Entertaining Offbeat Eaters: feeding all the different diets at your party

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Dinner Time

When you host a group dinner in these modern times, you’re likely to be working with a slew of dietary needs. It’s always a little nervewracking; I’m a vegetarian and I’m married to a slightly stricter vegetarian and we have friends with peanut allergies, vegan diets, and biological grudges against wheat. When we share food, I always worry a little… even though I know “the rules.”

It’s basic party planning: “What can I serve?” Let’s talk about Offbeat Eaters.

The basics: What are these Offbeat Eaters all about?

  • Vegetarians are tricky, but usually follow plant-based diets and exclude meats. Vegetarians on the strictest end of the spectrum don’t eat cheeses containing rennet or foods that use gelatin. Butter, cheese, and milk are generally fine.
  • Vegans don’t eat anything animal-based — and again, their strictness can vary. This means you need to watch out for butter, milk, lard, whey, and grease, among other things.
  • Raw foodists are usually vegans, and usually have leeway in their diet; raw foodists eat ALL vegan food, but may only eat raw 3/4 of the time. The raw diet consists of food not cooked above 115 degrees Fahrenheit/46 degree Celsius.
  • Paleos follow a diet similar to that of Paleolithic humans: food that can be hunted or gathered. Paleo diets are meat-heavy and usually exclude foods which weren’t available to our ancestors, like cheese and milk, refined sugar, processed foods and cultivated vegetables like corn.
  • Keeping kosher is more complicated, and adherents can fall on different parts of the spectrum. Because this is a faith-based diet, my advice is: don’t fuck around. Here’s a good article on the basics of keeping kosher.

Beyond the starter rules, these are broader, philosophical-y guidelines:

If you’re hosting a large group and don’t know everyone’s diet:

Don’t sweat it unless there will be a LOAD of us Offbeat Eaters. We can almost always inconspicuously eat what’s available. Most of us are up-front enough to speak to the host quietly if there is a problem with which you can help. If you discover a covert Offbeat Eater you were unaware of, it’s GREAT to offer acknowledgement and a, “Oh, rats. Are you okay here?” But keep it low key. There is nothing worse than being the only weird eater in a group and having a sad, apologetic host look at you and fuss over what you can eat. It’s okay! It’s one meal! You couldn’t have known AND I’ll be happy with whatever IS in my diet: veggies, a casserole, drinking lots and lots of soda.

When you can plan ahead for diets:

Feel free to ask questions. Keep it cool (and stay calm! You’d be surprised how often people telegraph anxiety about a party through their concerns over what Offbeat Eaters want). Drop us a line that says, “Hey, I want to make sure you have a great dinner. What are the ins-and-outs to raw eating/peanut allergies/paleo/keeping kosher?”

Check for hidden ingredients. One thing many people don’t think about for Offbeat Eaters, mainly vegans and vegetarians, is what might be in that soup or this cereal or even in packaged cupcakes. Your buddy might not eat a Campbell’s Vegetable Soup or your granny’s Pho because it’s got a chicken or fish base. Some cheeses use rennet, an enzyme from cows’ stomachs, and others won’t eat gelatin. Even Hostess cupcakes contain lard.

If you are comfortable asking, do! If you can’t get the information my general rule is do your best. I have had soups MANY times at friends’ homes which were probably chicken-based, but I wasn’t about to make them feel uncomfortable by asking and then turning down their food. This won’t work for all Offbeat Eaters, but many times “don’t ask, don’t tell” is in effect.

If it’s going to be an issue, it’s the Offbeat Eater’s responsibility to inform the host of dietary needs. Offbeat Eaters, where possible, usually try to strike a balance between what they normally eat and what they aren’t going to encumber a once-in-a-great-while host with. Of course this isn’t true for everyone — people with allergies and faith-based diets in particular — but many Offbeat Eaters will bend their normal rules in order to not make an unaccustomed host feel anxious. I usually only tell hosts that I don’t eat meat, including fish. I make it clear that I do eat eggs and dairy. Unless this has become a regular meal we share, I make no mention of checking ingredients. If they were a big deal, I’d have to make sure my host knew that I won’t eat these things. Period. And thank you for accommodating! My friend, on the other hand, has a child with a peanut allergy. She is very clear about what he can and cannot eat on a visit — she HAS to be!

