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My spouse has food sensitivities to things my parents frequently cook including tomatoes and nuts. These sensitivities don't put them into shock, but do cause sensations of pain and discomfort. In a lot of ways, my spouse comes off to my parents as picky, which isn't exactly the case. The only "picky" behavior is my spouse's aversion to shellfish, which is a texture thing. My spouse also doesn't eat much in the way of sweets, which my parents love.

My mom cooked a pot of gumbo which contains tomatoes and shrimp and is most likely going to serve bread with nuts as a side, start with a salad with tomatoes and dressing with items my spouse is sensitive to, and end with a desert of some kind. This would mean that my spouse wouldn't be eating any salad, not eating the gumbo, not eating the side, and not eating the desert.

How best can I convey to my parents that my spouse probably cannot eat any of the items being served without conveying pickiness?

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    Hi and welcome to IPS! Could you describe what you've tried telling your parents, and how they reacted to that? That way people will know not to suggest those things that you already know won't work, and we'll have more of an idea how your parents act about this sort of thing. – Em C Jan 25 at 2:13
  • Has someone told your parents about your spouse's reactions to certain food? – David Thornley Jan 25 at 17:31
  • @EmC The thing is that I've brought up the topic before as has my spouse. The general reaction appears to be somewhere between disappointment and disbelief. – Nielsvh Jan 28 at 17:53
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Not all "allergies" make people blow up like a blimp. If you're an adult and you've noted throughout your life that whenever you eat x, y happens, you know to a reasonable degree that you are having a reaction to it. For example, I am definitely not allergic to nuts - I can eat them without any issues, but I have consistently noted that if I eat them on an empty stomach I get stomach pains, so I avoid doing that. Simple. You don't need a note from your doctor to prove to someone that you can't eat something. That said, I would personally find it a little disingenuous to tell someone I had an "allergy" if it wasn't. If you're looking for a better way to describe your spouse's "sensitivities" to certain foods without being overly dramatic I would suggest something like "he/she has a bad reaction to [x] so he/she doesn't eat it".

Timing is also key to getting your message across in a nice way. If you invited someone to dinner and cooked a roast, then they announced that they were vegan as you put the plate of food in front of them you would probably feel rightly put-out. When I invite someone for dinner for the very first time I usually ask "is there anything you don't eat?". With parents, they have a familiarity with you that probably stops them asking questions like that. Have you ever actually outlined to your parents the things that your spouse does not eat? It is a conversation best had early. If you tell them after they've already cooked some of these things for you both then it comes over as "they didn't like that thing you cooked last time".

Ideally, you should have a conversation like this:

-"Do you want to come over for dinner?"
-"That would be great, but there are a few things that [spouse] can't eat as they have a bad reaction to them. I'll need to let you know what they are".

On the specific upcoming occasion you mention, you know your mother has cooked Gumbo that contains pretty much all the things your spouse does not eat. If you have already accepted the invitation you are going to have to backtrack:

About dinner... [spouse] won't be able to eat the gumbo, he/she has a bad reaction to most of the ingredients. We don't want to put you out - would you prefer we came for dinner another time?

If you regularly eat with them I would suggest you make a list of the things your spouse cannot eat. Although that might seem overly formal, it sounds like it would be a very short list which would have two benefits - firstly it would visibly show that there really are not many things they do not eat, and secondly it would act as a good memory aid so your parents know not to cook these things for your spouse in future. Even if they don't keep the written list, seeing something in writing even once will help them remember it.

One last thing - I've answered this way because you are asking the question, but if part of the problem is the relationship between your parents and your spouse it will not get any better if you are always the go-between. I think it would be far better if your spouse were to speak to your parents themselves.

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First, this is a really common situation so you're not alone in facing this with Parents. With so many food scenarios prevalent these days, vegans, gluten-free, nuts, shellfish, I would expect Parents to be familiar with such restrictions, even if they haven't had to accommodate them before.

The first Interpersonal Skill to use is simple Honesty...with one slight adjustment. Instead of your term, 'sensitivity', it's probably easier to explain that Spouse has an allergy since 'food allergy' is a know thing. Also, it's difficult to argue around an allergy. Picky is a choice, an allergy is a physiological.

IANAD, but, it's possible her 'sensitivity' is just a mild Allergy. Not all allergies result in full anaphylactic shock. I worked with a guy who had a very mild shellfish allergy but loved crab. His solution was to take an anti-histamine before eating. Her personal physician can give her the most accurate evaluation.

The next Interpersonal Skill is Personal Accommodation. Offer to bring even more food for the occasion, food that Spouse and everyone else can eat. I have vegan friends who do this because it's just easier for everyone.

Finally, to make Mother's efforts welcome, you can use the Interpersonal Skill of Flattery. Compliment her cooking as say how much you're looking forward to what's she's preparing.

This Answer is based on the presumed goals of keeping Mother happy while allowing Spouse to eat.

Finally, have a plan in case Mother offers to alter her plan to accommodate Spouse. I don't know how that would be, but you should be prepared.

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Astralbee's response is already great, I just want to add an additional solution.

Although your parents should, as hosts, provide a meal your spouse can eat, nothing stops you from bringing something for them to eat. I wouldn't spring it on them either, but let them know in advance (adapting one of Astralbee's scripts) :

About dinner... [spouse] won't be able to eat the gumbo, they have a bad reaction to most of the ingredients. We don't want to put you out, so we'll bring something for them to eat. See you soon !

Yes it sucks to bring your own food (I should know, I also have dietary restrictions), but this way you can still eat with your parents and your spouse doesn't have to choose between being hungry or being in pain. And the fact that you're willing to bring a meal for them should clue your parents in that the issue is more serious than pickiness.

And since your spouse is allergic to products which are a big part to you parent's diet, I'm more willing to cut them some slack, it's not easy to change the way you've cooked your whole life. If they show that they take his allergies seriously but just don't know what to cook for him, you can also always offer to cook together next time a recipe your spouse can enjoy.

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The problem for your husband is that lots of people fake allergies. Like they don’t like tomatoes in their salad, so they claim they are allergic to tomatoes, and then cover their food with tomato ketchup. That’s why many people will assume you are picky when you say you have an allergy. Your job is to make it clear that your husband is not one of those people.

So tell them in an unexpected way. Instead of “my husband is allergic to tomatoes and nuts”, which they translate into “he’s just picky, tomatoes and nuts taste lovely, he will love them once they are on his plate”, you ask them “so what allergies does my husband have?” It stops the automatic translation in their brain. It forces them to think about the subject. You insist that they give you the answer “tomatoes and nuts”. And then you ask “what happens if he eats tomatoes or nuts”, and you don’t let go until they answer “it causes pain and discomfort”.

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