How to Host a Holiday Gathering When Guests Have Food Restrictions
A Whole Foods Blog post titled “The Accommodating Host: What to Do When You Have Guests with Special Diets” lays out 6 steps on how to have a holiday get-together with guests who have food restrictions.
Step 1 is to ask that in their RSVP guest alert the host of any dietary restriction so that the host may include them in their plans.
Step 2 suggests making “one dish that does double or triple duty.” Sounds easy enough especially with the vegetable risotto suggestion, but that doesn’t accommodate a Paleo diet and it might not be safe for the corn-allergic guest, so what might a host do? How about a vegetable risotto with riced cauliflower? An entirely vegetable dish that looks and tastes like the original should accommodate a vegan, plant-based, gluten-free, and Paleo diet. Keep in mind that if there is a nut allergy, nuts should be avoided.
Another dish suggestion is a hearty vegan stew or a main-course salad. If you have been to a Hungry Hunter restaurant, you probably had one of their fabulous salads made at the table. Having a waiter or waitress at a holiday party is not an option for most of us, so how can this idea be recreated at home? How about using a large lazy Susan and creating a salad station near the dining table where guests pick up a salad plate with a bed of greens, then move on to the lazy Susan where they pick their toppings which can include tomatoes, onions, roasted garlic, roasted & fresh vegetables, seeds, nuts (be careful of cross contamination or simply avoid these), raisins, dried cranberries, safe for your guest croutons, and dressings such as olive oil, vinegar, and herbs? Think of your very own salad bar with a spin.
Step 3 is “Read labels closely on packaged goods”…those of us who are gluten sensitive and / or corn allergic know that this may not be enough because both gluten and corn can be hidden in unsuspecting places. What’s the solution? Whole Foods suggests asking your guest, but what happens when you have several guests with health food restrictions? How about making labels that serve as ingredient cards for all dishes that include the name of the food, the company or whether it is homemade, and a list of ingredients? This will take some prep time, but it will safe the host and guests some conversations about ingredients leaving time for other mingling fun.
Step 4 on the list is to in fact “Place ingredient cards next to dishes”…please see my comments on Step 3 above for what to include on said cards.
Step 5 is “Take stock of your stock” which suggests using a vegan stock in your dishes. What if you are not a vegan or vegetarian and you have no idea where to buy or how to make such a stock? How about you make it from scratch? Does this sound like a whole lot of work? No worries, I have a solution and all you need are spices, dried mushrooms and a high quality blender or food processor. See my post here: https://cornfreehippie.com/2016/03/10/paleo-vegan-stock-powder-all-prupose-seasoning/ for my vegan stock powder. This stock powder does double duty as an all-purpose seasoning on veggies as well as meats, so feel free to make enough to make all the broths you need as well as to season dishes for your get-together.
Step 6 is “Pick up a few extra things” which suggests purchasing extra items such as “alternative flours” or “dairy-free subs”. What if you are on a budget? Consider asking guests to bring a food item that accommodates at least one restriction on your guest list. As a Portuguese-American child and young adult, I attended many get-togethers where food was the center of the celebration. It is typical that such a celebration is large due to the tendency to have large families in my culture. It thus has become a cultural norm for us to bring a dish to gatherings. Here are some ideas on how to plan what guests can bring:
1. If one of your guests is known for a signature dish, ask that s/he bring it.
2 If one of your guests has a dietary restriction, ask that s/he bring enough of a dish to share.
3. Develop a system where you group guests into food categories where s/he brings a food from that category such as guests with a last name from A-G bring an appetizer, etc.
4. Get creative and ask that guests bring a dish from her/his birthplace, current region, or where s/he went to college for example.
What’s important during the holidays is to gather and make memories, so do your best and enjoy the company and food with an awareness that some of your guest have food restrictions, but they do not have to limit the fun. With some creativity, communication, and an openness to explore new takes on traditions everyone can enjoy the holidays in good company.
May you have a blessed and safe .holiday season with your loved ones.