If you’re a health-conscious woman today (and we know you are), you likely know at least one person on a special diet. Food Reports are everywhere in the media. Peanut allergies are on the rise. More and more people are being diagnosed with celiac disease. Every other person, it seems, suffers with lactose intolerance. The word “vegan” has finally gone mainstream.
Hosting a feast for Easter or Passover? We’re betting at least one of your guests will be on a special diet. Aunt Lola is vegetarian, Kevin’s girlfriend has a list of food allergies, Cousin Dawn is gluten-free. So where does that leave you? With all the time and effort it takes to cook the juiciest turkey and pull off a fabulous soirée, you don’t need special diet stress on your plate. So here’s everything you need to know to accommodate everyone’s needs, yours included.
7 TIPS TO HOSTING A DIET-FRIENDLY HOLIDAY MEAL
1. Just ask what works.
Most people with food allergies or sensitivities will be more than happy to consult with you on what they can and can’t eat. In many cases, you already have dishes on hand that are special-diet friendly (after all, most vegetables, fruits, and proteins are naturally gluten-free, for instance). But to make both your lives easier, why not just ask for your guest’s favourite recipe to add to the menu? That way, there will be one entirely “safe” dish to ensure your guest doesn’t go hungry and can then pick and choose from among the rest.
2. Put them to work!
People on special diets are well aware that their dietary needs are different from others at the party. As a result, they almost always offer to bring something along. If they do, accept gracefully. A self-prepared dish allows your guest to feel 100% relaxed about eating at the event. This is also an opportunity for you and the other guests to try out new and exciting foods you might not otherwise consume—a win-win!
3. Make them feel at home.
Most of us would love our guests to feel just as comfortable in our kitchens as they would in their own. Invite your special-diet folks into the kitchen to help prep their plates. That way, they can pre-approve the ingredients in the food before anything is served, avoiding a lengthy conversation at the table when everyone is waiting to eat. Another idea if you’re serving a buffet is to place small cards in front of each dish with the full list of ingredients.
4. Give them first dibs.
Allowing your guests to serve up a bit of each dish first (before there might be cross-contamination from other dishes) is a good way to ensure that their food is clear of offensive ingredients. With some recipes—such as salads or roasts, for instance—you can allow your guest to remove a serving before you finish the dish with ingredients they can’t have, such as cheese on a salad or gravy on meat. Seinfeld had it right in this case:
Where special-diet folks are concerned, ensure there’s no “double dipping” with items like hummus or veggie dip—or, better yet, spoon off some of the dip onto a separate plate so they can enjoy it without worry. A non gluten-free cracker dunked in your spinach dip could render the entire bowl off-limits for someone with celiac, for instance, and you don’t want that.
5. Lay off the pressure!
While cooking for a special diet may be new to you, it’s old hat to your friend. So, if they choose not to indulge in the gluten-free carrot cake you created, don’t push. It may turn out to contain a forbidden ingredient after all or they may simply feel they’ve had enough without it. No one likes pressure to just have one bite.
6. If you mess up, apologize.
Even with the very best of intentions, it’s entirely possible that your menu may not suit your friend on a special diet. In the unlikely event that happens, apologize and ask what your friend might be able to eat instead. This situation won’t be new to her so ask for suggestions—and then listen to them.
7. Focus on what’s really important.
Yes, it may be a little more work to host someone on a special diet, but in the end, remember that it’s not just their diet that’s special: the whole person is pretty special, too. After all, isn’t that why you wanted to include them in the first place? Focus on connecting with your friend through great conversation and a shared experience, and they’ll inevitably be left with positive memories of a lovely evening well spent rather than what was on the menu.
Ricki Heller is a holistic nutritionist, whole foods chef, writer and educator who shares sugar-free, gluten-free, allergy-friendly recipes and healthy living articles on her popular blog, RickiHeller.com. She is a bestselling cookbook author, freelance writer, and guest speaker who shows audiences how easy it is to eat well on a “restricted” diet—proving that a healthy lifestyle can, indeed, be sweet!