If you have dietary restrictions, you are very aware of how much having a social life revolves around food. Ice cream socials, pizza night, coffee with friends, potlucks….food is everywhere. If your friends don’t have dietary restrictions, social outings can start to feel a bit like a minefield.
No one wants to be the person who vetoes every restaurant, so if you’re anything like me, you’ve eaten before girl’s night out parties and drank a soda while everyone else had pizza. Now, I have been gluten free since 2012, so I’ve got stuff figured out. I bring my own food or eat beforehand. I ask questions, or bring a safe potluck dish to share and serve myself first from it— no matter how rude it looks.
But I have family and friends who love me, and who want me to feel included. So, I’ve been asked over the years how to make me feel more included, or how to make me feel safer at gatherings. Now that my daughter has food allergies, we’ve also met plenty of parents who want my daughter to play with their kids, and who don’t want to poison her.
So let’s talk about how you can be a food allergy hero and take care of your friends instead of being a food allergy zero….and poisoning your friends.
1. Ask how you can make them feel safe.
My Celiac is different than my daughter’s food allergies, and everyone with food allergies has different limits, tolerances, and safe foods. Some people with restricted diets can deal with cross-contamination. Some, like me, cannot. Keep lines of communication open, and find out what your friend’s personal dietary needs are.
2. Be wary of cross-contamination.
If your friend is allergic to dairy and you dip your spoon in ranch dressing before using the same spoon to get mustard, that mustard is now off-limits to your friend, too. Although ranch dressing and mustard are a disgusting combination, cross-contamination happens more often than you think. Read up on cross-contamination and learn ways to prevent it— like letting your friend with food allergies serve themselves first.
3. Assume the best in people.
Yes, there are food allergy fakers out there, and it hurts my soul to see someone wash down a gluten-free pizza with a Bud Lite. Still, if you love your friend or family member who has a restricted diet, it’s good to assume the best. They’re not doing this just to annoy you (or if they are, you may need to re-examine your relationship with this person.) Most times, they’re doing this because they have no other choice!
4. Don’t share food (or at least ask first)
This mainly applies to kids. Listen, I know that sharing is good, and you’ve been working on teaching your kid to share. But when your kid hands my kid ice cream and my kid starts puking, you’re not going to share in the clean-up work. Please, please, do not share food without at least asking the parent. Teach kids that not everyone can eat what they can eat, and to be thoughtful of their friends who eat differently than they do. A little empathy can go a long way! (And yes, we’re teaching my kid not to take food from other people unless we say it’s okay. But if she’s one and your kid is five, your kid might grasp the lesson a little better.)
5. Let us know where we’re eating ahead of time.
If we’re having dinner out, I don’t have to pick the place every time. Sure, I’d feel safer that way, and some of my friends do let me choose when we go out. However, if you want to be in charge, go for it! Just let me know where we’ll be eating in advance, so I can figure out if it’ll be safe for me. If not, I can eat in advance, bring snacks for afterwards, or just eat somewhere else and catch up with everyone later. If I don’t know in advance, I may be stuck drinking a sad soda while everyone else eats, and I may get hangry. Hangry celiacs are the worst celiacs. (Also, if you DO let me pick the restaurant, then I probably consider you one of my best friends.)
6. Let us ask questions.
When we ask questions about your food, it isn’t because we don’t trust you. It’s because that many times, it took us years to figure out the ins and outs of our diets. Although we’re sure you’re doing your best, we want to keep ourselves safe! It’s better for us to ask questions to make sure that what you’re offering us is truly safe for us to eat than for you to accidentally poison us and for us to hold a grudge for fifteen years.
I asked on my private Facebook what people with dietary restrictions wished their loved ones knew or would do, and I got all of these answers that I had already written…plus more! If you know or care about someone with a restricted diet, try to keep open, non-judgmental lines of communication. Ask them questions. Let them ask questions. Work together to come up with solutions that work for your friend group or family.
Let’s talk: If you have food allergies, how can your family be food allergy heroes for you?