When you, the host, is an offbeat feeding an onbeat:

Try not to be too gleeful. Or nervous. Or defensive. Depending on your guests’ personal philosophies and level of familiarity with your menu items, you could get any response from eagerness to silent reluctance, from innocent questioning to disgust. Keep patient and remember a time when you didn’t understand another family’s lifestyle.

It’s a start. Offbeat Eaters are all just a smidge different so your mileage with this advice may vary. Being an informed, caring and responsive host goes a lonnnnng way in making your differently-dieted guests feel welcome and acknowledged.

I bet it’s a lot different to invite outer circle friends to dinner in Seattle than it is here in Des Moines. Bet anything there are WAY more Offbeat Eaters. There may be ideas I’m missing that just don’t happen often in my sphere. So, what’s your go-to party plan rule set when you entertain Offbeat Eaters?

Comments on Entertaining Offbeat Eaters: feeding all the different diets at your party

  1. I work (and party) with a very ethnically diverse group of people. So at any gathering we are almost guaranteed to have Hindus, Muslims, and Jews (all with different dietary restrictions). Add in a lactose intolerant boyfriend and a roommate with celiac disease and its a hot mess.

    To deal with this I find it is easy to be conscious of what I am prepping to start with, never use pork products and avoid beef (for the religious), make sure you have one vegan dish (veggie trays rock! Go organic and you can’t go wrong). I also avoid dishes made with alcohol.

    The second (and best) thing is I make little signs with what is in each dish so no surprises once something is half eaten! I reuse these cards so I have them for the next time because I have some pretty standard go to dishes. I have also found out that some guests take pictures of the cards and they then have pretty much the recipe!

    Thirdly, if you have a potluck everyone is guaranteed to be able to eat at least one dish…the one they brought!

    • We used signs at my co-op in college and it worked pretty well. In addition to listing ingredients, we also labeled things GF (gluten-free) or V (vegan) for quick reference. Typically after the ingredients there was a section where we wrote possible allergens that were in the food (i.e. Contains soy, dairy, and tree nuts).

  2. As an Offbeat eater I usually take care of myself and bring back up food (a snack like a cereal bar/ Clif bar and nuts) in case there is nothing I can eat except the salad and crackers.

    My tip to any hosts is to keep packaging from any packaged foods around in a clean place (don’t throw it in the garbage and get it all dirty) so strict vegetarians and those with allergies can read the ingredients for their own comfort. We have eagle eyes for the ingredients (and those sneaky ingredient aliases!) we want and need to avoid.

    My mom is vegan and especially when I cook for her, I try to choose ingredients that are as simple as possible, make a quick sauce from crushed tomatoes, spices and olive oil instead of canned tomato sauce (which may have some ingredient that makes it non-vegan). I put all of the ingredients that I’m going to use out on the counter so I don’t automatically reach for the sour cream when I’m in the fridge grabbing other ingredients. Having everything in one place rather than browsing the fridge the way I usually cook helps remind myself I’m making my veggie soup vegan this time.

    I thought the Offbeat Empire was acronym free – what’s YMMV?

    • “Your mileage may vary”. I have a hard time kicking the acronym habit. Edited for clarity. πŸ™‚

      • I have been giving Cat regular beatings to cure her of her acronym reflexes, but this one slipped between the cracks.

        …Clearly, it’s time to begin the flogging. πŸ˜‰ NO MERCY FOR THE NEW GIRL.

  3. I find that having single or very few ingredient foods on hand really helps. Like serving the rice separate from whatever is supposed to go on it, and having some veggies out for everyone. Letting people assemble their own foods lets people who have an aversion to one particular ingredient choose not to have it. Some great examples/ideas: build your own tacos, baked potatoes, pizzas, etc…

    I’m using the sign and potluck ideas for my daughter’s first birthday! Thanks, Jess!

