Dear Miss Manners:

Would you please advise me how to answer my neighbor's complaint about her family not accommodating her children's dietary needs during the holidays? Her two toddlers have allergies to dairy, wheat, corn and many other foods.

My neighbor is upset because her mother-in-law will not change the entire holiday menu so that it meets the needs of her toddlers. She thinks her family is selfish for not changing the menu so that her kids can eat. For instance, she thinks the whole family should eat mashed potatoes without butter and made with rice milk, so that her children can also eat them.

Would it not be easier for the mother to bring foods that her toddlers can eat rather than forcing the rest of the family to eat allergy-free foods? The menu would truly be limited and not very enjoyable for the rest of the guests.

It would be easier on you if your neighbor were to bring her problems to the family to be resolved, and probably easier on the family, too. Miss Manners suspects that what the lady wants from you is support she can use against them, rather than advice, and that when you tell her your opinion, she will not respond, "Yes, I see what you mean."

So the problem landed even farther away--here--but even Miss Manners has to trot back to the family to get the information with which to solve it. This is because family differences should be settled so as best to serve everyone's interests, not according to an impersonal rule.

We know that the child's best interests lie in getting the right foods and feeling that he is a welcome addition to the dinner and not a special burden.

But it is also in his best interest, for health as well as social reasons, for him to learn that he cannot eat the same foods everyone else does but must learn to accommodate his special needs without putting others out unduly.

Therefore, it is a bad idea to try to change the world, or even this small part of it, to give him the illusion that he needn't worry about his diet, or about making it a burden on others.

Yet he is a member of the family, not an occasional guest, and should feel that he can partake in family meals. In addition to the food to which he is allergic, there should be food he can enjoy.

Who provides this depends on the interests of possible cooks. If the mother-in-law cannot easily manage to provide everything required for all her guests, surely her daughter-in-law--who knows the child's needs and tastes better than anyone--should offer to help.

Dear Miss Manners:

How is one supposed to respond when the company Christmas gift to its employees is a donation to a charity in "our" name?

This seems like a cheap shot to make the company look conscientious and generous in "our" name. Plus I was angry that they would donate to a charity of their choice in my name.

How can I state my distaste for this act without losing my job? My co-workers feel the same and we all agreed you would know best.

Miss Manners is afraid there is no point in stating your distaste for this distasteful maneuver. Charities don't give refunds. What you want to do is to prevent its becoming a company tradition.

You and your co-workers should write a letter of thanks (oh, go ahead, it won't kill you) stating that you are glad the company recognizes its employees' interest in philanthropy, and--for that very reason--asking to be in on any meetings choosing beneficiaries. Or you could suggest a matching donation program, by which the company adds to any Christmas donations the employees choose to make.

Miss Manners warns you to be prepared to be told that this would make the process too cumbersome.

And the answer you should prepare is: "In that case, we would prefer to go back to the traditional system, by which we each take our Christmas bonus from the company and decide how best to use it."

Dear Miss Manners:

Is it okay just to walk departing guests to the elevator of our building--we live on the third floor of a high-rise condominium--or should we escort them to the lobby or even go so far as to see them to their automobile? Should day or evening guests be handled any differently in this matter than overnight guests?

May Miss Manners assume that you don't live in such a tough neighborhood that it is the custom for hosts to cover for their guests until they're safely out of it? Or that there is no reason, medical or otherwise, that your guests can't get out unassisted?

If neither of these conditions prevails, then your obligation ends at the front door of your apartment. You are only required to wait a moment, after closing it on them, before saying, "I thought they'd never leave."

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.