Navigating the Holidays on a Restricted Diet

In the last decade, the knowledge about food allergies and sensitivities has greatly improved in our nation. The awareness is so prevalent now that even fast-food chains have caught on to the need of offering items free of nuts, soy, gluten and dairy. BUT for those of us who live with a restricted diet, it can still be nerve racking to go to holiday parties or family gatherings without worrying whether you will be able to eat anything.

What to Serve as the Host?

If you are hosting someone for the first time who has certain dietary restrictions, it can be quite nerve racking. You may spend a little time on google trying to research what exactly it is that this person can’t eat. Lucky me if this is how you stumbled across this post! Even if you are unsure of whether you will be having guests who have certain restrictions, here are a few party dishes and ideas that are relatively safe for everyone.

  • Fresh veggie platter. No need to cook them. Simply rinse and slice a variety of colors of veggies (the more colors the prettier it looks) and place them on a platter. You will be surprised how many people snack on these prior to the meal being ready.
  • Charcuterie Board. These are all the rave right now and may seem a bit intimidating for those who have not made one before. All you need is some cheese, a couple kinds deli meat, your favorite kind of nuts (if no nut allergies) I like walnuts and almonds, a few olives, and maybe some jam. You can get as fancy as you like with this one, but I like to keep it relatively simple. Serve it with some gluten-free crackers. There may be some things a person can’t eat here, but the wide variety will give them options to pick at the things they can eat!
  • Serve fresh fruit with dessert. You may have an amazing cake recipe that you are known for, and you should definitely still serve that! But, if your dessert contains gluten, you could also have a bowl of fresh berries for those who are dietary restricted to also have a sweet treat. If no one ends up eating them, you can always add them to your after-dinner drink!
  • At buffet-style meals, make cards to display foods containing animal products, gluten, or nuts. This may require you to do a little ingredient label reading but trust me when I say that your guests will feel at ease knowing you put in an extra effort to make them feel safe and welcome in your home.
  • Avoid added salt. A diet we don’t always think of, but that many people are on is a low-sodium diet. There is an enormous amount of sodium hidden in ingredients we often overlook and it our dishes tend to be full of excess sodium that may cause problems for our guests. If you are concerned about a dish being under-seasoned, you can always place the salt and pepper shakers on the table for guests to add themselves.

It’s OKAY to Let Them Know

Personally, whenever I am hosting someone over for dinner, I always check a few days prior to verify if there are any dietary restrictions, or requests. This is most likely because I myself do not eat certain foods and find it courteous to feed my guests food they can enjoy. If you are on a restricted diet, this may also come second nature for you. So, why do you get so nervous to offer up this information to your hosts?

This may be an “upper mid-west” thing, or a “Minnesota-nice” mindset. However, you need to stop worrying so much about making people nervous to have you over. If your hosts are already planning, preparing, and cooking for you… they will not mind a heads up that you can’t eat certain things.

In fact, the heads up is usually much appreciated versus the alternative (you do not touch anything on your plate). You don’t want to look like a snob or give off the idea that the food they prepared was not good enough for you.

Now, there is a right and a wrong way to go about this of course. Let’s start with the wrong way:

You show up to their house the night of the event and say “I hope you prepared something I can eat, you know I can’t eat XYZ.”

There is a really good chance that this person was not aware of your restricted diet (unless for some reason you are famous, and it hit the tabloids). There is also a really good chance that this same person, spent hours planning and cooking a meal for you. It would have been easier for them to know ahead of time. Not the same day… or 15 minutes prior to your arrival. Instead, try this BETTER WAY:

Give your host a call about a week prior to the event and say “Thank you for inviting me, I look forward to attending your party. I know you will be preparing a lot of food for this event, and I wanted to let you know that I can’t eat foods that contain XYZ. Is there anything that I can do or bring to help?”

Can you see the difference between the two? There is a polite approach to giving your hosts a heads up about the food you can and cannot eat. There is also a super snobby way to go about it. I personally would prefer the polite approach if you were coming to my home for dinner!

Offer to Bring Something

In certain circumstances, it is perfectly normal to bring a dish for everyone to share. However, if this is not a “pot-luck” party, the courteous thing would be to call your host ahead of time and inform them of your specific diet needs. Then, politely offer to bring a dish. Some people are very nervous to try new recipes for large groups without a trial run.

You offering to bring something may just be the stress relief they need!  Now they can rest easy knowing you will not be leaving their house hungry. Every person is different, and everyone will react differently. The only thing you can control, is how you approach these situations, and my advice is to be as consistent as possible.

The holidays can be stressful enough with hosting and planning everything to be “just perfect”. If you know that you have a guest coming with or you yourself have food restrictions, let’s do all of us a favor and just be honest about it. There should be no shame in opening up the line of communication between friends and family. I hope you found this to be helpful and enlightening and I wish you all the very BEST holiday season!


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