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Christmas luncheons and similar events at the workplace can lead someone with celiac disease, food allergies, or other food issues to feel less than festive. It can be difficult to figure out how to handle dealing with the food. Sometimes it may not even be possible to participate. Even then, things don’t have to turn into “bah humbug” experiences. It can still be possible to have a good time and do something enjoyable.

We’ve always had wonderful department-wide Christmas luncheons at work. I work for a university that has an award-winning food services division. In the past, we would cater our meals from campus catering. We would have a few hours set aside for the luncheon. We would have a meal together as well as have door prizes, a silent auction, and a drop-off box for Toys for Tots. At some of the luncheons, we even had service awards given to employees who had been working for the department for certain lengths of time, like five years, ten years, and so on. I always enjoyed participating in the luncheons.

These luncheons became more of a struggle after I went gluten-free. The first luncheon after I cut gluten, I just made my best guess based on the food items on the line what I could eat. I just picked plain foods and what I assumed would be gluten-free. This first luncheon was before I realized I really needed to be worrying about cross-contamination and trace amounts. The next year was after I had to begin dealing with trace amounts of gluten, so I just brought in my own meal. It felt awkward, but I was still able to participate in the program itself and be there with my co-workers. I was still able to enjoy myself.

The third luncheon after I went gluten-free was different. My university has a special event during the Christmas season where the food services division pulls out all the stops to prepare delicious food for paying customers to enjoy. From what I’ve heard, it’s a big hit. If I had known that I would develop food allergies, I would have made more of an effort to reserve a ticket and enjoy the wonderful food when I still could. My department that year began purchasing tickets for all interested in attending. The attendees would be given their tickets at the door, and they would then get in line to get their food and find a place to sit and eat, and many others from the general public would be coming in independently to eat during the same timeframe. There was no program. It was all about the food. There was no way I’d be able to attend with my co-workers and bring my own food. While gluten-free food options were available, one of the people in charge of setting up things for my department could not get a response from the event organizers about cross-contamination and what they did to avoid it. I contacted them myself independently and didn’t get a response either. It seemed I would no longer be able to participate in the luncheons as long as they were organized around the university holiday food event. I had tried to see if there would be enough people not participating in this event who would like to do something else, but I didn’t get a response except for one person who also has severe food allergies who ended up needing to take leave on the day of the event.

I really felt it was unfair that others would be out enjoying themselves while I was stuck at the office. My supervisor was very nice and allowed me to use a conference room to project a movie onto the screen so that I could watch a movie during the luncheon time. I actually really enjoyed that. I brought a movie from home and sat in the conference room to watch it with a bottle of Coke Zero to enjoy. After it was over, I ate lunch at my desk as usual so that I would be ready to get back to work at the time the luncheon was supposed to end. The following year, another co-worker who wasn’t interested in attending the luncheon stayed behind and watched a movie with me. I was again able to get a conference room and connect my PC to a television screen so we could watch the movie from it. We enjoyed the movie and had a great time. This year, there is only an hour set aside for the luncheon. I hope to meet with a couple of others during that time, but if for some reason they can’t or are not interested, I plan just to work as usual and take my lunch break at the normal time. With that small window of time, it doesn’t seem worth it to try to do more. Perhaps in the future, if the organizers for the department continue purchasing tickets for the university holiday event, I will still be able to watch a movie or do something with other co-workers who will not be attending the luncheon.

If you find yourself unable to enjoy time with co-workers at a Christmas luncheon or other food-related event, it’s possible you may be able to enjoy yourself some other way. You can always check with your supervisor to see if he or she would allow you to bring a movie from home to watch or if you could do something else. It’s possible you may have co-workers with food allergies, celiac disease, or other health issues surrounding food that may want to get together with you to participate in a non-food activity. You may be able to connect with those individuals to organize an alternative event. The time during an event in which you can’t participate doesn’t necessarily have to be a “bah humbug” time!

UPDATE:  I ended up not  being able to meet up with anyone, so I took a treat with me to work and ate it at my desk while the others were at the luncheon.  The luncheon was mid-morning, so I still ate lunch at my regular time and just noshed on my treat while I was working.  This is what I had to enjoy, my Peppermint Fudge and a diet soda!

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