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

Updated Oct 12 2015
Dinner Time
Photo by Mediatejack. Used under Creative Commons license.

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?

  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?

      • 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)

    • 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™‚

    • 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'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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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!

  23. I have gluten free, vegetarian, carnivourous and halal needs to cater for- in my experience, if you cook from scratch (you know, real ingredients, not pre-cooked-pre-prepped stuff), its harder to mess up. Convenience food is really where the challenges lay, as it is often hard to tell what is in the 'food' to start with. Its also usually cheaper!

  24. It's worth mentioning to watch out for honey – a lot of people who aren't vegan forget that honey is off-limits to strict vegans.

    For faith-based diets, it's worthwhile to mention vegetarian Hindus and halal-following Muslims (having studied in India, I have a lot of Hindu and Muslim friends, being from New York and having attended a university with a large Jewish student population I have a lot of Jewish friends too).

    Vegetarian Hindus (often but not necessarily south Indians) can range from "will ingest milk/yoghurt but not eggs" to "pure vegan" to "eggs are fine, gelatin and rennet are not" to "pescatarian" (will eat fish/seafood). My friends are of the eggs and milk are OK, gelatin is not, absolutely no fish variety.

    For Muslims, no pork of course, and your best bet if you are serving meat is to buy it at a halal grocer (easier for some of us, of course – if you live in or near a major urban area it should be no problem). Technically alcohol, even in cooking, is also off-limits (some very strict Muslims even avoid vinegar) but I know tons of Muslims who won't touch pork but will happily drink alcohol.

    I've found with my friends who keep kosher that they are generally stricter at home than when out – of course everyone varies. I've noticed a trend toward not really worrying about kosher food until marriage, then once they establish their own home, suddenly they keep kosher. I have no idea why this is but it's definitely something I've anecdotally observed. Many, when they are not home, won't make a fuss of you serve both dairy and meat (a big no-no in kosher cooking) but will choose to ingest only one of the two. They won't touch pork and some seafood but otherwise don't make a fuss over whether a particular dish is kosher or not. Of course people vary…this is just my experience.

    Only mentioning this because it is within the realm of my experience (but I totally understand why it was not in the article – it's not something you commonly come across) but be mindful of faith-based diets of certain sects of Buddhism and Jainism. Jains who follow their religion's dietary strictures are not only vegan, but will not eat root vegetables (carrots, onions) or root spices (garlic, ginger). Some sects of Buddhism (notably Yi Guan Dao – and I only know this because I stayed in a friend's home here in Taiwan whose parents follow it) will eat onions and carrots but not garlic, ginger and four other "forbidden" items – can't remember what they are.

    I've found that the strictest folks among my friends will simply eat a snack before they attend a dinner party, so if they get there and realize they can't eat anything, or can only eat very little, they aren't starving.

    Some tips from my experience:

    – instead of a dinner party with large, set dishes, unless you have friends who won't eat food that's near other food, try an appetizer-heavy cocktail style party for a change: that way there will be something for everyone. Good choices include stuffed grape leaves, babaghanoush and hummus with both pita and veggies for dipping, a triple-layer cream cheese, sundried and pesto tomato spread, Iranian cucumber tomato salad with mint, salt, pepper, onion and lemon juice, stuffed mushrooms or cherry tomatoes, an olive plate, a fruit plate…all things that most people can eat (nut and wheat or gluten allergy folks can't handle some of it).

    Look to ethnic recipes: Ethiopian, Mediterranean and Indian cuisines are chock full of diet-friendly choices – channa masala (my favorite!), veg biriyani, daal, aloo gobi. Italian can be easily made vegetarian but not gluten-free. Asian cuisine is meat-ingredient heavy (even kimchi has fish-based ingredients! Who knew!) but full of alternatives: fake bean/tofu and mushroom-based "meat" which is actually quite good and usually available at Asian supermarkets, vegetable bases in place of meat stock, and lots of vegetarian-friendly ways to add flavor to a dish where Western cuisine often looks to meat to add flavor.

    • Messianic Jews tend to be fine about mixing meat and dairy, because they mostly only observe written Torah and not oral Torah. Also, even some Jews who do not mix meat and dairy consider poultry to be pareve aka neither meat nor dairy, and will mix it with either. I myself being Messianic Jewish would be happy to mix meat and dairy…if I wasn't vegetarian anyway πŸ˜€ Best thing is to not assume that a follower of a particular faith with food laws follows them in a particular way, and just ask – they will be used to questions! Faith being such a personal thing, it's going to vary.

