If you have food restrictions, navigating holiday dinner parties can sometimes run along a spectrum of irritating to terrifying. As someone who lives with celiac disease, I can say that it’s kind of annoying to miss certain foods, while also being scared when I think about how damaging they are to my health. But even when you've accepted your food restrictions, it’s important to know how to bring up a dietary restriction if you’re visiting someone for the holidays. While you may have food preferences for any number of reasons that people need to respect, even if they're not strictly medically necessary, you might also need to make your dietary needs clear in order to protect your health. And making that process as stress-free as possible, for both you and your host, is key.
"With celiac disease, not only does any gluten-containing food cause permanent damage to the person's intestinal tract, any cross-contamination between their food and gluten-containing foods is also harmful," Christy Brissette, registered dietitian and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition, tells Bustle via email. "Even if a food doesn't contain gluten but was manufactured in a facility that isn't gluten-free, that's a form of cross-contamination. Many people don't understand this. Now that gluten intolerance is more widespread, people might assume that someone who is gluten-free and has celiac disease is trying to be difficult or overstating their need for a gluten-free diet. It's always important to educate your host on your disease or allergy so they are aware of the severity."
According to The Washington Post, special diets have never been as common as they are now, and your host might already know what your needs are if they know you (very) well, or are a (close) family member. That said, don’t count on anyone else to be an expert on your condition if your restrictions involve food intolerances — you definitely don’t want to take any chances with your health. “If you have a food allergy, it’s your responsibility to let your host know,” etiquette expert Julie Blais Comeau told The Washington Post. “This is a safety issue, so don’t be shy about speaking up,”
Saying something like, “I’m excited to join everyone for dinner next week, and thanks for the invite. I wanted to let you know that I’m allergic to shellfish — is that something you can work around?” can help clarify your needs with your host, while minimizing their stress over hosting. Don't wait until the last minute to chat with your host about your food restrictions. Planning a large dinner party can be stressful, and your host might be juggling multiple requests. Giving them a heads up as to what your needs are when you receive the invitation in the first place can be helpful.
Offering to bring your own dish to the party can also be a good idea, says Brissette. "I always recommend bringing food with you to share and letting the host know you're going to do that. Having back up foods with you just in case is especially important."
"You're being a good guest by bringing something, and trying to take some of the work off of your host, which the person will appreciate. You're also making sure you have something to eat just in case the person doesn't understand what your restrictions are," she says.
Bon Appetit notes that, per standard dinner party etiquette, it’s never rude to ask your host if a dish contains an ingredient that could make you sick. So, having a strategy in place where you can enjoy the meal with everyone, while neither you nor your host needs to stress out about your safety, is the best plan when dealing with food restrictions during the holidays.