Routt County CSU Extension: Entertaining guests with dietary restrictions, allergies
Hosting friends and family for a meal can be stressful enough, but what if your guests also have dietary restrictions to consider? It is estimated that 15 million Americans have food allergies, and millions more must avoid certain components in food. Sometimes, these restrictions are medically necessary, such as avoiding gluten if a guest has Celiac disease, or avoiding nuts if company has a tree nut allergy.
Other times the restrictions feel more like preferences, such as preferring organic or eating a Paleo diet. No matter what the dietary restrictions, rather than questioning the validity of their request, take it in stride and plan a wonderful experience for everyone.
Whether you are celebrating a birthday, sharing a holiday or getting acquainted with new friends, your role as the host is to help your guests feel comfortable. As you invite people to your gathering, make sure to ask if they have any dietary restrictions. Showing that you are attentive to the needs of your guests is a sign of caring that everyone will appreciate from a host.
Connecting with others over a shared meal is one of the primary ways to build and maintain relationships. For those with food limitations and allergies, food-oriented events can be isolating. They may feel self-conscious or reluctant to accept invitations to eat away from home.
Once you are aware of their food challenges, enlist their help in planning a portion of the food that will work for them. Invite them to bring a dish they can eat. Organize a make-it-yourself taco bar, pizza bar or salad bar that lets everyone select their own ingredients. Whatever your strategy, remember that connecting with your guests and making them feel comfortable is more important than showcasing your culinary skills.
You don’t need to become an expert in gluten-free or allergy-free cooking, just simplify. If you keep a portion of your menu simple, you avoid the complex dishes that contain a lot of potential problems. Try serving sauces and dressing on the side, so guests can choose what they want to add. Offer a menu with variety, such as some dishes without nuts and some items without cheese.
Don’t worry, but do communicate with your guests about the food you will be serving. Label foods on a buffet if you are offering an item that is meatless, dairy-free or gluten-free. If you use a processed food or product, save the packaging so they can glance at the ingredient list to make sure it is something they can eat.
Letting your guests know what is in your recipe can make them feel safe and reduce some of the anxiety that comes with eating food prepared by others.
Feeding others is one of the most generous gifts you can give to your friends and family members. Relax, communicate and enjoy.
Karen Massey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and family and consumer science Extension agent with Colorado State University Extension in Routt County. For more information, contact 970-879-0825 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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