Holiday Food Allergy Q&A With Lisa Hugh, RD

The holiday season can have a large focus on food – from treats and gifts to dinner parties. While this is enjoyable for many, it can be quite stressful and challenging for those who have food allergies or follow special diets. This week we interviewed registered dietitian and food allergy specialist, Lisa Hugh. Below, Lisa shares tips for supporting those with allergies and special diets as well as some of her favorite allergen-friendly holiday foods.

Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do and what do you specialize in?

I am a Registered Dietitian in Private Practice. I specialize in helping people with complex medical issues and those with food allergies and food sensitivities. I also help people on any type of special diet by helping them find foods that really work for them.

What is most challenging for people with food allergies or special dietary needs around the holidays?

Many people with food allergies and special dietary needs feel really frustrated about their diets. Often they feel that they are missing out and that they can’t enjoy the foods that they like.

What suggestions do you have for people with food allergies around the holidays?

When people with food allergies feel like they are missing out and can’t have what they want, I first ask them what it is that they want to eat — just based on what they like and what they enjoy — not based on any type of diet restriction. From there, I help them to list out what they can safely eat. Then, we look at where the two lists overlap. 

For example, I am working with a client who just found out that she needs to follow a dairy-free diet. This is a really tough situation because the person knows that she feels very ill when eating dairy and very good when she doesn’t eat dairy. So, it is not a matter of knowing if the diet is right for her. However, she really likes cheese as a snack and her family often cooks with milk, cheese, and butter. 

In this case, we came up with some easy swaps such as asking her mom to use a vegan butter alternative or olive oil when cooking things like vegetables, rice, and pasta. We also looked at how to eat similar meals to what she likes. For example, instead of lasagna, she could have spaghetti with meat sauce. Instead of cheese-flavored crackers, we looked at other savory crackers that are made from whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

What can people do to accommodate guests or family members with food allergies this time of year?

Accommodating guests with food allergies can be stressful and has caused many family fights and stress for all involved. The good news is that that this drama can be avoided and families and friends can enjoy similar foods. 

First, if you are cooking for someone with a food allergy or special diet, just ask them what they can eat and what they would like to eat. Also, ask about necessary precautions such as cross-contamination or special instructions when reading food labels

Sometimes a little wisdom is needed here. Special diets are very individualized so it is important to ask enough questions so that you have enough understanding of what to do and what not to do. However, I do advise against “questioning” the person’s diet. Sometimes people with special diets get really frustrated and hurt when they feel like their family members do not believe them and don’t want to honor their food safety plans. This can be even more emotionally challenging when a child has a food allergy. 

What is your favorite allergen friendly holiday food to make?

My sons have peanut and nut allergies and they love to bake. Chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and saltine cracker toffee (made without nuts) are all popular.

My husband is vegan by choice and has an allergy to soy and wheat. We’ve made wheat-free, nut-free, vegan zucchini bread and wheat-free, nut-free, vegan pumpkin cake using a few different wheat-free flours, and these have been really nice treats for everybody.

We also like making salads with homemade dressings and roasted vegetables using just olive oil, salt, and pepper. 

Egglife wraps are a popular choice for those who live with food allergies or follow special diets. Egglife wraps are gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, sugar-free, paleo, keto, vegetarian. For more tips on accommodating your holiday guests with food allergies and special dietary needs, see our recent blog post here.

Meet Lisa:

Lisa Hugh is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Leap Therapist in the Washington, D.C. area. Throughout her career, she has specialized in working with clients who have complex medical conditions and follow special diets. She currently works full time in her private practice, Southern Maryland Dietitian.

Lisa believes that nutrition is never one-size-fits-all and that nutrition care can help just about everyone feel better and improve their health. She became a Certified Leap Therapist to better understand food sensitivities and how individual ingredients interact with the body. Lisa’s blog, Single Ingredient Groceries, was born after Lisa realized just how much work grocery shopping is when you are shopping for a special diet! Learn more about Lisa and follow along as she shares tips for living with special dietary needs on Facebook and Instagram.