      • Yeah, most of my friends are Reformed or Conservative – generally speaking they don't keep kosher at all outside the home. The Reformed ones generally don't keep kosher at home, but the Conservative ones generally do. I have no friends who are Messianic or Orthodox.

    • About muslims drinking alcohol – I'm told that it's not actually forbidden by Islam, the Qur'an simply says that the negative aspects of alcohol outweigh the positive and leaves it up to the individual to decide what to do about that.

      • I was told it is prohibited – "no fermented goods of grain or fruit" or something like that – which is why some won't even touch vinegar – but that it's not considered as "serious" as the prohibition against pork (by SOME Muslims, not all, of course). My friend's Moroccan ex-boyfriend's mother, when she visited, wouldn't ingest vinegar for that reason, apparently (the only common language we shared was French and my French isn't that great, so…there's that).

    • Just to point out – for a Coeliac contamination is a BIG deal. If you have dips with pita and veges – the dips are off limits. The second someone dips a pita in that dip, its contaminated. Either serve pita with dip on one plate and veges with dip on another or pop spoons in the dips. Either way, make sure people are aware. Beware the SECRET EVIL GLUTEN. For us coeliacs it can mean a world of consequence. For instance – gluten = food expulsion (either end) = pill not working = babies. Yep, my husband and I have had pregnancy scares because I have eaten contaminated food. A person with a gluten allergy cannot eat your jars of spreads, use an appliance that has cooked or processed gluten foods if the appliance has hard to clean corners or nooks or eat anything that has come into contact with a utensil that touched gluten foods without being thoroughly cleaned first. If you are cooking 2 lots of pasta, on gluten free and one not, and use the same utensil to stir both – I cannot eat that pasta.

      • I've got at least 4 gluten-free folks on my wedding guest list, and I'm going to make a set of platters that are gluten free before I make the rest of the food, and put those platters on a separate table in the corner. They will also probably be vegetarian platters since one of the GFers is also dairy-free, and one is meat-free, and the girlfriend of the dairy-free one is probably going to want to kiss him ever plus she's no-red-meat. The regular vegetarians will have plenty of food for them on the regular table, but I want to make sure the gluten-free folks aren't getting their food contaminated. That table at wedding #2 doesn't have to be veggie, but it does have to be allium-free, and the entire reception might have to be too so that should be interesting [ETA oh shoot, I just realized both weddings have an allium allergy.]. And we nixed the trail mix bar idea because I don't want to send my nut-allergy cousin to the ER either. And of course there's the part where I'm allergic to wine.

        Popcorn bar, sealed bottles of beer & cider, cake & punch-style reception so no one is expecting a full meal, and I think I've got everyone's needs covered as far as not wishing death on my guests.

    • Fun fact! Apparently the celiac gene can be traced back to northern italian ancestry. Northern italian foods, esp pre-tomatoes, were usually gluten-free (it's where polenta comes from).

      And now I want polenta LOL.

  25. Another idea – unless the restriction is on food near other food (nut allergies, some who keep kosher), try a pot luck. That way everyone can bring at least one dish that they can eat. If you do this, though, it helps to have everyone write down what's in what they cooked on a post-it or little tent card to go next to the dish.

    I should have added "watch out for kimchi" with "watch out for honey". I have an Indian vegetarian friend who absolutely loved kimchi, and was so happy that something so tasty could be vegetarian. She was quite distraught when I (after some deliberation) pointed out that kimchi contains fish and shrimp-based seasonings. Most SE Asian food contains fish oil, and even pilaf contains chicken stock (but can be made veg).

  26. I know a few vegetarians, my friend's fiance is allergic to cherry flavored foods, and I think that's about it. Our biggest problem is that my brother (who will be living with us) is a picky eater, as are many of our friends.

  27. My "offbeat eaters" are mainly different flavours of vegetarians plus a few lactose intolerant people… and they're all pretty tolerant! Usually, I will make a choice of foods for them to combine, like a tiny buffet, and make sure they know what's in there. I remember, once the BF had a party and planned chili con carne, and then one of his friends brought his vegetarian girlfriend… well, we always do have stuff for some salad at home. ^^

    • I grew up with mostly veggies and lactose intolerant people so we had a LOT of vegan buffets growing up. I think that's one of the things that really got me into cooking professionally.

