Is this scenario familiar to you? You go out to a restaurant with a bunch of friends and one of them spends half an hour with the waiter trying to work out what they can eat. I’m one of those people! My diet is like a finely tuned orchestra and when I get it wrong I’m hooked up to a morphine drip hallucinating rainbows. It’s not pretty.
Lets face it: most people you meet will have foods they do and don’t eat. For some of us it is really important. Whether it’s a deathly intolerance to nuts or a commitment to not eating dead things, if you’re going to feed friends and family who are offbeat eaters, you need to pay attention or you run the risk of offending their beliefs — or landing them in hospital.
Here’s my survival guide for feeding offbeat eaters:
- Ask them to spell out exactly what they eat. My vegan Buddhist nun doesn’t eat meat or animal products like honey, obviously, but I had no idea she doesn’t eat onions or garlic either; according to her beliefs they overstimulate the blood and are considered a no-go for some strict Buddhists.
- Ask your friend of family member to e-mail you a list of what’s okay and what’s definitely not. It doesn’t need to be an exhaustive Wikipedia article, just enough for you to make a meal!
- If you are mixing Dos and Don’ts, use a separate chopping board and knife! I nearly became an orphan when I cut a slice of bread for dad using the same knife I’d just chopped peanuts with. This goes for frypans, grills, BBQs, and pots too. Some of my friends even have a vegetarian kitchen and a separate meteosaur kitchen to keep everyone in the household happy.
- Keep an emergency stash of OK foods. This might mean a packet of dairy-free, gluten-free cookies, or a bag of instant rice or wheat-free noodles. It doesn’t have to be a great selection but if you have something, you don’t run the risk of finding yourself unprepared.
- One of the best ways to make an offbeat eater-friendly meal is to ask them for a recipe you can make, to which you can add few side dishes of your food — a vegan rice salad and a green salad with a few chicken nibbles or a wedge of brie on the side.
- Try to serve food as deconstructed as possible. You can make a pizza crust — gluten-, dairy-, or animal product-free, as needed — and dish up toppings individually. This also works for nachos, tacos, burritos, salads, and even pasta.
- Read the labels on store-bought food. To my annoyance only ONE brand of nachos in New Zealand is gluten-free, even though they’re made from corn.
- Sauces and salad dressings can be a big trap. Many contain sneaky doses of wheat, soy, and honey, so they don’t work for many people. Soy sauce obviously contains soy, but did you know many of them contain wheat too! This’ll put a damper on your plans to make gluten-free sushi.
- Head down to your whole foods grocer if you need more help! The staff might be able to help you find something that doesn’t have 400 ingredients and can feed your crew.
- Going out? Ring in advance. My mum will usually ring in advance and ask if the restaurant can do her a couple plain boiled potatoes and a steak. It saves her having to ask for every ingredient in the meals when she arrives and holding up other hungry diners.
The added challenge of ingredient restricting can bring out your creative side in the kitchen! You might come up with a new recipe you never would have made otherwise.