    • THIS!

      we have had an “Orphan’s Thanksgiving” almost every year since starting college *ahem* many years ago. we haven’t done a turkey yet, but we have done build your own: spaghetti, pizza, tacos/burritos, omelets, grilled cheese(/less) sammiches… there are SO many options for this. make sure ingredients are as separate as possible, labeled, and think about how people will move through the line (like, you may want to leave meat at the end, so it’s the last thing people touch & therefore less likely to contaminate your veggie ingredients). Our friend’s food needs & preferences vary wildly, and this has never left anyone unhappy.

  4. I have friends from all spectrums of dietary concerns. Some are vegan, some are veggies, some dont eat mammal, some are hardcore carnivores, some have wheat/dairy/soy/nightshade allergies, some are diabetic, and some are just hippie healthy eaters. Luckily, I found a recipe that everyone loves (including my hardcore carnivore husband), its unique, and it just so happens to fit into just about every dietary niche there is! This is my go to party/potluck offering. Fiesta Quinoa Salad!

    Heres the link! (I always double the vinegar/lemon juice part of the sauce, and i hardly ever add the red pepper unless they’re cheap that week and i wont be serving it to anyone with a nightshade allergy, and instead of dicing the carrot, I grate it)
    http://www.astray.com/recipes/?show=Quinoa%20fiesta%20salad

    • I had to laugh just because I have a HORRIBLE citrus allergy so this would just about kill me. Different strokes for different folks.

      I try to tell hosts to leave out citrus, but I’ve eaten more than my share of citrus marinated food to be polite and delt with the consequences later.

      • One of my closest friends is allergic to onions, garlic, and peppers–I’ve seen her swell up more than once after a dish was sent back–even after specifying it’s an allergy, restaurants think it’s ok to just take them out! Ugh. She’s got an epipen on reserve..

  5. As a vegetarian with an overly-concerned mother-in-law, may I give an emphatic “THANK YOU!” for the bit about the host keeping calm? There are few things worse (at a food-based function, that is) than an “on beat” host making a fuss over whether you’ve eaten enough. I already know I’m the oddball and I’m okay with that. Any time I’m not cooking for myself I have to figure out what I can and cannot have and your party is no different. I truly appreciate your concern, but I realize that it’s my choice to eat the way I do and I don’t expect anyone else to bend over backwards for it.

    And, really, it is just ONE meal – I’ll be fine! I swear! πŸ™‚

    • this is, quite honestly, the main reason i’m not vegetarian anymore. i totally could not handle that kind of fawning and i just gave up.

    • I am veggie with an overly concerned mother in law too. There is always plenty of bread, salad, and vegetable side dishes. I’m fine! I won’t waste away! I know this is all done out of love and concern, but really having a frozen Trader Joes eggplant dish forced upon me at every family meal is a little absurd.

      • one christmas, my poor husband had to eat a fried camembert cheese to every single meal a whole week long. it was the only vegetarian dish his mom could think of and she gave him no chance to refuse it, either. he never had one since and i donΒ΄t blame him…

    • With this one, I also find it helps to say something along the lines of being so full you couldn’t imagine having room from the meat dishes as well. This generally gets a giggle and eases tensions.

  6. Gluten-free is another diet that is on the rise! A few years ago I had one friend that always came to our parties that I made a little something special for, but now, there’s a whole group of friends who are going gluten-free- some for allergies, some for other health reasons. It’s especially important to do your research on this topic if you plan to accommodate though, as gluten is found in things you’d never think of.

    • I come from a family with a list of allergies as long as your arm, and ever-changing.

      Personally, I’m allergic to soy (soy oil & soy flour which are in the majority of store-bought breads, tofu, soy protein which is remarkably common as well etc). Growing up I was also allergic to beans, nuts and eggs and for a while potatoes.

      When I met my partner, he claimed to have no allergies but it became pretty apparent to me (with my hyper-sensitivity to allergies) that he was lactose intolerant.

      Now I have a friend who is gluten intolerant. She also has a disability that means spoken communication is really different. It’s been really interesting learning and navigating what is safely gluten free and what is not! Through the process, I realize that if you cook from scratch and don’t eat a lot of bread products (which we don’t) it’s actually not too hard to cook gluten free! You just need to be aware of contamination as well as what ingredients have SECRET EVIL GLUTEN.

