Entertaining family and friends can be full of challenges whether you’re the guest or host. Those challenges may increase if food allergies, food intolerances and those who choose to follow special diets, perhaps vegan or vegetarian, are in the mealtime mix.
Those with allergies, food intolerances or who follow a special diet know what foods cause problems. Friends or relatives may not. They may not realize there can be eggs in mayonnaise or wheat in soy sauce, or that there are often alternatives available for both.
Avoiding confusion begins with the person with dietary considerations. Touch base with the host before a gathering that will include a meal or snacks, Sheth said, and be as specific as you can about what you can and can’t eat.
“A guest might say, ‘I’ve become vegetarian and I should be able to eat most of the things, but if you’ve used chicken broth or something, I may not eat it. Please don’t be offended. Can I bring something?’
“That way, you’ve let them know you don’t want to put pressure on them to make a whole entree that’s vegetarian for you and that you can bring that.”
If you’re the host, find out if any guest has food allergies or sensitivities, Sheth said. “When you’re shopping and preparing the menu, look at items that are easy to put together and can be the same dish for everyone rather than making many different versions.”
Vegetarian: Does not eat animal products or animal by-products (e.g. butter, cheese). Subgroups: lacto-ovo vegetarian (dairy and eggs OK), pescatarian (fish OK).
Label alert: Check seasoning packets. No gelatin or animal-based rennet.
Cooking tip: Serve a vegetarian chili or lentils.
Vegan: Plant-based diet. Does not eat eggs, milk, cheese.
Label alert: Check labels of baked goods, prepared sauces. Agar and guar gum are OK.
Cooking tip: Consider soy- or coconut-based milks and fats. Instead of mashed potatoes prepared with dairy, Sheth suggests baked potatoes with toppings on the side.
Peanut allergy: Some recipes (Mexican moles, Thai sauces) may contain peanuts.
Label alert: Look for “May contain traces of … .” Don’t cook with peanut oil.
Cooking tip: Sheth says consider using seed butters (sunflower, pumpkin) or soy nut butter made from roasted soybeans.
Tree nuts: Includes pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews.
Label alert: Be alert to cross contamination.
Cooking tip: Try using roasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds for crunch on a salad. Or roasted garbanzo beans.
Celiac disease and gluten intolerance: Gluten, a protein in wheat, shows up in most traditional breads, pastries. Check deli meats, bottled sauces, sauced frozen vegetables.
Label alert: Can also be found in other grains; sometimes rye, barley and oats. Be aware of “their derivatives in the ingredients used,” Shilson says. If a person can tolerate a small amount of oats, use those labeled “certified gluten free.”
Cooking tip: Use cornstarch, potato starch or arrowroot for thickening. Consider quinoa, brown rice, polenta.