The doctor says your son has Celiac Disease.  Or you’ve finally determined that your daughter feels a whole lot better when she doesn’t eat dairy.  Or maybe you and your family are slated to share a Thanksgiving meal with friends who eat completely grain free.  Suddenly traditional stuffing and pumpkin pie are off the menu and you find yourself at a loss for how to navigate our current culture of dietary restrictions.

You are not alone.  Allergies and sensitivities to soy, dairy, grain, gluten, sugar and peanuts are on the rise.   And as the holidays approach, families all over the country are searching for ways accommodate dietary restrictions without sacrificing the joy that we feel when we gather around a holiday table

This November, Austin Family offers five tips to help you and your family in that effort.

1.  Speak Up. If you’re hosting a holiday meal and gathering, be sure to ask your guests well in advance if their family has any dietary restrictions. Give yourself and your guests a few weeks before the meal to discuss the menu.   Then ask your guest if there’s one dish you can make to accommodate his or her needs.  Remember to ask for a favorite recipe with the alternative ingredients.   Do not feel like you have to cater the whole meal to someone’s dietary restrictions; your guests aren’t expecting that.  Alternately, you can always ask your guests to bring a side dish that suits his or her diet.  Communicate ahead of time so that no one is left feeling hungry or unprepared. That way, everyone will feel welcome at the table.


2.  Experiment with New Recipes. If you’re the guest with a dietary restriction, the internet is your best friend for recipes! Professional and amateur chefs alike are posting new and interesting recipes all the time that feature alternative ingredients to suit dietary restrictions.   Do your research and find the best-of-the-best and offer to cook it.  If you had a favorite holiday food that is now off-limits because of a dietary restriction, look up alternative ways to make it. In addition, if your child has a dietary restriction, have him help make a new recipe and taste-test it. Your child will enjoy having a culinary hand in making his own food and will be less likely to feel left out at the gathering.  Be sure to bring enough so that others can try your dish as well. Your host will be grateful and your fellow dinner guests might enjoy trying a traditional dish with a new spin.


3.  Don’t forget the Dessert.  Everyone at a holiday meal looks forward to dessert and finding a store-bought or homemade dessert to suit a dietary restriction can make the heart happy.  Just about every grocery store in Austin provides some kind of cake, pie or ice cream with alternative ingredients to suit dietary restrictions, especially Whole Foods, Sprouts or Central Market.  If your child has a restricted diet, go to the store together well ahead of the holiday rush and let him pick out a special dessert.  Save it for that holiday gathering and everyone will feel satiated.


4.  Eat before you arrive.
If your child has a restricted diet, be sure that he or she eats a hearty snack before you arrive at a holiday gathering.  Often, the meal isn’t served immediately when you arrive and appetizers won’t necessarily cater to his needs, so you risk the onset of the “hangry” version of your son or daughter.  Nobody wants that at a holiday gathering.  Be in your child’s corner and make sure he or she isn’t famished when you arrive at your holiday meal.


5.  Teach your Child the Power of “No, thank-you.” Having a restricted diet can feel a little awkward for a child at first, but it can become a powerful opportunity to teach a social skill that many adults don’t possess: the ability to say a simple, polite “No, thank you.” If need be, role-play with your child to get him comfortable saying no thank you when offered a food he knows he cannot eat.  By doing so, you are teaching your child body awareness and autonomy. Your child will have ample opportunities to explain the “why” of his dietary restrictions, but it’s perfectly good and acceptable to teach him to speak up for himself and simply say “No, thank-you” when offered an off-limits food.

Jess Archer is a writer, mom of two kids and wife. She is the author of the memoir, Finding Home with the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Billy Graham.

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