Surviving Holiday Parties When You Have Dietary Restrictions

When you think about the holidays, you probably imagine the decorations, gifts, festivities…and of course the food! But for someone with dietary restrictions, holiday gatherings can be a source of added stress.

Whether it’s due to food allergies or intolerances, other health issues, or personal beliefs, many of us deal with the unfortunate reality of living with dietary restrictions. For those of us who fall into this super fun category, typically we quickly establish our go-to foods at home and at our favorite restaurants. But what about when you’re going to a holiday party at your friend’s house? Christmas day at your extended family’s house? As a person who has to avoid over 15 different foods/ingredients due to chronic health issues, I understand how real the struggle is! It can be absolutely nerve-wracking, but I promise that there are ways to enjoy the festivities while still avoiding those pesky foods you can’t eat!

No Need to Apologize

First things first: do not feel embarrassed, “high maintenance,” or apologetic because you cannot eat certain foods. There is a reason why you are avoiding them! Only you know how much of a certain food you can tolerate (if any), or are permitted to have, so you must make the decision that is right for you. After all, you’re the one who has to deal with the consequences, not that well-meaning relative trying to push her pumpkin pie on you!

Be Open with Your Host

Reach out to the host well before the event and let them know about your dietary restrictions: Hey! I’m so excited to see you on the 5th! I am not able to eat gluten. It is not an allergy, so you do not need to worry about cross-contamination. However, I’m sure that lots of your yummy treats will contain gluten, so I’ll bring a gluten free dish to share and also a few other snacks to fill my belly. Please let me know if you have any questions! Thank you for understanding! (Insert your favorite over-used emoji here.)

Notice that I didn’t apologize for my food intolerance? Rather, I thanked the host for understanding. Give your host the benefit of the doubt; they want you to have fun and enjoy yourself! I’ve found that, in most cases, when I am open with people about these needs, they are more than willing to accommodate or do not mind me bringing some of my own treats.

Don’t Be Afraid to B.Y.O.F.

As you see above, a great option is to bring a dish(es) to be served at the party. This way, you know that there is at least something that you can safely eat there. Just be sure to clear this with the host well ahead of time, as they will have their own menu planning going on. An added bonus: you can wow your fellow partygoers with how yummy a (vegan/kosher/paleo/gluten free, etc.) dish can be!

As an alternative, you could bring food from home. Whenever I cook a big batch of something, I always freeze a few individual servings. Then I can easily grab one out of the freezer and bring it along. I even do these with the desserts I bake; I put individual servings of my fresh-baked cookies/muffins/gingerbread into bags and freeze them, to take when I need them!

For those times when you don’t have time to cook/bake for the big event, order something from your favorite restaurant. Now, this is not the time to be adventurous and try a new dish that may have hidden ingredients; go with one of your tried-and-true go-to’s and bring it with you.

Now, when you really want to keep it simple: stay stocked up on individual packs of your go-to snacks. On your way out the door, grab a pack—okay, let’s be honest, a few packs—and you’re ready to go. Whether you’re bringing something from home or your favorite to-go, the rule stands: no surprising the host about this at their front door!

                Photos by Madison Stilson

Consider Hosting

One way to ensure that there is food that is safe for you is to host the gathering. This way you can be in charge of the menu and prepare—or order out—some dishes that follow your dietary guidelines. Of course, when your guests ask if they can bring something, let them bring those I-so-can’t-eat-this dishes so that there are many options for a diverse crowd.

Have Fun

I know that it can be very stressful eating outside the home when you have dietary restrictions. It can even be tempting to forego the festivities in an effort to avoid the fretting. But, that was before you had these handy tips! So, get your plan in place and get out there and enjoy your holiday parties (sans gluten, dairy, meat, or whatever your restriction may be)!

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Madison Stilson
Madison is a Louisiana native who recently moved to with her family to Harmony, a small town in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Madison studied Elementary Grades Education at LSU after which she taught elementary school in Baton Rouge. She is now a stay-at-home mom who enjoys watching “Blippi” and tripping over Hot Wheels that her son Matthew leaves all over the floor. She has an affinity for all things organization; a new planner, label maker, or cubby is like Christmas morning to her. She is often guilty of staying up well past her bedtime reading library books on her Kindle or watching Lifetime Christmas movies. Madison has struggled with chronic health issues for the better part of a decade and is constantly working toward improving her health. She enjoys connecting with other mamas and appreciates the creative outlet that writing provides her.