Ask Miriam | How to Deal With Allergies at Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving table
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Dear Miriam,

In the past year, I discovered that I have a number of food sensitivities to common items, including some spices. While my reactions aren’t life threatening, I’m still better off when I avoid these triggers. At home, I’ve adjusted my cooking, and it’s been fine. However, with Thanksgiving coming up, and my family scheduled to be at my in-laws, I’m not sure how — or if — to bring up these issues.

My in-laws don’t have the best record of being sensitive to people’s needs, or being discrete about health issues. I’d rather just not eat for a day than talk to them about this, but my husband thinks that’s ridiculous, and he’s sure his parents will be accommodating, whereas I am not so sure. What’s the best way to handle this?

Signed,

Thankful It’s Only One Day

Dear Thankful,

If your husband is so sure that his parents will take this in stride, then he should be the one to talk to them about it. That’s usually the best advice for anything involving in-laws anyway, but because you’re particularly concerned that their reaction will be less than loving, better for your husband to receive their initial reaction.

While there’s nothing for you to be embarrassed about, it’s also perfectly reasonable not to want your food needs to be scrutinized. Hopefully, he’ll be able to finesse their response when relaying the conversation to you and, even more hopefully, he’ll be able to convey to them that you don’t want to make a big deal of this, you don’t want it to be a full family discussion at the Thanksgiving table, but you do want to be able to eat.

I would suggest that your husband couch this information in an offer for your family to bring two or three dishes to Thanksgiving this year. While your in-laws should certainly be respectful of you and your food needs, you also surely recognize the difficulty in changing one’s cooking habits. If you bring some things that meet your needs, then you know you’ll have things to eat even if they don’t make any adjustments on their end.

The ideal circumstance for any family meal is for everyone to have ample options, to eat what they please and not to discuss or question each other’s food choices, whether they’re based on allergies, sensitivities, preferences or anything else.

If your in-laws or anyone else around the table wants to question what you’re eating or not eating, be prepared with a stock answer. Say something like, “I’d rather not discuss anyone’s individual eating habits,” and then change the subject to work or kids or television.

Don’t engage in any back or forth, don’t be defensive and save all your probably well-deserved complaints for after dinner (and after children are out of earshot). Even if you end up not being able to eat anything that’s served, thank your in-laws graciously for hosting, and make sure you have a snack waiting in the car.

Be well,

Miriam

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