  28. Worst thing for me is when people completely disregard how severe allergies/intolerances can be. A couple of years ago I was helping out at a kids' club at a conference and we were provided with a basic lunch – bread and fillings for sandwiches, fruit, crisps (chips) etc. The kitchen sent up nutella and peanut butter for the sandwich fillings – however, we were eating in the same room we used for the kids and since some of them had severe nut allergies, we could not even open the jars because of contamination! When telling this story to someone else after the event, her reaction was 'Oh people with allergies just make a fuss over nothing, I'd have sent those fillings up just for a laugh!' Kind of reminded me of Marge putting meat juice in Lisa's vegetables in The Simpsons, only worse because there is really nothing funny about anaphylactic shock. The view that people with allergies/intolerances are just being fussy is really aggravating. My advice for people with intolerances is to say you have an allergy – it tends to be taken more seriously. Also, people with nut allergies should check European brands of chocolate, particularly German or Swiss ones, as they often use hazelnut paste as a flavouring in even plain chocolate bars.

    • "The view that people with allergies/intolerances are just being fussy is really aggravating. My advice for people with intolerances is to say you have an allergy – it tends to be taken more seriously."

      I totally agree with this. Before I started dating my allergic boyfriend, I really didn't understand the gravity of the situation most affected by the allergy have to go through on a daily basis. I think that the best way of dealing with people who don't understand – is to explain it! Through some information I'd gotten through my boyfriend and his family, I understood way more. I think most of the people who think that it's "fussy" just literally do not understand… however, some people are just selfish and don't want to look out for those people – and these are the people I refuse to associate with now that I understand.

      It's never a joke when dealing with someone's life.

      • Yeah, people look at celiac and allergies as if we're just trying to get attention.

        My ex-sister in law used to put shellfish in a dip and not tell me, she thought my allergy was made up and called me a hypochondriac.

        I can't eat gluten and a current member of my family puts her wheat crackers in my hummus when I'm not looking, then denies doing so.

        I'd be pissed off enough to hurt someone if they attempted to give my son peanut butter or milk on purpose. He has a horrible reaction to them.

      • I actually know someone who DID make up an allergy: he simply didn't like tomatoes, and told everyone he was "allergic" to him. We of course planned group dinners with this in mind – no tomatoes for him. It was fine.

        Then one day I was at a sandwich shop with him, and he ordered a sandwich, wasn't paying attention and it came with tomatoes on the inside (I also hadn't really noticed). He ate the whole thing, and as he was eating I noticed tomatoes peeking out. I pointed it out (as in "be careful! you're allergic!" and he said "oh I don't mind tomatoes in this sandwich, I just don't like them on other sandwiches, in salads or sauces."

        "So…you just don't like tomatoes?"
        "Yeah. They make my stomach turn."
        "Oh. But you said you were 'allergic'? Are you?"
        "…" (no good response to that)

        I totally respect someone really not liking something, and would still try to make sure that they had options at group meals: I have a friend who hates spicy food so we don't go out for Sichuanese together. All good. But…lying about it? ARGH.

        It gives people who DO suffer from allergies (not me, but others) look bad and makes it so much easier for people to assume they're just 'fussy'. It saddens me that there are people who will lie about this stuff. He wasn't our friend for much longer, for other reasons.

        • There are probably people who think I make up allergies as well, because there are a couple of foods that I can eat cooked but not raw. I've heard the skeptical, 'I thought you couldn't eat [food]' a few times. It doesn't make much sense to me, either, but there you go.

          • the 'can eat cooked but not raw' thing is a legit allergy. most people who have an allergy of this sort are allergic to an enzyme in the food (typically a fruit/veggie, and typically an enzyme in the skin) that becomes denatured when cooked/processed. πŸ™‚ it is also typically related to a grouping of food (i.e. bell peppers/melon, or apples/stone fruit.) and, odd fact, people that have those types of allergies often have allergies to a type of tree pollen or grass pollen, that also contains a similar compound. (for example – apples/stone fruit allergy – usually also allergic to beech tree pollen. the molecule/allergens in each of these have similar chemical makeups/protein structures.

            ok, i'm done nerding out. πŸ™‚

    • I would argue that folks with allergies/intolerances don't quite fit with the concept of "Offbeat Eaters." For me, there's a big difference between a medical issue with very cut 'n' dry physical ramifications, as opposed to a cultural/philosophical/religious choice. Choosing to be vegan is one thing, while being lactose intolerant is quite another.

