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Navigating Summer BBQs and Picnics with Food Allergies: Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Season

As the days grow longer and the temperatures rise, summer BBQs and picnics become irresistible. These gatherings are a time for fun, laughter, and, of course, delicious food. However, for those with food allergies, these events can also be a source of anxiety and concern. Ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience requires a bit of extra planning.

Personally, I used to dread BBQs because of the risk of cross-contamination. But with a little planning, I’ve learned to enjoy these gatherings. We always bring our own dishes and communicate clearly with the host about our children’s food allergies.  Over the years we also have decided to host BBQs ourselves, ensuring all the food was allergy-friendly.  The parties are always fun and enjoyable for everyone. It’s all about preparation!

Here are some tips and strategies to help you navigate summer gatherings with confidence.

Understanding Common Food Allergies

Food allergies can vary widely, but the most common food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, egg, fish, shellfish, dairy, soy, sesame and wheat. During summer gatherings, these allergens can often be found in popular dishes such as potato salads (which might contain eggs or dairy), seafood grills, baked goods, and various snacks. Understanding what to look out for is the first step in preventing an allergic reaction.

Planning Ahead

Host an Allergy-Friendly Gathering: If you’re hosting, take the initiative to create a safe environment for guests with food allergies. Ask about any specific allergies ahead of time and plan your menu accordingly. Consider preparing allergen-free dishes that everyone can enjoy.  My cookbook, “The Allergy-Friendly Cookbook” has tons of recipes that would compliment a summer bbq nicely.

Communicate with Your Host: If you’re attending a gathering, tell the host about your food allergies. Clear communication can help prevent accidental exposure. Suggest bringing your own dish to share, ensuring there’s at least one option that’s safe for you and/or your child.

Reading Labels and Avoiding Cross-Contamination

Read Ingredient Labels: When shopping for ingredients or prepared foods, meticulously read the labels. Be on the lookout for hidden allergens and be aware of any potential cross-contamination warnings.

Prevent Cross-Contamination: If you’re preparing food, be diligent about preventing cross-contamination. Use separate utensils, cutting boards, and serving dishes for allergen-free foods. Clearly label allergen-free dishes to avoid mix-ups during the event.

Creating a Safe Eating Environment for Food Allergies

Buffet-Style Setups: Buffet-style setups can be particularly challenging due to the risk of cross-contact. To reduce the chances of cross contamination, create a separate area for allergen-free foods. Use different serving utensils and keep allergen-free dishes covered to prevent accidental contamination.

Designate Safe Zones: If possible, designate certain tables or areas as safe zones where only allergen-free foods are allowed. This can provide peace of mind for those with severe allergies.

Emergency Preparedness

Carry Medications: Always carry your epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) and any other necessary medications. Make sure those around you know where these medications are and how to use them in case of an emergency.

Know the Emergency Plan: In case of an allergic reaction, it’s crucial to act quickly. Inform someone at the gathering about your allergies and the steps to take if you have a reaction. Knowing the location of the nearest medical facility is also a good idea.

Allergy-Friendly Recipes

To make summer gatherings enjoyable for everyone, consider incorporating some delicious, allergen-free recipes into the mix. Here are a few ideas:

Fresh Fruit Salad: A colorful fruit salad is a refreshing and safe option for most people with food allergies. Combine a variety of fruits like watermelon, berries, and citrus.

Grilled Vegetables: Marinated and grilled vegetables can be a crowd-pleaser. Use a simple marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs to keep it allergen-free.

Allergen-Friendly Desserts: Consider making desserts that avoid common allergens. For example, a gluten-free berry crumble or dairy-free sorbet can satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth without the risk.

Allergen-Friendly Sides: I have a delicious three bean salad and macaroni salad recipe in “The Allergy-Friendly Cookbook” that are sure to be a crowd pleasers.


Summer BBQs and picnics don’t have to be stressful if you have food allergies. With careful planning, clear communication, and a few precautionary measures, you can enjoy the season to its fullest. Remember, being proactive is key to ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience.

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