Dinner parties: coping with your guests’ special diets

January 11, 2019 6:39 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Hosting a dinner party? Great! NGF would love to come! But did we mention that three of us are now gluten-free? Two of us are avoiding dairy, too – that won’t be a problem, will it? There’s a couple who are low-carbing too. And you know the vegetarians? They’re vegan before 6pm. You’ve got the general list of allergies, haven’t you? Just steer clear of nuts, wheat, prawns, squid, eggs, soy, sesame and mustard, will you? Oh, and celery too. Better keep sulfites out too, to be on the safe side.

Still keen to host that dinner party?!

Dinner party nightmare: how do you cater for guests with special diets?

Something for everyone?

We’re being silly, of course. But there’s a serious point at stake. While you might not ever have to contend with such a detailed list of difficulties, you’re unlikely to be able to hold a dinner party nowadays without running up against one or two dietary issues. And you don’t want to let your dinner party guests’ intolerances test your own tolerance. If you’re looking to make your dinners stress-free and enjoyable for absolutely everyone (including the chef!), then you might be in need of a few of the tips below!

RSVP: we’re gluten-free!

Don’t roll your eyes: eating gluten-free might be trendy nowadays, but it’s got a serious and medically sound base. Coeliacs simply can’t eat gluten: it provokes a severe auto-immune response in their bodies. Other people aren’t coeliac, but find they’re intolerant to gluten, avoiding it because it makes them feel sluggish or bloated. Diagnosed coeliac or not, you’ll need to keep gluten out of that particular guest’s dinner party menu. So what does that mean for the host?

No to…

It means no to any foods containing wheat, rye or barley. This restriction will affect any dishes made from bread (including pizza), pastry, pasta and flour in general (that’s most cakes and biscuits). You’ll also need to avoid beer, lager, stout, ales and barley squashes, and foods made with these liquids. You’ll have to examine any pre-packaged items you’re planning to use in your cooking, paying particular attention to sausages, ready meals, sauces and soups. The last two on that list are frequently thickened by wheat flour – if you’re making your own sauce or soup from scratch, use something else (cornflour or arrowroot, for instance) as a gluten-free thickener.

What about oats? Technically, oats are gluten-free – but they’re frequently contaminated with gluten during harvesting, transportation and processing. Some people on gluten-free diets react to the avenin (a similar protein to gluten) contained in them too. If oats are likely to feature in your dinner party menu, then this might be something to check out with the guest in question. To be on the safe side, you’ll be relieved to know that Naturally Good Food sells a good selection of guaranteed gluten-free oats.

Even fully gluten-free food that’s been prepared in an area where gluten is present can pose problems for coeliacs. Think about those clouds of glutinous flour dust settling over the separate gluten-free options as you mix and knead bread for the other guests…. If this is likely to be an issue, you’ll need to check with the guest how severe an intolerance you’re dealing with.

Yes to…

So what can your gluten-free guest eat?

They can happily eat meat, fish, fruit and veg (including potatoes) and rice. And they can, of course, eat labelled gluten-free alternatives for all the difficult foods. Naturally Good Food stocks an unrivalled selection of gluten-free options: from pastry mix to after-dinner shortbreads, there’s a product to solve every problem.

RSVP: no dairy, please!

No dairy for a guest? Maybe they’re vegan, maybe they’re lactose-intolerant, maybe they just hate the taste. Avoiding dairy has never been so widespread – or, as a result – so easy to cater for. But don’t treat it simply as a fad: dairy-free diets exist for very good reasons.

If a guest has an allergy to dairy, then their body will have an immune response to one or more of the proteins found in milk (albumin, casein or whey). A very small amount of one of these can cause a reaction, which can range from simply unpleasant (hives or diarrhoea) to life-threatening anaphylaxis. Your guest may, instead of an allergy, have an intolerance to the lactose in dairy milk. The results of this are unlikely to be as severe, but they’re still not the kind of thing you’d wish to inflict on a visitor to your house.

It’s important to be aware that ‘dairy’ covers other types of mammalian milk too – not just cow’s milk. Those with severe lactose intolerance or milk allergies may well be unable to deal with the lactose or proteins found in the milk of other animals, such as goats, sheep or buffalo. Others may find that the milk of different animals is digestible. If you’re cooking a goat’s cheese roulade, or planning to serve genuine Buffalo mozzarella, you’ll need to check it out with your guest beforehand.

More generally, of course, it’s not all about milk. Milk products such as butter, cream, cheese, yoghurt, ice cream and custard are all out. Ready-prepared products are more than likely to contain milk products: biscuits, pastry, batter, bread, desserts, sauces and spreads could all be tricky.

Naturally Good Food is here to rescue you. No self-respecting dinner-party host should be without a dairy milk alternative nowadays. And there’s never been more to choose from. Gone are the days where soy was your only option – though it’s still one of the most popular, particularly if you’re putting it in hot drinks. Almond milk is a firm favourite among many dairy-free diners, with oat milk, rice milk, coconut milk, other nut milks and the more unusual hemp and quinoa milks all in the running too. Such is the choice that it might be a good idea to check with your guest what their preferred option is.

There’s also a host of dairy-free creams, suitable for cooking, adding to drinks or even squirting all over your dessert. We’ve got dairy-free oat cream, almond cream, squirty cream, soya cream and coconut cream at Naturally Good Food.

It’s relatively easy to find dairy-free mayonnaises – we stock a good range of those here. We’ve also got dairy-free salad cream (in case you’re truly channelling the 1970s).