      There's a big difference to me between "I don't eat this because it doesn't fit with my belief system" vs. "I don't eat this because IT WILL MAKE MY THROAT SWELL UP AND I WILL DIE." Catering to one is an issue of good hostessing. Catering to the other is an issue of not being homicidal.

      • Sometimes, it isn't quite as black and white as "Catering to one is an issue of good hostessing. Catering to the other is an issue of not being homicidal." Some dietary choices lead to sensitivities, and some allergies are not as severe as leading to death.

        For example, my partner and I are both vegan for ethical reasons. He also has a gluten sensitivity and cannot eat it. When you're vegan for as long as we have been, you also develop sensitivities to non vegan foods. We are completely lactose intolerant now because our bodies no longer make the enzyme to digest dairy. Something similar happens when either of us accidently eat something contaminated with meat. We both get very ill. (I'll spare you the gross details.) If someone were to give one of us a dish with dairy or meat in it just because it wouldn't kill us, they've also decided it's ok to make us horribly ill for the rest of the night.

        On the other hand, when my partner eats gluten, he doesn't have an immediate reaction. He'd be able to enjoy the rest of his evening just fine after eating something with gluten. However, a day or two later, he may get some joint pain and aching in his hands and arms. Or sometimes not. However, if he eats it on a regular basis, it "builds up" in his system and he experiences a lot of intense pain almost constantly.

        So, in my partner's case, he'd rather the food he's allergic to get slipped in "accidently" than for the food he simply chooses not to eat get slipped in "accidently".

        I think it's best to honor peoples' dietary restrictions (or be completely open and honest about what they can't eat) with the same level of respect and commitment regardless of if you personally think it's a big deal. It isn't always so cut and dry.

    • My youngest brother is severely allergic to nuts, dairy, and chocolate (and somewhat less allergic to many other foods). If someone were to knowingly and "jokingly" put something in his food that he is allergic to, I would be sorely tempted to have them arrested for attempted murder. No joke.

    • Sadly I've known a couple of people who probably contributed a lot towards that attitude.

      One girl in particular, if you asked in advance would make a HUGE deal of how deathly allergic she was to a fairly long list of foods and how they absolutely had to be avoided at all costs. But if she turned up somewhere and found there was nothing she could eat she'd complain loudly, then grudgingly "make an exception" and eat…pretty much anything on offer with no sign of trouble. Privately I suspect it was just another way to keep attention on her (pretty much her favourite activity).

      However I've also known people who were genuinely allergic to all kinds of things, including those who could not be in the same room as certain foods (peanuts seem to be the big one for this) so I know that in most cases it really is that serious and I'd much rather over-do the caution than under-do it and have someone have a problem.

  29. I have celiac and most of my friends and family have seen the after effects of being glutened as well as being around pre-diagnosis. It isn't pretty for someone with celiac to deal with the evil gluten and if someone did that to me on purpose I think my husband might make them deal with the after effects. Also when people ask me what happens when I have gluten I get really graphic and tell them the worst things that could happen to me.
    P.S. Signs are awesome it's how we have come to navigate potlucks in our group of friends.

  30. Spreadsheets are your friend. Particularly if you have a large group that you feed regularly.
    I simply /asked/ everyone who I feed on a regular or semi-regular basis what their no's are, put them on a spreadsheet, and then added links to more info or good recipe archives in (yet another) column. All I have to do is keep in mind who I'm feeding and I have all the allergies/preferences on hand. And since it's on Google docs, I have it available *everywhere*.
    Also, signs for the big events. And menus with keys for the ones with life threatening allergies. And lots of food. The more food you have, the better chance of everyone finding something

  31. Actually, most paleos are only somewhat meat-heavy and most of us specifically keep their protein intake limited. We do tend to be heavy on animal fats, especially saturated fats. Most paleos will eat lots of cream, butter, and a bit of aged cheese, but not unfermented milk. The biggest biggest common denominator is that we skip gluten grains (some people will cheat for special occasions; others are either severely allergic and somewhat intolerant). Beans, lentils, and soy are eaten in very small amounts or not at all. I have no idea where you pulled the "no cultivated veggies" from. Most paleos scoff at people who go out of their way to find uncultivated or semi-cultivated plants, because cultivation lowers the toxin level. Finally, there's controversy over acceptable carb sources and levels, but many people will eat potatoes and sweet potatoes to their hearts' content, and limited amounts of *white* rice and the occasional corn tortilla. Paleos really are pretty easy party people, though, because the foods we eat are so calorically dense that it's easy to skip a meal if we can't find something we like. Many would be happy to bring a cheese platter, too. Or BACON…mmmmm…..

