Updated: Jul 9
If you’re reading this from the United States, you know that July 4th is coming up and there are socially distanced cookouts to be had. You’ve probably seen plenty about safety when playing with fireworks, but how are we going to spread awareness of food allergies that affect millions of Americans?
The best way to make sure you are eating safely at an event is to simply speak up about it. If you know you are going to a barbecue, consider contacting the host and asking for your food to be prepared first or separately. The worst they can say is no! If your friends aren’t willing to make a small modification for you that directly impacts your health and safety, are they really worth celebrating with?
Have your Food Cooked on a Safe Surface
I’m gluten intolerant, and if you are like me, you don’t have too many fears when it comes to parties or cookouts, but you do worry that the person preparing the food is going to be careless. Some people like to cook their hamburger buns on a grill. If your host is one of these people, ask them if they can prepare your burger on top of a sheet of aluminum foil. This will minimize contact with surfaces that may have touched gluten and give you peace of mind. Ask your host to use a clean cooking tool or bring a cheap pair of tongs so that the host can flip your burger and touch hamburger buns to their heart's content with their own pair.
Ask to Fix your Plate First
It is absolutely not unreasonable to ask the host if you will be able to prepare your plate first, especially for a buffet-style get together. Many people don’t know (or care) that the spoon they used to scoop potato salad just rubbed all over the hot dog bun on their plate. You can prevent these unknown moments of cross-contamination from occurring by being the first to prepare your plate. I follow this tip at any kind of cookout, birthday party, or other event that is centered around food, and I am able to relax and enjoy the event knowing that what I’m putting into my body will not cause me harm.
BYOB (Bring your own Buns)
When in doubt, bring your own bun. Make sure to check with your host which type of meat will be served. You may need to bring your own hamburger or hotdog bun, but let’s be honest it feels good to fit in and not have to eat your hamburger patty with a fork while your friends are eating a delicious hamburger.
Don’t know where to start? My family commonly uses Udi’s Hamburger and Hot Dog Buns. The hamburger buns come in a 4 pack and the hot dog buns come in a 6 pack. They can be a bit pricey but they add something special to your meal. If you live near some health food stores, you may have several brands to choose from!
My favorite bun hack is the Chick-fil-A bun. These buns are plastic wrapped and are not contaminated within the Chick-fil-A kitchen. On your way to the cook-out, pick up a few gluten-free buns from the drive-thru and they are ready to be used for a yummy burger!
Check the Labels
Be smart and don’t eat anything that you haven’t read the label of. If you have an egg allergy, you may want to avoid grabbing a scoop from the bowl whose contents resemble potato salad. Make sure you check labels on all of the bags of potato chips and be wary of hidden gluten (i.e. barley malt). Here is a link to Lay's allergen information if you need a quick reference.
Volunteer to Host
This might be the easiest approach! Collect a few bucks from your friends if you need to, but volunteer to provide ALL of the food. Tell everyone that you have it completely covered and that it’s not necessary for them to bring anything else besides themselves! This is a surefire way to make sure that you are able to 100% enjoy this get together without worrying about an allergic reaction.
Bring your own Meal
While it’s my least favorite approach, bring your own meal! It doesn’t have to be the same as what your friends or family are eating, just bring a meal that you feel comfortable with and enjoy the day! You can make your own cookout meal at home and wrap it up to bring to the celebration, or you can stop by a drive-thru on the way, it's up to you!
Bring a Dessert
Allergy awareness is becoming much more widespread in the United States as influencers and Hollywood stars are flaunting their fad diets. While this is hurtful to those with allergies in some cases, it has been helpful as more and more allergen-free foods are popping up in grocery stores across America.
At my local grocery stores, I can walk down the frozen aisle and see anything from gluten-free pie crusts to dairy-free ice cream. There are even brands that market themselves as being free from the top 8 allergens! If you have a milk allergy, it’s unlikely your host will provide dairy-free ice cream for everyone, but you can pop into the store and grab a pint of your favorite dairy-free ice cream to bring with you to the celebration.
Bring a Few Sides
Volunteer to bring a side or two so that you know you won't be eating a hotdog and nothing else! Whether it be chips, fruit, or something else, you will feel confident that you will have a tasty side to munch on throughout the day.
No matter what kind of allergy you have, a 4th of July cookout can be a fun event for everyone! Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself when your health is at risk, and be willing to make small changes to make the get together work for you!