While it’s true that navigating food choices at big Thanksgiving feasts and festive celebrations can be extra challenging if you have food sensitivities or allergies , it’s totally possible to enjoy the holiday treats and still feel great afterwards. At Parsley Health, we regularly support members with food sensitivities through both an enjoyable and nourishing holiday season. The secret? Being prepared and having a plan.
When you have a plan in place, you won’t need to agonize over this year’s spree of holiday socializing and you’ll be able to fully enjoy the festivities. Arm yourself with our pre-party planning checklist!
The first step in being prepared is being aware of your personal tolerance to trigger foods. For example, can you have a few bites of something and get away with it, or does a crumb of wheat ruin your day (and potentially your whole week)? Does more than one glass of wine give you a headache or make you bloated or anxious the next day? Are you on a low FODMAP diet for IBS and do you know that eating a few almonds for you is ok, but more than 10 will do you in? These are the questions you need to ask yourself — and be honest about — prior to your first holiday party if you want to feel great throughout the holiday season. When you determine what and how much of a food, drink, or sweet you can handle ahead of time, you’ll create succinct goals that you can stick to without suffering the consequences later on.
For an added bonus, write your goals down. This can help to solidify your plan and make it more likely that you’ll adhere to it. Read your plan before you head out and use friends or your Parsley health coach for support and accountability in ensuring you stick to your guns.
One of the most foolproof ways to ensure you’ll have something to eat at the event is bringing a safe dish or two with you. Not only is this a nice way to support the host but it also ensures you know you’ll have a few things to pick from that are absolutely food sensitivity-free and can guarantee you won’t have to sit out on the festive feasting. Don’t feel like you need to stick to a bland salad but rather bring something that’s exciting and filled with flavor like some peppers stuffed with your favorite herbs and veggies or sweet potato hash with coconut oil and cinnamon.
If there are other safe options to choose from at the party, that’s always a bonus! If not, you won’t be so hungry that you’ll make a food decision that won’t sit well with you and you’ll be better able to prevent feeling less-than-festive afterward.
If you’re unable to bring your own dish along to the party, be prepared by always having something on hand you can snack on prior to the festivities. For example, packing nuts and seeds in little bags and throwing a few in your purse or car is one of the best ways to ensure you won’t walk into the party with your stomach rumbling. This is especially helpful during cold and flu season when it’s important to increase nutritional density of your intake as much as possible with high mineral foods such as Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and walnuts. These nuts and seeds contain essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, and vitamin B-6 that help to boost your immunity and protect cells against invading pathogens— decreasing your likelihood of getting sick. Try one to two tablespoons of each in a little baggies that will be good for weeks to nibble on as needed.
Water helps to flush the body more efficiently and can also be the key to preventing a hangover if also drinking alcohol at the event. We recommend drinking a glass of water or seltzer between each alcoholic drink to help balance your intake and slow your alcohol consumption.
Even if not indulging in a holiday cocktail, drinking plenty of water can be helpful in the rare case some your crudité was cross-contaminated with one of your trigger foods. Staying hydrated is very important if cross-contamination occurs, especially if you experience diarrhea as a major symptom, and extra fluids will help flush your system well. In addition to drinking regular water, try coconut water or bone broth for electrolytes to further boost hydration and support detoxification.
It’s never too late to start rethinking about how you and your loved ones define your annual holiday traditions. Creating new ways to celebrate that don’t revolve around food such as watching favorite holiday movies, reading a special holiday book, volunteering together, caroling, or making holiday decorations can be a great way to get in the holiday spirit without the focus on holiday treats.
If you have special recipes that are ingrained in your family’s holiday traditions, think about ways you can recreate treats like your Grandma’s famous apple pie to make it allergen-free for you. Can you swap out the wheat flour for almond or coconut flour or replace an egg with unsweetened applesauce or gelatin? With so many online resources to help guide your new recipe creation and allow for replacements of things that may no longer work for you, recreating your family recipes has never been more accessible and enjoyable.
Talk to your doctor at Parsley Health about what you should keep accessible for accidental food trigger exposure. Your doctor can suggest specific digestive enzymes that can assist you in breaking down harder-to-digest proteins and binders such as activated charcoal that help to rid the body of unwanted substances more efficiently. Additionally, taking probiotics , digestive bitters, or ginger tablets can also help promote quicker movement through your system if you start to experience a bit of nausea, bloating , or gas . Always be sure to ask your physician about the ideal brands, dosage, and variety that will be the best for you.
If it is a smaller party, talk to the host and explain your food restrictions and offer ideas about foods and dishes you can eat. How would you feel if you were hosting a party and one of the guests couldn’t eat anything you served?
If it is a larger event, you can always politely ask one of the catering staff about the particular ingredients in a dish. They usually want you to have a good time and will happily go ask the chef about any particular ingredient you need to steer clear of eating. If you’re going to a holiday event at a restaurant, call the restaurant beforehand to ask about their menu and inform them of the specific allergens you need to avoid. This can help you to go in with an exact plan regarding what to eat that will work for you and prevents you from having to ask all the questions once you get there.
Lastly, in addition to questions from hosts and caterers you might get a few curious fellow party goers wondering why your order looks a bit different. While no one likes feeling like they are being a nuisance, it can be helpful to explain to your family and friends the foods that you’re avoiding and why. By expressing that these foods actually make you feel poorly or are harmful to you, others are likely to be more understanding and supportive. You might even inspire a friend or two to start thinking about their own intake a bit more closely to help them feel their best!
Build a strong gut , develop better resilience to stress, wash your hands, and engage in post-party self-care. When you get home, snuggle up with a warm tea made from licorice, fennel, ginger, peppermint, or marshmallow root to help soothe your stomach and support digestion.
If you think you might feel overwhelmed with all the food choices before entering a social holiday setting, take a few deep breaths and relax so you don’t go into the party overwhelmed. It can be hard to be mindful of our eating habits when we’re chatting with friends and family, so take time during the party to check in with yourself and determine how you’re feeling and how full you are to ensure you’re making the best decisions. Mindful eating is key!
Most importantly, support your body the majority of the 365 days of the year with whole, real foods that make you feel alive, and help optimize your health, and well-being. By taking great care of yourself during the year, a few treats at a party shouldn’t derail your entire nutrition plan.
Kelly Johnston is a registered Dietitian Nutritionist with six years of experience in the health and wellness field, four of which have been spent right here at Parsley Health supporting members with everything from gut issues and autoimmune disease to cardiometabolic health concerns and fertility. She holds a Master's of Science in Nutrition from one of the leading science-based natural medicine schools in the country, Bastyr University, and completed her dietetic internship at Sea Mar Community Health Center in Seattle, WA.