    And I'll add that for some people paleo is just a way to maximize their health. Many others found the diet because of multiple food allergies. So don't assume that when they say they avoid gluten it's just for a fad reason. They probably will get legimately sick fromo eating the foods they normally avoid.

    Here's what I would say is the most common paleo diet, with room for individual carb tolerances and an eye toward the modern world, for anyone who's curious:


    • Sure, there's a range of paleo adherence just like any other lifestyle diet. The paleos I know also don't participate in fasting, but some out there do.

    • Just shows how different people will do the same diet in very different ways. When I was eating paleo it was definitely no dairy, since cavemen wouldn't have had cows or goats for cheese, butter, etc. However, I only stuck to the "rules" when I was cooking for myself. I would eat pretty much whatever when I went out, just tried to skip things that were very gluten/carb heavy or salty. I also didn't consider my diet to be meat heavy, it was far more vegetable heavy.

  32. As someone who is slowly adjusting her diet towards Paleo, just wanted to point out that Paleo's big concern is avoiding gluten. Grain avoidance comes from that. Most starchy/filler foods are also avoided (soy, corn, rice, potatoes), but it's really how strict someone feels like being, so the best bet is to just ask. And except for medical reasons or a whole lotta strictness, most Paleo people I know either carry emergency supplies of food with them, or will eat a cheat meal without a problem or just skip a meal (which isn't as drastic as it sounds on this particular diet). Obviously, your mileage may vary.

  33. Since we started dating, my dude has developed ulcers, which has had a huge impact on what he can eat. His ulcer makes fatty foods and spices pretty problematic. I would just caution against making seriously spiced foods without providing some not-so-spicy alternatives, just in case. A lot of the delicious ethnic foods have unfamiliar spices.

  34. As a person with a SEVERE onion allergy, I have to constantly be 'that girl' who makes parties hard. I have had to leave shindigs early because even the smell of onions in a dip or dish will make me very sick. This includes all onions, leeks and chives (shallots seem to be okay, but I don't risk it, and garlic is fine and life is not worth going garlic free!). I always appreciate it when a host is sensitive, but usually bring safe snacks or eat before I go if I'm unfamiliar with the menu.

    In turn I try to be sensitive not only to restrictions from allergies and religion but also just preferences too. It goes a long way.

    • I wholeheartedly agree. It does go a long way – the sheer joy that appears on my boyfriend's face when he gets to a party that has the nutritional information that tells him he can have some cookies – it's just priceless.

      It's just little things that make such a difference.

  35. I'm glad that Paleo was mentioned, but I think most of us are pretty flexible. I eat paleo at home when I am cooking, but I have no problem eating whatever is offered to me when someone else is cooking. If possible I try to avoid grains and processed foods, sugar, and dairy but it's not a huge deal.

  36. "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." AMEN!!

    I'm wheat & lactose intolerant (not gluten intolerant). Really I just don't want people to make a big fuss. I'm a grown up and perfectly capable of feeding myself. Maybe just tell me what you are making ahead of time and then I can bring something, or eat ahead of time.

    When my social group (mostly omnivores, a few non-standard eaters) go away together we meal plan using a big google doc. I ask everyone to sign up for a cooking (or cleaning) slot. Everyone announces what they intend to cook in their slot and everyone else plans around it, or just goes with it for the weekend.

  37. I actually envy you folks who have whole groups of offbeat-eater friends. I'm always the odd man, so to speak. I'm a vegetarian, and not an overly strict one at that. I don't eat meat because I don't like it, so meat traces (like pizza with the pepperoni picked off) or chicken broth don't really bother me. The only other offbeat-eater I know is one of my aunts, who is about as vegetarian as I am, and allergic to some things, like vanillin (fake vanilla flavor).

    But as for people I see more than once a year, they're all standard omnivores. And from people outside my immediate family, it's always "Can you eat at this restaurant? Is this okay?" I get that they're trying to be accommodating and nice, but it always just makes me feel like an outsider (It doesn't help that I hate being the center of attention). I always try to tell them, "Just make whatever you're going to make, and I'll deal with it from there." I'm perfectly content with side dishes; in my opinion, they're often the best part.

    So, as for advice for cooking for offbeat-eaters, I guess, if they say, "I'm a vegetarian, but don't worry about it too much," please, don't worry about it too much.

