You’re planning that dinner and you’ve just about finalized the menu when you get a text from one of your guests. “Remember I’m on that Whatsis Diet,” she says. “I can’t eat gluten.” Right, party foods with no gluten. Then another guest calls: “I can’t wait for your party, but I wanted you to know that I’m vegan.” Vegan. OK. When that third friend posts on Facebook about how she’s given up alcohol, you’re done.
“What am I supposed to serve when everyone’s on a PITA diet?!” you wonder.
OK, so maybe you wouldn’t REALLY refer to them as pain-in-the-arse diets. After all, people who try them or adopt them permanently are just trying to improve their health, not inconvenience their hosts. (Most of them, anyway.) But whether it’s Whole30, Paleo, vegetarian, or some other diet-of-the-moment, every gathering these days is guaranteed to include one (or more) of its devotees. Add in guests with allergies, diabetes, or food sensitivities and let’s face it: menu planning is more challenging than air traffic control. Without preparation, your party will crash and burn—or worse, never get off the ground. What’s a hostess to do?
Prepping party foods for lots of different palates and dietary restrictions isn’t about conforming to one, but providing options for many. There are food choices that (almost) everyone can enjoy (even if they’re on a PITA diet). Including these along with your usual fare ensures that even those on diets and with health-related restrictions will find something compliant to snack on. And good snacks make for happy guests.
While paleo might seem to be the opposite of a vegan or vegetarian diet, what they have in common is vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables. There’s a reason that veggie platter appears at most gatherings: everyone eats vegetables (or should). Include a variety and guests can have plenty of favorites to choose from even while avoiding any allergies or sensitivities.
Say cheese board
Many popular diets these days shun dairy, but don’t be too hasty to throw out the cheese board. With a little tweaking—and again, think OPTIONS—it’s easy to pull together a cheese board with party foods most guests will love. Along with your usual cheeses, include a nut cheese for vegan guests. Figs, nuts, pomegranates, grapes, olives, and pickled veggies are all compliant for many diets. Add teff or rice crackers for a gluten-free option along with your bread or other crackers to accommodate a range of dietary needs.
Gettin’ dippy with it
While your paleo guests don’t do legumes, all the others (and particularly your veg guests) will love a hummus or bean dip for veggies or their chip of choice. Guacamole and salsa are full of vegetables and fruits and are both compliant for many diets; we love this cranberry salsa to add a seasonal touch for the holidays. (Replace the sugar with sweetener of choice to make it compliant for specific diets.)
Make it sparkle
I know it’s hard to imagine a celebration without wine or cocktails, but some of your guests may be avoiding alcohol. Though there are lots of reasons not to imbibe, a lack of alcohol is no reason for boring beverages. It’s simple to set up a sparkling water bar with a selection of flavored waters and club soda. Add fruit slices, berries, and fruit puree options for your guests to mix up their own drinks, and top with citrus or mint garnishes.
Cheer them on
I have to admit, I’ll be one of those choosing the veggies and seltzer at parties this holiday season. Last month I joined a health challenge through BestDayEver.com. A group of us spent 6 weeks adopting a new diet, adding more exercise to our days, and getting more sleep. Apart from the health benefits, I think the best part of the challenge was social: in our private Facebook group, we shared our struggles and successes and kept each other accountable. We cheered for each other. And that support made all the difference. It was so helpful that I’ve signed up for the holiday challenge, too! (If you’re looking for this kind of support through the holidays, learn more about the Best Holiday Ever Challenge.)
Making changes to your lifestyle and diet is always challenging, whether you’re in an official “challenge” or not. If your guests are trying to maintain these changes during the holidays, they’ll need all the help and encouragement you can provide. Cheer them on, and support them by planning party foods and drink options that help them celebrate health this season!