For those of us who take pride in making our guests feel at home, company with dietary restrictions can pose special challenges. Lactose intolerance, gluten allergies or restrictions associated with prescribed medications can make menu planning difficult. There's a fine line between making your guests feel comfortable by offering a meal they can eat, and making them feel bad because you've gone through so much fuss. In order to avoid those awkward moments, take the time to plan and prepare in advance. Here are some things you can do to make mealtime stress-free and fun.
Ask before They Come
You can't be prepared for dietary restrictions you don't know about, so the first thing you need to do is ask. Prior to your guests' arrival, be sure to ask if anyone in the party has food allergies, dietary restrictions, or even strong preferences for or against any particular types of food. I served my mother-in-law roasted beets several times - and she graciously ate them - before I found out that she hated beets! Luckily she wasn't allergic to them, but a simple question would have allowed us both to avoid a lot of awkward stress.
Do Advance Research
If you don't share a specific food allergy or sensitivity, chances are you won't understand all the foods that contain the forbidden ingredients. Once you're aware of what needs to be avoided, do some research and read all labels. Sometimes the forbidden ingredients are hidden in the fine print and go by many different names. If you're going to serve it to your guests as a "safe" food, you need to be absolutely sure that it is, indeed, safe.
Do You Need to Go "All-In"?
You may struggle with whether or not everything you serve should be safe for your restricted guest or if it's OK to just provide a dish or two that is safe. If I'm serving a single meal, I try to be sure the entire menu is safe. However, if my guest is staying for an extended time, that isn't always practical. In those cases, I shop ahead of time and make sure I have plenty of items available that my guest can eat in case some of the things I serve don't fit their needs.
When I have guests visiting for extended periods, we quite often go out to eat. I try to keep their dietary needs in mind and take them to restaurants that have large, varied menus. You obviously want to avoid certain types of restaurants, depending on the restrictions. For instance, you wouldn't want to take someone with a gluten allergy to an Italian restaurant, nor would you take a vegetarian to a Brazilian steak house. Just think ahead and include your guest in your restaurant choice decisions.
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