Dairy-free chocolate, meanwhile, is your friend for desserts. The very darkest chocolate won’t contain any dairy products anyway, but we’ve also got dedicated dairy-free cooking and couverture chocolate, and dairy-free ‘milk’ and ‘white’ chocolate too.

After-dinner, there’s nothing more delicious – for all guests, regardless of their tolerance of dairy – than Booja Booja luxury truffles. There’s nothing alternative about these: they’re the real deal.

For general dairy-free replacements, check out the Orgran range. This has the advantage of being gluten-free too, covering two bases. There’s a dairy-free alternative in this range for virtually everything.

You can see our full ‘free from’ range here and our ‘vegan’ range here – both are there to help you out.

RSVP: we’ve gone vegan!

OK, so we’re not going to tell you how to cater for vegetarians (except to say that you mustn’t assume they’ll eat fish….). But veganism is a step further and it can catch people out.

You’ll have worked out that meat is out, of course, but remember that actually all animal products are a no-go. That’s everything dairy (as in the section above), as well as eggs (and anything made with any egg at all – even an egg glaze). The majority of vegans won’t eat honey, either.

And then there’s the additives in food that aren’t vegan. You’ve probably thought of gelatin already, though you might not have remembered to check the label for it. Isinglass, very similar to gelatin, is often used to make wine – and there’s a similar issue with beer. Remember that anything dyed with chochineal or carmine isn’t vegan either – it’s made from insects.

There’s a whole host of other additives that vegans avoid, often lurking in the most unexpected places. Would you expect coconut oil to be vegan? It should be, of course, (and all of ours is) but some varieties of coconut oil are harvested by trained monkeys, meaning that vegans won’t touch them.

To cater for a vegan guest, you need a good recipe, a good honest conversation beforehand, and a good source of vegan ingredients. We’ll leave the first two to you – but we can help with the last! Naturally Good Food has a dedicated vegan section, in which you can be absolutely sure that every product is suitable for vegans. We’ve got ready-made, ready-to-eat products there, as well as vegan cooking and baking ingredients, such as egg replacers and cheese sauce alternatives.

RSVP: we’re no-carbing (or low-carbing)!

Low-carb or no-carb diets are popular in certain circles and they might well be the circles in which your guests move. The ‘keto’ or ‘Atkins’ diets are both examples of low-carb regimes. Some of these diets are followed for specific medical reasons, such as for diabetes. In other cases, they’re attempts to lose weight or are a personal preference. And for a host, it’s not quite so simple as just avoiding dolloping out the mashed potato.

Once again, you need a proper conversation with the guest in question. Some low-carb dieters are extremely precise about the proportions of fat and carbohydrates permitted in a particular meal; in these instances, it might be as well to let the guest loose in your kitchen to pick out their own meal from your ingredients.

If you’re not up for that, then you need to remember that ‘carbs’ cover not just potatoes, rice, pulses, grains, noodles, bread, pastry and pasta, but also sugary ingredients. Some low-carbers will, in addition, only eat vegetables that have been grown above the ground. Meat, on the other hand, is generally fine, as are other full-fat dairy options.

RSVP: I’m eating for two!

Pregnant women might not announce their pregnancy very far in advance of your dinner party – or might be keeping it generally under wraps anyway. You may need to provide alternatives discreetly. The list of what’s not recommended for pregnant women may well be different from the last time you looked. Here’s what’s on the current ‘avoid’ list from the NHS:

  • Mould-ripened soft cheeses
  • Uncooked blue-veined soft cheeses
  • Anything made from unpasteurized milk
  • Raw or partially cooked eggs not from an approved source
  • Pate, including vegetable pate
  • Raw or undercooked meat
  • Cold cured meats
  • Liver
  • Haggis
  • Game shot with lead pellets
  • Swordfish, shark and marlin
  • Raw shellfish
  • Certain types of sushi

You can see the full list, with explanations, here. It might be an idea not to press alcohol on the woman in question, either!

RSVP: allergies, intolerances, medical requirements and dietary preferences

We can’t hope to cover all allergies, intolerances, medical issues and simple preferences in this blog! But it’s in this area that precise labelling is your friend – and we’re lucky enough to live in a country where labelling is taken seriously. There’s a list of 14 allergens that must be included on the labels of pre-prepared food, making it relatively easy to check if a product is suitable. Again, we’d steer anyone navigating through allergy-ridden waters towards the Orgran range, which is free from a huge number of allergens. Visit www.orgran.com/products/ to examine each and every one of the Orgran products we sell for their list of ingredients and allergens.

RSVP: religious dietary requirements

If you’re catering for anyone on a strict religious diet, you really do need a proper conversation with them beforehand. Certain religions specify not just what can be eaten, but how such food is prepared and stored.

As a very brief rule of thumb, all vegan food will be kosher and halal. Catholics may well not eat meat on a Friday (though will eat fish) or on certain other holy days. Any religion that has a requirement to fast will have restrictions during those periods.

Here’s a handy checklist covering a number of religions.

RSVP: get cooking!

Obviously, you’re unlikely to find yourself catering for every single one of the categories above in one single meal. But one or two of them might well feature at any dinner party you host. We hope these brief notes are of some help.

Naturally Good Food is committed to helping everyone eat a healthy diet. We stock large amounts of ‘alternative’ products, because we feel that even those on restricted diets should be able to eat well. Whether you’re guest or host – we’re here to help!

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This post was written by Yzanne

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