relaxing time enjoying good food and laughter with your nearest and dearest, can start to feel like an almighty chore.
With so many core components of Christmas relying on a hearty mix of gluten, dairy, eggs and nuts, the festivities can be a little difficult to navigate for those of us who want to indulge in all the treats without paying the price later. But the good news is that with a fair bit of forward planning and a clever bit of tweaking there’s no reason why someone with food intolerances can’t enjoy just as much delicious festive fayre throughout the whole Christmas period as anyone else.
Savvy socialising and practical partying
Seasonal celebrations seem to start earlier and earlier these days. There’s the work do, the partner’s work do, the friends’ get-together, the neighbours’ drinks, the sports club do, the girls’ night out, the team lunch, the school mum’s do, the Christmas markets . . . the list just goes on. Keeping yourself on track throughout the whole of December (and maybe even the latter half of November) is a real challenge, but it is achievable. It just requires a bit more thought. Here’s some handy tips for battling the bloat in the run up to Christmas:
• Planning is key. Since it’s easy to get caught up in the party – and inevitably pressing the “F it! It’s Christmas” button – make sure you have a plan BEFORE you hit the bubbles. Alcohol seriously affects your judgement and decision-making skills, setting you up for failure if you’re not onto it beforehand
• Try and ensure you have as much information about where you’ll be eating and look at the menu in advance if you possibly can. Most places will provide allergy-free options either on or off the menu, so checking it out in advance can save time and potential disaster on the night
• Take emergency supplies if you’re not sure what will be on offer, even if it’s just a snack or protein bar, some nuts or a banana – drinking on an empty stomach is no good for anyone and hanger ruins everyone’s fun
• Be up front about your dietary requirements and tell people in advance of your restrictions, but offer to help in any way you can. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being a burden on their host, but equally you don’t want to end up with an empty plate, because that’s just awkward for everybody
• If it’s a party, bring a contribution with you that you can eat so you know you won’t go wanting
• Carry some digestive enzyme supplements with you in your bag, just for added insurance and a little extra digestive help if needed
Winner winner Christmas dinner
So you’ve survived the run-up to Christmas but then the big day itself approaches. On the face of it, Christmas dinner looks relatively safe for those with allergies and intolerances. Turkey, ham, roast potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sprouts and all manner of other veg . . . what could possibly go wrong? But start adding in all the trimmings and garnishes and suddenly things get a little more tricky: gravy, stuffing, bread sauce, nut roast, Christmas cake, mince pies, cheese and crackers, ice cream . . . even pigs in blankets could be a no go! So what simple switches can you make to ensure the day runs smoothly without a hitch? Again it all comes down to the planning.
• Try making gravy with gluten-free flour or cornflour – or blend up the vegetables from the trivet and use that to thicken your gravy
• If you’re vegetarian, make a gluten-free nutroast in advance – there’s a wealth of recipes online – just pick your favourite
• The same goes for stuffing: check them out online or buy one of the gourmet mixes from your local supermarket
• If you’re catering for someone on a dairy-free diet, then rice, almond, coconut and soya-based products are good alternatives to cream and ice cream
• Bake healthy alternative cakes and desserts in advance so you don’t have to feel like you’re depriving yourself. Sometimes a small tweak to a recipe can mean everyone will be able to enjoy it
• If you’re not keen on baking or you’re short on time, stock up in advance on swaps from the “free from” aisle in the supermarket. There are plenty of gluten and dairy-free alternatives to seasonal favourites like mince pies and Christmas cake available
• Buy some healthy dark chocolate that you can tuck into when everyone else is gorging on Quality Street
With so many options now available to people with food sensitivities, special occasions and celebrations no longer needs to be a chore. Just be prepared, carefully communicate your needs to others, offer to help where you can and concentrate on all the other fun aspects of Christmas, and you’ll be enjoying this most wonderful time of the year along with everyone else.