It’s the season when gestures of hospitality are on display through festive gatherings with family, friends and even colleagues. However, for those managing food allergies or celiac disease, the generous invitations to family gatherings or business dinners quickly translate into a myriad of questions, risk assessment and sometimes, stressful challenges.
Is dinner to be held at a restaurant with safe options? Is Grandma going to set out bowls of nuts again? Is brunch a potluck? Can I bring my own food? The list goes on.
Finding that perfect balance between safety, risk and gratitude is a difficult task. If risk of a food-allergic reaction is high, then the reality of establishing boundaries and saying ‘No’ may be the solution – despite how uncomfortable that may seem.
By not saying ‘No’ to events and situations that are unsafe, we are saying ‘Yes’ to the wrong things. For example, you may need to explain to Grandma that you love her very much, but that you cannot eat her pie since that could send you to the emergency room.
Saying ‘No’ sets boundaries and provides clarity about what is – and isn’t – possible for those with food allergies or living gluten-free.
When saying ‘No’, be gracious, affirming and clear, and offer solutions or alternatives whenever appropriate. Offer to bring food – such as dessert, since it’s difficult. Avoid speaking with an angry tone and remember the reason you were invited – they want you to participate. Above all: be direct with kindness.
Like the 12 Days of Christmas, here are my 12 ways to say ‘No’ nicely:
1. It’s hard for us to miss your holiday party, but managing our toddler in such a large crowd with many allergens within his reach is not possible. We hope when he is older we’ll celebrate together again. We love you and will miss you this year. Let’s plan to have you over in the New Year.
2. Thank you for the invitation to the company holiday party, and for including my family. We will not be able to attend due to my son’s food allergy to seafood, as this year’s style of cooking and sharing dishes will place him at risk for anaphylaxis. If next year I can help with the meal planning, I’d be delighted to do so.
3. Thank you for including my children, we always enjoy spending time with you, but we find that potluck dinners are dangerous for our little ones with food allergies. May we celebrate together over allergen-safe hot cocoa next week?
4. I wish we could say “yes” to joining you this weekend. Unfortunately, the restaurant chosen is not able to accommodate my gluten-free diet. If I may suggest, I do know of a similar and wonderful restaurant that offers many delicious and gluten-free menu options.
5. I was very happy to receive your invitation. However, I am not comfortable eating from a buffet due to my food allergies. My personal policy is to bring allergen-safe food from home, so may I bring something along and enjoy the evening with you?
6. This was a very hard decision to make since you are very important to us, but we need stay home this year due the complex food allergy procedures we follow to keep our son safe. We hope you’ll come visit us this spring, we’d love to catch up on all your news!
7. Grandma, I love you dearly, but my allergies to many foods is tough. Instead of a potluck, can we prepare a safe meal that we can all enjoy together? I want to share this Christmas with you and avoid a serious allergic reaction.
8. I appreciate your asking my daughter along to the gingerbread house-decorating party. Unfortunately, her severe nut allergy makes it unsafe for her to participate and she won’t be able to attend. Instead, can we invite your daughter over to make ornaments to celebrate the holiday?
9. My son was just diagnosed with celiac disease and is learning how to navigate his new diet. He is used to dealing with his food restrictions in our home, and I’m concerned about him feeling safe in a new setting. Can we talk about it?
10. My most cherished childhood memories are of your famous pecan pie. I’m sad that my son can’t enjoy your special dessert because of his nut allergies. To keep him safe and included, can you bake an allergen-free dessert and start a new tradition with us?
11. We don’t have enough information about the family reunion. Can you let us know how the food will be handled and we’ll see if it will work with our requirements to manage the family’s food allergies? With life-threatening food allergies, there are many small details that need to be worked out to keep our children safe. We really appreciate your understanding, and look forward to offering assistance and taking part.
12. I heard Rudolph is allergic to tree nuts and Santa enjoys soy milk, too. Let’s bake some nut-free cookies and put out soy milk for Santa and his reindeer to enjoy this Christmas Eve.