Posts Tagged ‘dietary choices’

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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Diet Riot

December 26, 2012

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I am planning a small holiday soiree and want to include a variety of foods that suit a variety of dietary choices.

There are the vegetarians, the gluten free, the lactose intolerant, and the just plain fussy.

Some won’t eat fish, some won’t eat red meat, and some won’t eat chicken. One guest has a shellfish allergy.  A few won’t eat vegetables. There are the carb restrictors, and the sugar- free. There are the adventurous gourmets, and the no sauce types.

Sound like an impossible to please group? Not really.

These days, everyone has a dietary issue, due to allergies, or just personal taste. A good host can plan around that, and make sure that everyone has something to eat that they (hopefully) will enjoy. It’s not necessary to adapt recipes to cater to dietary preferences, but it is important to offer a selection of foods to suit everyone.

I have stated my distaste for serving too many hors d’oeuvres, which in my opinion just fill everyone up before the main meal. I tend to opt for a few simple “nibbles” that won’t wreck anyone’s appetite before the big event, but will tide my guests over while they are gathering with cocktails before dinner.

Tangy dips or spreads, made without mayonnaise, sour cream or cheese, are good options. Put out crackers or chips, as well as baby carrots to cater to the gluten free crowd. I love Food Should Taste Good multigrain chips, which are gluten free, lactose free and whole grain. Spiced nuts, or a selection of olives are easy ideas.

As long as everyone has something they can snack on, feel free to offer a cheese plate or meat based hors d’oeuvre for the others.

Variety is the spice of life, and when possible, it’s nice to have choices. Few people will love everything, but as long as everyone has a few things they can enjoy, the menu is a success.

An interesting salad, made with vinaigrette rather than a creamy dressing is a nice way to start the meal. Skip the cheese, so that the lactose free guests can partake.

For a buffet, it is easy to make a few different types of protein, such as fish, chicken, pork or beef. Make sure that at least one of them can have the sauce served on the side, to accommodate someone with a simpler palette. If it is a sit down dinner, with only one main course, be sure that the sides are ample enough to please anyone who doesn’t care for it.  Be sure that the dishes don’t all contain sugar, cream, or tons of butter, as many holiday sides do.

Dessert can get a bit trickier, as flour, butter and sugar are the mainstays of most pies, cakes and cookies. If you can’t include at least one gluten free option, and at least one lactose free option, have some fresh fruit so that all of your guests can enjoy a final course.

At the end of it all, the act of getting together and sharing a meal is the most important part of holiday entertaining. Enjoying time spent with family and friends trumps sticking to a rigid diet any day!

photo: Glasshouse Images


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