Some thoughts on food-based parties from someone with food allergies.
Everyone likes getting invited to parties, but if you’re planning on having food as literally the main attraction of your party (backyard cookouts, group picnic/potlucks, group dinners, etc), please take a moment to ask if there are food allergies or needs you have to be sensitive of.
None of us like being that person who asks what’s being served and if it contains such-and-such. Let your guest list know ahead of time what you’ll be eating, then people with special needs can ask their own particular questions on the dl later.
If you’re serving buffet style, label the dishes and which ones are safe. Again, you should probably ask way in advance if anyone has special requirements, that way you can label it safe or not.
Please stop saying there will be a gluten free/vegan/dairy free/whatever option and then just having it be a wilty bowl of salad while everyone else gets a full course meal.
A bag of chips and a bunless hotdog while everyone else gets full hotdogs, 4 dessert options, chili, and many other options is not fun. We feel stupid sitting there while everyone else gets full and talks about how amazing that eclair cake is. We’re tired of getting questions about why we don’t have a bun/why we don’t try something. We don’t know if it’ll kill us. How’s that for a conversation starter.
Make sure the stuff you say is safe is actually safe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve trusted someone’s assurance only to end up horribly sick because it wasn’t really allergy-safe, it just didn’t directly contain the ingredient.
Talk to your guests with needs beforehand if you don’t label. Let them know what’s in stuff. Again, we’re tired of looking stupid by seeking out the cooks responsible and grilling them on ingredients.
On that note, know your ingredients. Just saying “teriyaki sauce” won’t cut it, I need to know what brand or what went into it, and then the brands of those. Or just let me look at the label and I’ll tell you if I can eat it.
If you’re going to be cooking stuff on site, make sure you know how sensitive people are. I’ve seen a lady at my church have to leave the building because someone was baking peanut butter cookies, and she’s allergic to peanuts. I can’t go in places people are baking bread. It’s always better to bring stuff from off-site, if possible.
Did I mention that we’re tired of getting second-rate afterthoughts while everyone else gets a full meal? I know I brought it up earlier, but it hurts really bad. It makes you feel like a second-class guest. I’ve been to so many functions where they specifically said on the invite that there would be a “gluten free option,” and it was a warm, soggy salad. It’s hard not to feel left out when everyone else is eating a full, hearty meal, and you get a single serving of a dressingless salad because people don’t know how to read labels, and the salad wasn’t intended to be someone’s whole meal so you get one scoop just like everyone else and then they run out. I know, I’m not entitled to any food at all. It just hurts, especially after the 5th or 6th time that you’re sitting at a table of people with full plates, and you’re the only one not eating, looking like a fool.
Separate options. Do not make us use the same tongs for our stuff as people who are shoving it in the non-safe food. Don’t place safe stuff next to non-safe stuff. Things drip, people are messy, crumbs fall off utensils, and this can literally be a matter of life and death for us.
Please don’t lose track of which is which! I went to a function where someone had baked identical cobblers, and one was safe while one wasn’t. They forgot which was which. No cobbler for me, after being assured I’d finally get dessert. (People with wheat allergies almost never get dessert at functions because everything is cake or cookies.)
We’re not trying to be pretentious or make your life harder, and I know that cooking/providing food for someone with allergies can be nerve wracking because you don’t want to hurt us. So just ask what kinds of things we can eat. Keep communication open. Or just don’t base every single function in the world around food, because we’re tired of getting told we’ll get fed and then ending up somewhere for hours watching everyone else eat stuff and smelling it all and being hungry while not being able to participate. It hurts a lot more than you think. I’ve just stopped going to things like this in many cases because I’m just tired. I’m tired of explaining, because people will ask why you’re not eating. I’m tired of getting stuck with sub-par afterthoughts. I’d rather not be invited if people can’t come up with something that won’t kill me but also won’t leave me feeling like a second-class guest. That’s what it feels like, despite knowing that’s not how it’s intended. After the 6th church function full of tarts, pies, sandwiches, casseroles, fried things, honey butter rolls and so on, where you’re left eating corn chips and salad (every. single. time.), you start questioning if the socializing aspect is even worth it. (Particularly when you have social anxiety to begin with but that’s just me.)
Feel free to add more. I didn’t even get into religious issues, but a lot of the same tips apply to that situation as well. Ask your guests what considerations they need, and do your best to keep communication open. We really, really appreciate you trying, more than you know.