  7. I love the idea about posting little signs with the ingredients! I’ve been vegetarian for a few years and I always hate finding hidden meat in what looks like veggie pizza or a salad. In my experience, most onbeat eaters just don’t think about others not eating certain foods. Definitely good to let them know ahead of time.

    • This is kinda gross but is an example for strict vegetarians in dealing with disrespectful people who don’t get why you won’t just pick the pepperoni off the pizza and eat the pizza and keep bugging you, trying to convince you it’s fine. “Would you eat the pizza if there was bird poop on it and you just brushed off the poop? No, well, that’s how it is for me.” Brings the arguments to screeching halt. πŸ™‚

  8. As vegan celiac, I get asked all the time what I can eat. My friends’ favorite response to that question is “hearty gusts of air”.

  9. I always try to have at least one vegan or vegetarian dish available for each meat we serve. Overall it works pretty well and I never use nuts or seeds (my mom and sister are allergic!) in my foods. I’ve been guilty of the “having the best intentions and then using chicken broth instead of vegetable broth in something” dishes, but I’m human and I apologize and no one has died.

    I like the signs idea though!

  10. The challenge for me is finding good, protein-rich meals that satisfy both vegans and paleo-leaning people that won’t leave the vegans hungry later. There really isn’t a lot of overlap there. Unfortunately we tend to have people over for dinner a lot and often need to accommodate both those needs (we’re more towards the paleo end of things ourselves, and we have a couple fairly close vegan/veggie friends). One solution is to cook things that can easily be segregated; e.g., two pots of chili that get split before meat is added or a veggie stir fry with tofu and nuts and some pork/chicken/etc. that can be added in for those who need more protein. But still. Hard.

  11. we’ve come up with an invitation wording for laid-back hosting – it is basically:
    “we’ll provide a hot grill, hot dogs, fixins, snacks, sodas and such. Feel free to bring anything you’d like to throw on the grill or anything fancy you’d like to drink.”

    It’s not perfect, but it sure makes our life easier, while still performing *basic* hosting a meal duties and allowing our “must have steak to be a meal” friends to chill with our veggie buddies.

    • This is pretty much the standard set-up for my families summer get together.

      The ‘host’ sets up a BBQ and provides drinks, breads, condiments and some meats. Everyone else brings a salad or dessert and either something for the grill or any other extras they want/want to share.

      My mum for example usually brings halumi and portabello mushrooms if she’s vegetarian that day, or fish if she isn’t and my sister and I bring the vodka. πŸ˜€

      As well as covering food preferences it’s a good way to make sure one person isn’t struck with the full cost when it’s actually a group decision to throw a party.

    • This is how our group of friends hosts BBQs during the summer months. In Australia, BBQs are the national social past-time, and with 50% of our friends being vegetarian, we figure the BYO ‘things to BBQ’ option is the easiest and safest way to go about it.
      The vegos usually bring asparagus, portobello or field mushrooms, haloumi, veggie sausages/burgers etc. We just cook all of their food first πŸ™‚

  12. As one of those pesky offbeat vegans I always appreciate any host taking the time to ask what’s ok. We get invited out a few times a year to co-worker’s homes and it’s always rather scary for them (I’m in Des Moines as well). That they ask is the first step and I can explain what’s ok or even give them a few websites/recipes. A lot of the time I’ll still bring a side dish that can double as a main if it’s an informal gathering. Lots of quinoa and black bean salad or tofu/veggie skewers with peanut sauce. I love food and love sharing food, luckily most of my acquaintances feel the same way.

    • We have a friend who also always brings a side dish like this and as a hostess i can’t express how much i appreciate it! even though i’ve always managed to have something for him to eat its been a great comfort to know that he’ll have something even if i mess up !

  13. In my social circle, we have a friend who is vegan and has a LOT of allergies. One of the most useful things he’s done is publish a list of allergens on his website. Even though folks joke that it’d be easier if he listed what he *can* eat, it’s still really helpful to be able to check that list.

