The Onion Debate: Guest with Food Allergies

It can be a challenge to cook for a guest with food allergies for the holidays and large gatherings. Learn several ways to make food safe during preparation and service.
The Onion Debate: Guest with Food Allergies - Articles


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With Thanksgiving behind us, I wanted to share a family experience that caused an abundance of conversation that typically does not happen. No, I am not Ebenezer Scrooge, but for this story we must go back before we can look to the future. First the past: multiple years ago when my husband’s family outgrew the possibility of everyone sitting down at a table (56 in total, and still growing) we made a conscious decision to reformat our Thanksgiving family gathering. So instead of turkey and the trimmings, we do crocks of soup and sides. This has worked with minimal planning and allows everyone to enjoy the holiday by reducing stress and time in the kitchen. No big deal, right! Fast forward to the present day: as I made my typical to do list, a text message was shared among the soup makers. “A new family member is allergic to onions.” Well everyone jumped into action offering to omit onions in their recipes. Until a certain person (my husband, self-designated food connoisseur) put the brakes on that, stating “Do not mess with my Wedding Soup, onions are a critical flavoring element.” I had to agree, onions are a key starter ingredient in most every soup recipe. Since I am comfortable in the kitchen, I offered to make a flavorful soup without onions. However, this situation got me thinking about holiday guests with special dietary needs, and how to provide a safe (allergy-free) food, while keeping the stress to a minimum.

I reduced the risk of an allergic reaction by applying the following recommendations:

  • Have a pre-planning conversation with the individual with the allergy to learn the severity. Do not assume anything. Ask questions.
  • Carefully read food labels and the ingredient list on products before including them in a recipe, even flavorings of the allergic culprit have potential to cause a reaction.
  • Make recipes with minimally processed ingredients; this further reduces the risk of allergic contaminates.
  • Clean and sanitize all surfaces, utensils, and equipment including mixing bowls, and serving dishes before starting to cook and before serving.
  • In the case of common ingredients (like onions) totally remove them from the kitchen so you do not reach for them without thinking.
  • Mix/cook the allergy-free recipe on a separate day, again reducing possible cross contamination.

I removed the onions from the kitchen and made onion-free vegetable broth from scratch reducing my anxiety. Note: I increased the seasonings slightly to account for the lack of onions.

Tuscan Vegetable Soup


  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 medium sweet onion chopped (I left out)
  • 3 TBSP olive Oil
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, diced
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, diced
  • 1 cup winter squash, diced
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalk, diced
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 2 (15 oz) can Cannellini beans drained and rinsed (pureed one can)
  • 4 cups of vegetable broth
  • 3 bunches of winter greens (kale, swiss chard, escarole, curly endive) washed and cut into 2” ribbons
  • 1 (28oz) can diced tomatoes
  • Italian seasoning (1/2 tsp. each basil, oregano, parsley; 1 tsp each without onion)
  • ¼ tsp of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • Stale bread cut into cubes
  • grated parmesan cheese


  1. Sauté oil, onions and garlic until soft not brown, low heat in a large soup pot.
  2. Increase heat to medium, add carrots, celery, fennel, squash, and potatoes with 3 oz of broth, cook until slightly soft about 5-8 minutes. stirring occasionally.
  3. Add rest of broth, tomatoes and juice, vegetable greens, and seasonings, cook for 10 minutes
  4. Add pureed beans and whole drained beans. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Place cubed bread into bowl, ladle soup and serve with grated parmesan cheese (optional).

Recipe adapted from A Foodcentic Life

Celebration day

  • Serving day, wash hands before and after handing anything that may have allergy residue
  • Make sure serving utensils and dishes do not become contaminated. Use different colors for allergy-free or by establishing an allergy-free area.

Now I can eat, relax and enjoy knowing that I made a flavorful, safe and happy holiday for a loved one. For more information about food allergies check out the Penn State Extension publication called “Taking the Fear Out of Food Allergies,” though designed for the childcare setting it provides a clear definition and overview including ways to reduce risk.

Kathy DiGuiseppe resides in Berks County working for Penn State Extension’s Nutrition Links program in multiple southeastern PA counties. This time of year, she spends most of her free time in the kitchen.