Last year my father turned seventy-five. He wanted his whole family together for the birthday and we managed to pull this off by having a two day party at my aunt’s house in Maryland. The issue of course was that while our varied food allergies are surmountable one at a time, for this event we needed to avoid all of the following foods.


And we needed to avoid them in a fun party atmosphere for at least 48 hours.

Now avoiding gluten and dairy can be handled by an increasing number of chain restaurants (we love you Bonefish Grill) but something like this requires planning. And while I am sure that with enough time and money you can find a high end caterer who can handle all of the above, a DIY solution is likely to be your best bet.

In case you are wondering, you are indeed correct in assuming that other than salads, quiche, and veggie stews there is not a lot to work with. Also while a vegan diet may be wonderful for most people suffering with diabetes and heart disease, if you are epi-pen carrying deathly allergic to all beans, seeds, nuts and legumes, you should probably have some meat or eggs in your diet. Healthy vegan eating assumes you can eat beans, nuts or lentils. You cannot actually live on green juice for very long.

So it could not be catered, but it could be done. In the end, we had our party and while someone did end up in the emergency room, it was not due to an allergic reaction.

What we did was to make to figure out what could be eliminated completely (gluten, dairy, nuts and shellfish) and what remained was divided into seed, bean and legume free meals containing meat and meat free meals containing soy, seeds or legumes. And, of course, we ran through a staggering amount of soap as we switched from preparing the meat containing versions of things to the bean containing ones.

If you decide to do this here are my tips
1) Figure out what is easiest to omit completely (such as nuts and shellfish) and then triage on the other allergens.
2) Squeeze bottle condiments. If they are not available, just wash every utensil after a single use so that there is no double dipping of a knife or spoon…ever. Yes you can go through a silly amount of spoons and knives, but its worth it.
3) One or two cooks in the kitchen…tops. Many hands may make light work but they also make rampant cross contamination. People can help with the cleanup but not with the cooking.
4) You may need to have two entrees or two desserts to accommodate the group. Make at least one of them a stew so it can be microwaved or reheated in its own pot.
5) True garden salads and plain rice will work as side dishes most of the time
6) Fresh fruit is a great breakfast with a rice or buckwheat cereal and it is also a great dessert
And finally
7) Communicate the rules ahead of time and be firm about the safety and comfort of the compromised guests. Food allergies are life threatening. The average 65 year old non-compliant celiac has been dead for a while. Yes it seems crazy to tell someone that they need to let you make them a sandwich but when we allowed people to help themselves, we had cross-contamination within ten minutes.

Yes it is a challenge. Yes I was really tired at the end of the weekend. No the earthquake, hurricane, flood, trip to the emergency room and power failure (LONG story) did not help. But having the entire family under one roof enjoying safe, healthy meals together was totally worth it.

It can be done.