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How do I plan a dinner party menu for guests with allergies?

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My husband is deathly allergic to peanuts. Going out for dinner used to be a trial. We would tell our hosts or the restaurant about his allergy, but still, peanuts crept into a Caesar salad and we would end up at the hospital.

Today everyone is more allergy conscious. Some schools have banned nuts, for example, and restaurants are accommodating requests from patrons with allergies. One restaurateur told me that one night he had 10 allergies at one table and the kitchen coped.

The most common allergens are milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, shellfish and eggs. If you are hosting a dinner party, you must consider food allergies, as well as dietary preferences (paleo, vegan, etc.) when planning your menu.

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Dinner parties provide warmth and friendship and being sensitive to allergies is a part of this. As a host, it is your responsibility to ask your guests about allergies when you invite them, and if you forget to, the guests must make sure that you know about them.

It may seem like more work at first, but there are ways to turn it into a positive and to ensure the workload in the kitchen isn’t doubled.

Use the allergy as a jumping-off point to look for new recipes, for instance. Don’t make Pad Thai and simply leave out the nuts, go for a whole new approach. Increase your repertoire and experiment. Try looking at food blogs that deal with these issues – it is a good way to find recipes.

If you are entertaining vegetarians and meat eaters at the same party, make a large vegetable dish such as vegetable lasagne or a bean and chickpea stew with a grain or bean side and keep the meat separate.

Be sensitive to your gluten-free friends and avoid all products that contain gluten. If you are annoyed that you can’t make Aunt Emily’s magnificent pound cake, use Cup4Cup gluten-free flour. It works beautifully. Find it at health and gluten-free stores.

Chinese restaurants, where food tends to be shared, can pose a challenge. If someone in your party has an allergy, try to avoid communal dishes involving that ingredient. If that isn’t feasible, be aware of cross-contamination; don’t plunge your chopsticks into the shrimp and then use the same chopsticks in the vegetables.

Lastly, if a label says the product was made in a factory that handles allergens (usually nuts) use a different brand. It is always better to err on the side of caution.

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As for my husband, he only had one incident this year and it was a close friend’s house, which should remind us guests to always reiterate the allergy information – even when it is a friend.

Need some advice about kitchen life and entertaining? Send your questions to lwaverman@globeandmail.com.

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