For ten years, I was a vegetarian and had some food allergies that I needed to be cautious about. Holidays could be tough – sometimes hosts would try to accommodate me, sometimes there was little that was available, I did not know what ingredients were used, and sometimes the host did not know what ingredients were used!
There are many dietary restrictions that people follow, more common restrictions include: salt, sugar, gluten, carbs, diary, nuts, and meat. What is a host to do to accommodate guests with special diets? What is a guest with a special diet to do?
It is important to note that hosts are not required to accommodate special diets and guests are not required to eat what the host makes. Nor is it a time to debate diet philosophy or medical benefits of certain food. Being gracious and prepared can help us all come together around the table.
Ask your guests if they have any restrictions. If they do, send them the menu ahead of time, have a copy of the recipes available so they can determine what they can or cannot eat. Do only what you are comfortable doing or making and let your guests know that they could heat things up that they might bring so they can keep to their diet.
As a guest, ask the host in advance what they plan on serving so you know what is available before you get there. This also helps you plan alternative food to bring. If you want to bring a dish to share to contribute to the meal and ensure that there is something you can eat from the table, let your host know so they can prepare their menu and table.
- Offer simply prepared dishes
Most special diets allow non-starchy vegetables, so steamed vegetables are a safe bet.
- Serve toppings and sauces on the side
Butter, nuts, streusel, salt and pepper, cheese sauce, gravy – everyone has a different taste and letting guests put it on themselves is an easy way to modify a dish.
- Serve it buffet style
We often see the idyllic pictures of all the serving dishes on the table. To keep food safest and to allow guests the greatest freedom of food choice, buffet style can solve many potential issues.
- Appetizers and snacks
Sometimes holiday meal schedules are different than our typical day. Cheese, vegetables and dip, berries, or nuts can be a healthy and easy way to make sure that everyone is still cheerful by mealtime as well as preventing anyone who needs to control blood sugar any issues. This also helps all guests not get too cranky with a rumbling tummy!
Finally, know that we are all human. I thought I was doing something wonderful when I made a sugar-free carb-free blueberry cobbler for a guest who had diabetes and was on a strict diet. When dessert time came, I discovered that he despised blueberries! Had I asked, I certainly would have made the lemon dessert instead! – Heather Quackenboss
Ede, G. (2016, November). Dealing with dietary differences during the holidays. Psychology Today Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/diagnosis-diet/201611/dealing-dietary-differences-during-the-holidays
N.A. (2017, November). Managing special diets at holiday meals. Health and Nutrition Letter: Tufts University.