The holidays are quickly approaching, so I thought I’d answer some questions people often ask me about hosting celebrations for people with (and without) food allergies, intolerances and other dietary restrictions. And YES! You can create an easy, flavorful that’s safe and still lots of fun.
How/when do you ask guests about their dietary restrictions?
If it’s a small group, I’d suggest sending out a quick “any food allergies or dietary restrictions I should be aware of?” text to everyone before you start planning the menu. If it’s a larger gathering involving an actual invitation or e-vite, include a note asking the same and providing an easy way for guests to get in touch with you about their restrictions.
What are 4-7 tips for hosting a group with differing dietary needs?
- Omit any serious or life-threatening allergens from the menu completely. Even if you do your best to avoid cross-contamination, serving spoons can get moved around, knives can be used to cut more than one dessert, dish labels can get knocked over, etc. Play it safe.
- If possible, make sure the main course adheres to all of the allergens within the group. For Thanksgiving last year, for example, I made a gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free roast turkey that accommodated everyone except my guests who were following a vegetarian diet, and for them, I had enough hearty, vegetable-forward sides to make a complete meal.
- Prepare as much ahead of time as you can. Give yourself a head start, so you can actually enjoy your guests on the day of. My e-cookbook An Octofree Thanksgiving includes a timeline that allows you to work ahead on almost everything other than the turkey.
- Label dishes clearly. Include the name of the dish and any allergens it contains. And stick it directly to each serving dish if you can – free-standing labels can get moved around and cause confusion.
- Double-check ingredient labels. Manufacturers change formulations all of the time, so it’s always good to double-check, even if you’ve used an item before. Also, hang onto the containers (and keep your recipes handy), in case anyone has additional questions about ingredients.
- Don’t try to do it all on your own. You’re not in a cooking competition; outsourcing is fine. If you’re lucky enough to live near a gluten-free bakery that’s transparent about their ingredients, for instance, order dessert rather than making it yourself. Delegate naturally allergen-free items such as salad greens, fruit or wine to your guests.
Does every single dish really need to be allergen-free?
You don’t have to make the entire meal allergen-free. Just make sure each guest has enough safe options to eat, clearly label everything, and if anyone has a severe allergy, omit that ingredient from the menu entirely.
Is it ever appropriate to ask a guest with a lot of restrictions to bring a dish of their own?
Absolutely! When I host, I ask guests who have dietary restrictions to bring something they can eat to share, and other guests to bring items that are naturally allergen-free, like salad greens, fruit, or wine.
Any general tips for hosting a group with and without food allergies?
Yes: Keep it simple! A beautiful holiday meal can consist of a roast turkey or chicken, potatoes and green beans with a store-bought dessert. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be safe and enjoyable.
For a full holiday menu (with shopping list) free of the top 8 most common food allergies, purchase my e-cookbook An Octofree Thanksgiving.