    That said, a bunch of other folks we spend time with have a variety of dietary restrictions and we’ve found signs to be the most useful thing for large group meals — especially potlucks. At Thanksgiving this year, every dish had a sticky note.

  14. I am definitely an offbeat eater and I married a world-class professional chef. Best. decision. ever.

  15. I’ve done some cooking for big events where multiple people had different restrictions. If you can set aside portions of the main dish to leave vegan, then veggie, and add meat products last, it can be a great time-saver. One of our go-to dishes was roasted veggie enchiladas with pulled chicken: vegans got veggie ones with sauce, then we added cheese for the vegetarians, then chicken for the omnivores. Make em in corn tortillas, make your own sauce, and the gluten-frees are happy too.

  16. I had a friend growing up who had horrible food allergies. Literally, the list of things she could eat was shorter than the list of things she couldn’t. Usually she’d end up bringing her food wherever she went, but because her diet was so restricted, it tended to be the same thing every day.

    My mother then took it upon herself to make sure that there was always at least one thing on the table for everyone to eat that she could eat as well. You could tell that mealtimes were so much nicer for her when there was something she could eat!

    My point is – make no mistake, these courtesies are greatly appreciated!

  17. Family gatherings at our place are fun! I’m coeliac and allergic to MSG, my husband and I have an onion intolerance, my brother is anaphylactic – peanuts and legumes, my sis-in-law is on a low FODMAP diet and my niece has a lactose intolerance. There is absolutely no wiggle-room on any of these.

    I avoid pre-prepared meal items with anything unpronounceable on the label – never use stock (they ALL contain MSG in some form. Yeast extract? MSG. Hydrolyzed anything? MSG) and almost always cook from scratch. I’m lucky in that my husband owns an organic cafe, so he has a head for meal prep as well and understands that I’m quite happy chopping up and cooking down tomatoes for our pasta sauce rather than using the canned stuff to save time.

    Wondering what I use instead of stock? Water/wine, salt, herbs and spices. My secret ingredient (but only if there are no vegetarians among the guests) are anchovies. It doesn’t matter if you dislike them – you can’t taste them. They just add that ‘something’. Those I get pre-prepared. Organic, in the jar. Add a couple per serve.

    Also – while I understand that you’ve gone to a LOT of trouble to prepare food for your offbeat eaters – be understanding that they quite simply cannot eat EVERYTHING. Don’t be offended if they don’t try your quinoa salad or your GF vegie slice. They’re probably full!

    • p.s. making homemade stock is really simple if you have the time to let it simmer away for a few hours. i tend to stick all the veggie buts and bits in the freezer ’till there’s enough to fill the stock pot – add some bay, pepper, salt and then boil, strain and freeze. it’s awesome and handy.

    • I agree about home-made and not eating things you can’t pronounce. A friend once described trying to go out to eat with me like “an olympic sport” (this was done kindly- he was trying to explain to another friend how important it was that I not eat onions and how far he would be willing to go to make sure that didn’t happen). There are onions in EVERYTHING. Ugh. And I vary between eating dairy and being dairy free, depending. So I pretty much eat at home and a very few select places that I know the menu and staff.

    • You can get vegan veggie bouillon cubes with or without sea salt that are pretty high quality, not filled with chemicals or weird preservatives. I’ve seen them at Whole Foods and my local granola crunchy groceries.

      • Those are pretty tasty, and they’re mostly salt.

        If you have time to start with any sort of homemade broth, you can boil it down or simply add the bullion cubes to the broth, so you don’t have to use as much salt.

  18. My husband has ulcerative colitis and has to be extra-super careful about his diet otherwise…he’ll get really sick. I think I get more offended on his behalf than he does when a host doesn’t provide something that works for him. In his case, he often feels embarrassed about his situation and does not necessarily want to share the details when having a meal. For example – colleagues treated him to a goodbye drinks/dessert outing when he left a job, but hubs can’t have alcohol or many desserts. Without knowing it, people can draw attention to an area he’d rather leave unnoticed. All to say, we appreciate when folks provide a vegetarian-esque and limited fat content option at meals.

