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How To Host A Holiday Dinner (And Accommodate Various Diets)

Five steps for whipping up a shared meal that will delight (and, ahem, impress) everyone at the table.

Sharing a meal with family or friends strengthens relationships and creates community. And, of course, it’s usually a good time for all. For those hosting said meal, however, it can be ever so daunting to navigate everyone’s different dietary needs. If a guest informs you in advance of any allergy, food sensitivity or dietary preference, it is considered good etiquette, as the host, to accommodate them in some way. Here, five ways to host a holiday dinner while covering all those dietary bases.

1. Serve your meal buffet or family style. If you know you have a group with varying dietary needs, serving the meal in this way allows people to build their own plates with what they want to (and can) eat. It also saves you, the host, from having to remember exactly who is eating what, and (bonus!) reduces food waste.

2. Make vegetables the star of the meal. Veggies are the base of any well-balanced diet, whether your are Paleo or vegan. Serve a large colorful veggie dish that is also gluten-free and dairy-free, and you’ll have all your bases covered. I like to make a grilled vegetable salad either mixed with a homemade vegan pesto or drizzled with a high-quality flavored oil. Serve everything else on the side so people can build their own plates. Include a couple types of protein, such as roasted turkey and white beans. A loaf of locally baked bread and some gluten-free crackers can go a long way with an assortment of cheese, butter and vegan olive tapenade. For dessert, try poached pears with an option of daily and dairy-free ice creams, and set out a tray of dark chocolates.

3. Keep it simple. Some of the best meals have the fewest ingredients. Stick to whole foods and high-quality ingredients. Let the natural flavors of your ingredients shine. Use herbs and spices to enhance flavor, and avoid packaged products or seasonings. I like to put out a couple of fancy condiments from the farmers’ market, like a seasonal fruit marmalade or fresh pickles, to make the meal feel more special. Better yet, make a few of these items yourself, and everyone will be (extra) impressed.

4. Be honest. A lot of cooks have kitchen secrets and might add a pinch of this or a scoop of that without telling anyone. This is not the time for you, the host, to do this. Print a detailed menu or label your dishes with ingredients so everyone can relax and enjoy the party.

5. Be accepting. Some people have a difficult time navigating their own diets. It isn’t easy living with food restrictions, and some are more severe than others. If you feel uncomfortable accommodating someone’s particular diet or you find it too challenging, simply let them know and allow them to bring in their own dish. Keeping a positive and open line of communication is key. Remember, this is all about connecting with each other and having a good time.


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