Archive for November, 2018

Food Fixations

November 2, 2018

Lately, everyone and I mean everyone, has a food thing. Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, no soy, no sugar, Paleo, Keto; the list is endless. As a caterer, my job is made a bit more challenging while trying to adhere to all the guests’ dietary issues. As a former trend forecaster, I believe it is going to become even more prevalent, with more restaurants and catering companies (it me!) creating special menus to work around it all. With party season upon us, the owness is on you, as a host to ensure that all of your guests have something they can eat. Here are a few of my pro tips for entertaining in the age of the restricted diet.

 

 

Ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions.  

If you know what people can’t eat, it is easy to plan around them. Every dish doesn’t have to adhere to one person’s diet, but you can certainly make sure to include at least a dish or two that they can eat and enjoy. If you are hosting a small dinner party with someone who doesn’t eat gluten, you may want to rethink that pasta-centric menu and choose something else. As a caterer, I often ask if it is an allergy or a preference. I would never try to trick someone into eating something they don’t want, but if it is an allergy, I need to take extra precautions to make sure that the offending ingredient is kept far away from the other foods. That means that I can’t put the gluten-free cookies on the same tray as the conventional ones, or more importantly, that I need to clean the kitchen completely between preparing items that use the allergen, and those that don’t.

Plan a menu that has lots of choices so that those who are eliminating food groups, or just trying to eat more healthfully can find things to enjoy.  

Plan a varied menu with options to suit any diet. This is easier to do than you might think, especially for a buffet or cocktail party. A good host will make their guests feel comfortable. If you are inviting a dairy-free friend to a wine and cheese party, add some fruit and vegetables to the tray for variety. Gluten-free? Those same vegetables can take the place of crackers. A varied menu is more interesting, and a carnivore might welcome some creative vegetable dishes too.

Think about what your guests CAN eat, and less about what they can’t. 

The elimination of multiple food groups can be daunting to a host. Try to reframe the issue and concentrate on what your guests can eat. Often it boils down to vegetables, fruit, healthy fats and lean or plant-based proteins. Use this as the centerpiece of your menu planning and feel free to add grains, carbs, sweets etc. around it for the guests who are able to partake.

As a guest, let your host know in advance of your dietary requirements, especially if a meal is involved.

At least if they decide not to provide anything that suits your diet, you will not be offending them when you choose not to eat. Be gracious about it. Don’t just provide a list of items you have eliminated and expect them to be banned from the party. You can eat healthfully and not come off like a diva. Tread lightly and don’t expect everyone to eat Tofurky for you. (‘Cause that stuff is nasty!)

If you are going to an event that you know is going to be problematic for you, offer to bring a dish that everyone can enjoy with you.

Thanksgiving is a perfect example of one of those meals. Families take their traditions seriously, and many may balk at adjusting their menus for just one guest. ( Or many guests with dueling requests.) Bring an interesting salad or a non- cheesy, sugary, marshmallow-topped side that fits your dietary requirements. Who knows? It may just become a new tradition for your family!

Don’t be a pusher.

As a host or a fellow guest, don’t try to push foods on those who don’t want them. “Just a taste” is a rude and manipulative gesture to those who wish to abstain, as is a grand announcement of their food choices. Putting other guests in an awkward position and making them feel uncomfortable is unacceptable. Don’t do it.

Making your guests comfortable shouldn’t make you uncomfortable.

Catering to guests’ dietary issues shouldn’t make entertaining more difficult or unpleasant for the host.  Opt for some simple additions or changes, and get on with your cooking. You shouldn’t have to make multiple versions of things or tailor the entire party around one person or group of people. (See Tofurky comment above.) That said, I have I taken a single portion of many Thanksgiving sides and used margarine instead of butter, or eliminated sugar or nuts to feed a guest with restrictions. In doing so while I was cooking, I gave the guest a special version without much additional effort on my part and gave the rest of the group what they wanted. That gesture of compliance was greatly appreciated.

Food is something that brings us together and preparing it can be an act of love. Don’t lose sight of that as you enter party season, dietary issues and all!

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