6 Thoughtful Ways To Prepare A Holiday Meal For Guests With Any Dietary Restriction

Planning ahead for the needs of all your guests—yup, even the vegans—is a kind way to celebrate the holiday season.

How would you feel if you took the time to buy a gift, dress your best and travel to a party, only to find out the host had little or nothing for you to eat? Here are some suggestions on how to be a top-notch host and manage gluten-free/dairy-free or vegan/vegetarian guests without much extra work. (This list has been compiled after many conversations with several vegan/vegetarian and gluten-free friends and family members, and with my mother, the ultimate host, whose cooking has delighted many vegan guests).

First, a primer on some of the most common diets:

Gluten-free: This person does not eat anything with gluten in it. Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, barley, and rye. Many items you might not expect to contain gluten do, (like tea, condiments, and soy sauce) so be sure to check labels.

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Feed’Em: meat, eggs, quinoa, fish, vegetables, dairy, fruit, legumes

Dairy-free: This is pretty easy—a person that does not eat or drink anything with dairy in it. So cheeses are of course out, though using nut cheeses and nut milks are delicious ways to still add creamy flavor to your meals.

Feed’Em: meat, grains, eggs (sometimes), fish, vegetables, fruit, legumes, pasta

Vegetarian: Vegetarians do not eat meat, though usually eat dairy.

Feed’Em: grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, pasta, dairy 

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Vegan: A person that does not eat any animal products or any animal-derived products such as eggs, dairy, and honey.  

Feed’Em: grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, pasta

Dark chocolate can be a delicious substitute for milk chocolate with dairy-free guests

6 Ways to Make Your Dietary Restricted Guests Feel Welcome

1. Find out what the specific diet (or allergy) is and make sure you understand it.

Don’t be afraid or forget to ask for clarification or questions. It will only help you plan a meal that all enjoy.

2. Take care not to make them feel as if they need to defend their diets.

If a dinner guest wants to talk about their diet, they will. But, chances are they are not interested in lecturing or trying to convert anyone and probing questions might lead them to get defensive. In some cases, people have medical conditions that preclude them from eating certain foods. In other instances, their reasons are religious or spiritual, or they are just on a mission to lose weight, feel better, or to live a healthier lifestyle. Either way, it is their personal business.

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3. Say ‘yes’ when they offer to bring a dish

If your guest has a special diet and also loves to cook, answer affirmatively when they offer to bring something.

4 Remember the small stuff

Think carefully about your menu and run down the list of what your guest cannot have. It’s easy to forget that the goat cheese you include in your salad is not vegan-friendly, or that croutons contain gluten.

5. Keep it simple

You don’t have to go crazy trying to make two of everything so that no one feels left out. Just one or two options and the fact you accommodated them will be enough.

Of course, you can make a separate dish to accommodate a guest if you have the time and resources. Sometimes, that makes things easier and is less work. If you are making a pasta and meat dish, but have a gluten-free guest, just make some gluten-free pasta for that person and then prepare it the same as the rest.

Alternatively, you can replace one or two of your go-to meat/gluten dishes with something gluten-free/vegan, or adjust your recipes with simple changes that make a dish vegan/vegetarian or gluten-free. You may be surprised at how much no one notices you used almond milk in your mashed potatoes instead of dairy milk.

Some typical replacements include:

-Nut milks for dairy milk

-Vegan (soy) butters for dairy butter

-Dark chocolate for milk chocolate

-Tofu for mozzarella cheese (in some recipes like eggplant Parmesan)

-Portobello for meat or fish

-Seitan, tempeh, or tofu for meat

-Vegetable for sushi

Try replacing mozzarella cheese with tofu for vegan or dairy-free guests 

Dishes that work for gluten-free and vegan/vegetarian:

-Tostitos and salsa

-Bean salads

-Mushroom dishes

-Vegan mashed potatoes made with almond milk and soy butter

-Portobello mushrooms are meaty and delicious

-Middle Eastern and Indian food tends to be vegetarian–think babaganoush, tabouleh salad

-Salads are very simple to make gluten-free and vegan, or you can mix a salad with all universally accepted ingredients first, then split into two before you add any dairy, meat, or gluten items.

-Pasta primavera or pasta with any vegetable and olive oil, vinegar or tomato sauce (Gluten-free pasta is easy to make separately and then prepare with the same ingredients as the regular pasta)

-Dark chocolate and fruit

-Coconut milk ice cream

6. Buy Your Way Out

If this is a lot to wrap your head around, you can have someone else deal with it for you. Local caterers and supermarkets offer frozen meals or catering options for special diets. Ask them if they can accommodate your need and chances are they have done it before and know exactly how to help.

Are you a vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free guest, or have you hosted people with special diets? Do you have anything to add to these tips? Please share your advice in the comments.

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