    Sorry if this comes off as overly whiny or bitchy, it's just one of those things that frustrates me. It'd be nice to know people with stranger eating habits than me, so I wasn't stuck with the whole "Mel's a freak and she needs special food" thing. (Note: Other people don't say that about me; I say it, usually to my fiancΓ©, rather sarcastically, and yes, I refer to myself in the 3rd person.)

  38. I'm pretty poor, and I like to cook and have parties, so this is usually my go-to menu:

    -Split pea soup (you can feed four to six people for like $2)
    -Rice, usually brown basmati
    -Rice wrappers filled with various things
    -Some sort of meat. I usually use goat or trout, because they're just so nummy, and not too expensive

    -Rootbeer and gingerbeer
    -Carrot sticks
    -Spinach (like two or three pounds)
    -Spicy black beans

    It works quite well for my kosher and halal-keeping friends, the veggies, the celiacs, the lactose intollerants, the non-drinkers, the nut allergics, and the anal (meant in the most affectionate sense possible). It also doesn't break my bank.

  39. This may have been covered in the comments (I admit that I didn't read all of them, sorry!). A tip I would suggest is making sure–particularly in a "buffet" or potluck situation–that party attendants don't cross spoons among plates or, when at all possible, avoid allowing dangerous food to drip into safe food (making the entire bowl uneatable in some cases).

    As a person with celiac disease, even a crumb of gluten will make me sick. If a drop of something with wheat drips into my "safe" food the whole bowl is contaminated. I'm aware of this and, like the others here, always make sure I have my own food available if I'm not sure, but it's a good thing to have knowledge of if you do not share a particular dietary restriction.

    As an example of how this has worked for me in the past…at last year's Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law (who is very sensitive about these issues) announced to the whole family that I would be getting my food first to avoid cross-contamination of spoons. It was pretty awkward but I didn't get sick, and that made me really happy. I think it's possible to make it known to everyone to keep each spoon/knife/fork to its own bowl (this includes butter and other such condiments) and to make sure your food isn't dripping into "safe" bowls without calling out your "offbeat" attendants. I've also been asked to bring my own butter or taken aside and given my own butter on the sly by the host/hostess.

    Like I said, I and most people with diet restrictions are very aware of these issues and understand that it's not always possible…but if you're interested in knowing how to serve people with allergies or intolerances that's the best tip I can give. πŸ™‚

    I also wanted to say that I agree with other posters about people thinking I'm "fussy" (or in one case, passive aggressively imply that maybe I shouldn't go out to eat with the group–she was clearly frustrated with the lack of restaurant choices). Fact is, gluten destroys my intestine, putting me at risk for cancer, infertility, diabetes, and overall ickiness. I go out of my way to be friendly and not fussy and to make sure I have my own food, but I still appreciate kindness back (which honestly, has been the case the majority of the time). Thanks for this article, Offbeat Home!

  40. I always ask about dietary needs, allergies, and sensitivities first. Then I pull out a couple of my "back pocket" recipes for the various needs in the crowd. Then I try to make sure that there's a little something for everyone. Example: At a party I'm hosting, I'm likely to make a) a big meaty lasagna for all of the carnivores in the crowd, a vegan butternut squash soup with cumin–I'll make some meaty goodness and put it in a bowl on the side of this, so the paleo folk have what they need and a big pile of greens of some sort (braised or raw spinach or something) in a completely separate bowl for the vegan folk. I also have a flourless chocolate cake recipe that works for gluten-sensitivities (absolutely no flour in that puppy), veggies, and just about anyone who likes chocolate.

    Vegans are rougher for me as I've been to fewer vegan gatherings from which I can pinch viable recipes but a big pile of seasoned quinoa, grilled veg, homemade hummus and tabouli, and some roasted stone fruit are a good call.

    As someone who gives nutritional advice and works with food geeks, I label everything. I'm also happy to describe, in vivid detail, all of the various ingredients, their origins and qualities, as well as instructions for preparation.

    I love food! Yay food!

  41. Labels are the most wonderful thing on the face of the planet. Just a small suggestion, which I am sure most people would think is entirely logical and shouldn't even need mentioning (but it does) – when out at a party or shindig and you see something in a small bowl on the side of the table with a sign saying "BLAH FREE!!!!!!!", it is probably meant for someone specific, and I know it may look delish, but maybe hold off digging in until seconds are announced. The number of times I have gotten to the food table to discover the one thing I could eat was all gone…

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