  19. just wanted to throw another “offbeat eater” type into the mix — people often forget that observant catholics don’t eat meat on fridays in lent. at small or informal gatherings, this is no big deal as there’s always something to munch on, but if you’re hosting a wedding or business lunch or something with a set main course, it’s worth keeping in mind. some people are seasonal pescatarians.

    • My roommate is Catholic, and just the other night told me about her first date with her boyfriend–on a Friday, during Lent, at a Japanese steakhouse. Major face-palmage ensued.

  20. Important note, a lot of vegans don’t eat honey so that’s another thing to watch out for.

    Great advice though! I’m a vegetarian and I always love any efforts friends make to accommodate me. Trust, hosts’ efforts do not go unnoticed.

  21. Not sure if anyone brought this up, but I think this is really important.

    My boyfriend is highly allergic to nuts, and often even relatives at his family parties will make/bring dishes with nut products in them. The logic is that he can just not eat the food and he’ll be fine.

    That’s not the case. Contamination is a MAJOR concern. Basically, if someone brings a peanut dish for example, and eats it with their fingers and then touches the same chair as him, it can trigger anaphylactic shock – a scary life-threatening situation for all involved. That chair has in effect become contaminated. As well as if someone grabs a peanut butter cookie and then takes a “safe food” – that food that was designated as safe has become unsafe. Granted, someone with this allergy will have back ups if something should happen, but no host/hostess would want to deal with that. Especially if there are children involved – they can be irresponsible/not understanding and can easily forget to wash hands this increases the chance of a dangerous situation.

    Like one time we were at a Christmas party with a gift swap, where they had cookies with almonds in them. People ate the cookies and had started the gift swap when I suddenly realized that my boyfriend would be touching the same presents. It caused a giant dramatic situation where everyone had to wash their hands and my boyfriend was extremely uncomfortable and on edge for the rest of the night, as was his parents and I.

    In short – if you are aware of an allergy like that, it is so much better for all involved to just skip the peanut butter cookies. Nobody will miss them, and the person with the allergy will be able to enjoy themselves without any worry.

    • This terrifies me. Natural peanut butter is my go-to energy food and a staple in my diet so I’ve got tonnes of glass peanut butter jars that I re-use to hold bulk beans, spices etc. Basically, if you have a peanut allergy, my house is 100% off limits. I haven’t had anyone with a peanut allergy over yet, but I think that if it were to happen, we’d barbecue and use disposable plates and new spices. Maybe next time I move, I should go through and get rid of these jars and try to do a bit of a peanut purge.

    • My husband has a similarly severe fish allergy. We’ve gotten friends to set out “fish free zones” at their parties. You can only go one way through the buffet, and everyone is told to avoid reverse contamination. We joke about it, jut it makes a huge difference in his ability to enjoy a social gathering.

  22. Oh, my daily life. People don’t know what to feed my husband (refined sugar allergy) and me (lactose intolerant) when we’re house guests. My diet is easier but it surprises me that a lot of people don’t think of butter as a dairy milk product. I’m also mostly vegan. I’ve been vegetarian my whole life but took out all the milk products a year ago when I finally put together the lactose intolerance. Pregnancy has made me crave eggs though…
    And my husband’s allergy is so weird. We’re not exactly sure what causes it, but the fine, “pure white” sugar or corn syrup knocks him out for 24 hours. We’ve found very limited info available. Thankfully, organic sugar is not a problem.
    I really love the suggestion earlier to keep packaging, if there is any, for your Offbeat Eaters to read. We’re used to reading labels and picking out the offending ingredients. I can’t tell you how many times the host has been sure there was no sugar (it’s in everything) and my husband ends up sick.
    Thanks for writing about this, Cat.

    • I craved eggs when I was pregnant too! It was a complete obsession, actually. I had been vegan for 3 years when I got pregnant. Then, before I even knew I was pregnant, I knew I HAD to have eggs. Finally, four months or so into my pregnancy, we managed to track down some eggs from rescued hens who were kept as pets. I gave in and ate a few dozen and haven’t thought about eggs since giving birth! So crazy! I thought I was alone.

