I have a lot of food and environmental allergies; sometimes I feel like I should live in a bubble. But then I remember that I’m allergic to bubbles, so I stick with the real world, which includes friends and family, who are often unsure of how to feed me when they have me over for dinner. So here it goes, straight from a gluten-free, corn-free, and dairy-free mouth: some tips for how to make your friends with allergies more comfortable eating at your place. Disclaimer: not all of these tips will apply to accommodating all people with allergies—I’m speaking from personal experience.
1. Get the all info: Ask your friend with allergies exactly what they’re allergic to ahead of time. If they’re allergic to a lot, it’s good to get a copy of the list so you can have it on hand when selecting your menu. I have a prepared list I can provide with the heading: “How Not To Kill Molly.”
2. Pay attention and follow instructions: If your guest tells you they’re only allergic to chocolate if they eat it, but they’ll react to salmon if it’s anywhere near them, you can serve chocolate for the other guests, but forgo salmon for the evening. Avoiding anaphylaxis is the height of sophistication for any dinner party.
3. Ask all the questions: Often I have a email/Facebook dialogue beforehand, where my friends will check-in with me on allergy-friendly brands, substitutes they can use for other ingredients, etc. Your friend with allergies probably knows a ton about their allergies: use them! It will make them feel more comfortable (and loved) to know you’re considering their dietary restrictions so thoroughly.
4. Be accommodating as possible: If you need to set aside separate silverware, do it. If you need to cook two kinds of broccoli, one with cheese, one without, do it. If you need help cooking, ask! I like helping to cook because I like to contribute to the party, plus I can keep an eye on all of my food being prepared—like the adorable food creep I am.
5. Don’t take it personally: If your friend with allergies accepts the dinner invitation but asks to bring their own food, understand that it’s not that they don’t trust you. What they don’t trust are sneaky labels and possibly contaminated cookware. If they want to bring something themselves and heat it up, or bring a dish for everyone that they can safely enjoy, be cool with it. They just want to enjoy your company without worrying about their throat closing.
6. Chill: For the actual party, if you’ve talked everything over with your friend and followed all recommendations and instructions, try not to worry. You’ve probably done everything right, and you’ve been awesome and helped your friend attend a dinner party successfully. Whenever this happens, this is a major victory for me, and usually ends in a celebration of potato-only vodka.
Following these tips can help your friend do exactly what many people with allergies want: to forget about their allergies and have a stellar time. At a dinner party, all I want is to be able to enjoy the people I’m with, while not exploding from the food. If you can make that happen, I will love you forever. But not as much as I love Benadryl.