I hesitate to invite over friends with food allergies. It can be a lot of trouble to go on a special shopping trip or buy expensive special ingredients. Plus, making food for friends with food allergies puts their health in my kitchen. That’s a big responsibility!
But the difficulties of preparing food for friends with allergies doesn’t take away from the pleasure of their company. It doesn’t excuse us from hospitality. And it isn’t a good reason not to prepare meals for friends in their hour of need, just the way we would for anyone else.
Food Allergies 101
Sometimes it’s hard to take people who complain about food allergies seriously. Special diets can seem trendy or like a way to get special attention. But food allergies and sensitivities are real. And they can cause serious complications to the people who suffer from them.
Food allergies are the immune system’s reaction to eating certain foods. The symptoms can be as mild as digestive problems or as severe as anaphylaxis and death.
Most foods can cause an allergic reaction, but these foods cause more than 90% of food allergies in the U.S.:
- Gluten and Wheat
- Peanuts and Tree Nuts
- Fish and Shellfish
Food intolerance isn’t as serious as food allergies. People with food sensitivities can probably eat small amounts of the foods to which they are sensitive every once and a while. Food intolerance usually cause digestion problems—think lactose intolerance—but they can also cause symptoms elsewhere in the body. There is some evidence that, over time, food intolerances lead to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation in turn can cause or contribute to skin problems, heart disease, migraines, and even mental disorders like anxiety and depression.
When I eat pineapple, I develop sores inside my mouth. My husband gets an upset stomach from tomatoes. And bakers yeast makes my children’s cradle cap worse.
Keep in mind that allergens can pop up where you least expect them. People with food allergies know to be careful, especially with processed foods. Cooking sprays, soy sauce, salad dressings and other condiments, and even canned soup can contain gluten. Hidden soy can be even harder to find. The safest meals for people with food allergies are meals made with the fewest possible number of pre-made ingredients or processed foods.
Cooking a meal completely from scratch can seem intimidating. But with a little prep the night before, you can prepare these simple recipes for an allergy-free dinner in less than thirty minutes.
An Allergy-Free Menu
Here is menu plan for your next get-together for friends with food sensitivities. The variety of allergens makes it impossible for there to be any one, definitive allergen-free meal, so you might want to double check with your guests.
Chilled Avocado Soup
This simple soup tastes truly elegant and takes only minutes to make. Make and tightly cover up to a day in advance.
- 2 ripe avocados
- 2 cups of unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 lime
- A pinch of cayenne pepper, if desired
- Salt, to taste
- Peel the avocados and remove the pits. Dice them.
- Using either a stand-alone or immersion blender, cream together the avocado with the other ingredients until smooth. Add more milk if the soup is too thick—it should be about the consistency of cake batter.
- Chill, tightly covered, until ready to serve. You can make the soup up to a day in advance.
Balsamic Chicken Breasts with Mushrooms and Steamed Spinach
Serves four hungry adults
This chicken is one of my favorite go-to recipes because it prepares quickly, saves well, and always makes a great impression. Marinating overnight will cut your preparation time in half. Almost all vinegars technically gluten-free because they contain fewer than 20 ppm of gluten. It is made from grapes—not grains. Very few people, even people with celiac disease, are sensitive to the gluten in balsamic vinegar. But when in doubt, ask.
- 2 pounds of thin cut chicken breasts
- 1 cup of balsamic vinegar
- 2 cups of olive oil + 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2+ tablespoons of dried rosemary, preferably crushed
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 pounds of mushrooms, sliced
- 1+ tablespoon of garlic, minced
- 4 cups fresh spinach
- Combine vinegar, oil, rosemary, salt, and the juice from the lemon to make a marinade. Marinate the chicken for at least 30 minutes. You can also marinate it overnight.
- Rinse the mushrooms in cool water. Sauté the mushrooms and garlic in olive oil. Cook until soft, about fifteen minutes. Salt to taste.
- Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat. Cook each breast until brown. Turn. You may need to cook in more than one batch, scraping the residue with a spatula between batches.
- While the chicken and mushrooms cook, put the spinach in a microwave-safe bowl. Add a few tablespoons of water. Cover and microwave for two minutes or until completely wilted.
- Plate the chicken over the spinach. Pour mushrooms over the chicken.
Banana “Ice Cream
This dessert tastes better than the real thing! Make sure you freeze the bananas in advance.
- 3 ripe bananas
- Cut the bananas into thin slices. Put the slices in a freezer-tight container or zip-top bag. Freeze for at least two hours or overnight.
- Put the bananas in a food processor—or if you don’t have a food processor, in a blender. Blend the bananas until they are as smooth a soft-serve ice cream. This may take a little longer than you think! You can add a little coconut milk if the mixture is too thick, but it shouldn’t be necessary.
- Serve immediately or put back into the freezer until solid as traditional ice cream.
Do you have food allergies? What are some of your favorite recipes?