      On topic though, I have to say that nothing sucks more than a host promising their caterer is going to provide something you can eat, then be given (literally) a plate of dry lettuce. This happened to me at a wedding. Luckily, I ate just before in case something like this happened. If you aren’t able to accommodate everyones dietary needs, that’s fine! We’re used to it, and will likely come prepared with a snack we can eat. Just don’t say you will be accommodating, then fail to come through. It seems disrespectful.

  23. I hope this is the appropriate place for this question, but as an off-beat eaters how do you handle something “longer” than a dinner party. For example, we will be staying with my partner’s aunt for a WEEK and she is a very traditional cooker – lots of red meat, lots of milk and cheese, etc. – and I am vegan. I don’t want to ask her to cook vegan for me for the whole week because it would be such a pain for her and I almost feel bad offerring to cook for myself (as if I’m ungrateful or something…). Any suggestions from other off-beat eaters who have been in similar situations?

    • I’m not an offbeat eater so this isn’t really from that perspective but as a person who regularly hosts offbeat eaters/people with food allergies/people with religious dietary restrictions I do have some insight.

      1) Let her know before hand what vegan really means (for example the honey thing, I never thought of that!) Be patient and gentle when explaining this. Also, explain your reasons for making this choice. I find a lot of people in “older” generations are very receptive once you get over the “new and scary and weird bump”.

      2) Offering to cook for EVERYONE is a great idea. Just cooking for yourself could be misconstrued as selfish and anti-social. Offer to do one meal a day for every one. Try to keep the dishes basic and maybe you will open the doors to some wonderful vegan food for your partner’s aunt. Also offer to help in the kitchen for other meals too! It comes off as super helpful and you can keep an eye on ingredients while setting the table or doing dishes so you can nicely remind or tactfully avoid depending on the situation.

      3) In the course of a week there is bound to be a food slip up. The most important thing is to not freak out or make a big deal of it. Your host will most likely feel bad no matter how well you take it. Just say something like “Oops! Didn’t realize there was cheese in that!” and avoid the dish.

      Like I said I’m not an offbeat eater, but this is from a meat and potatoes girl who is stumbling through feeding a mess of offbeat friends!

        • I’m glad it helped! I love all the hints from offbeat eaters to us non-offbeat foodies. I always feel so bad when I do something dumb like cook dairy based bacon onion dip to bring to my Halal friend’s shindig! Hope you have a great visit with your meat and potatoes relatives!

    • I agree. Offer to cook for everyone at least one of the nights, then maybe you have leftovers to turn back to in case she decides to cook up steak and cheesy potatoes. πŸ™‚ Or offer to help make an accompaniment like a hearty soup to go with the meals.

      Usually if you let the host know in advance and offer a suggestion, things move smoothly.

    • Totally agree with the people saying offer to cook for everyone. That’s what I’d do. Not only do you ensure you get some nice hearty food and leftovers as a fall-back, you get to introduce the traditional cooks to yummy vegan possibilities and maybe tempt them to branch out in future.

      I would offer to cook two or three dinners for everyone, and then before you go make yourself a big batch of soup or a lentil dish or something, put that into tupperware and reheat it for lunches.

    • For meals you aren’t cooking, it’s a simple request to ask for a hearty salad at every meal. It’s even something you can offer to make yourself as helping her with dinner rather than subverting her cooking.

      As for the rest of the time, stock the freezer. Most people I know only really cook and sit down for one meal out of the day, so making your own lunches or snacks shouldn’t be commented upon. You can also strategically arrange to eat something out of your freezer stash about half an hour before dinner. That way, if there’s nothing for you to eat but salad, you can still sit and nosh with everyone with out pining away in hunger.

    • I’m paleo (we eat only meat, seafood, fruits, veggies and nuts). When I go home to visit my parents or in-laws, I offer to make the sides for dinner every night. Not only does it make me look helpful (and it’s EASY, since veggies take 5 minutes), I can guarantee that every night there will be at least three things I can eat.
      I do the same thing when I host parties. Grilled chicken, multiple veggie sides, and fruit dessert with a DIY condiment table. Everyone can eat!

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