From Paleo to vegan, from vegetarian to pescatarian, food preferences seem to be splintering endlessly. How’s a dinner party host to meet all these needs? To help you navigate menu planning for guests who try to avoid certain foods, we’ve pulled together these top 5 strategies. Our first piece of advice: Don’t see food preferences as a stumbling block. Instead, use them to get inspired. This is your chance to expand your repertoire, mix it up and try something new.
Explore your options: After you’ve polled your guests and found out what they can and can’t eat, do some research. Internet resources can inspire new ideas and get you thinking outside your box.
Offer a customizable meal: A no-fuss strategy for entertaining guests with food preferences? Dispense with the one-size-fits-all, sit-down meal and go for a help-yourself setup that allows everyone to pick and choose what they want to eat. You can keep it casual with a salad bar or taco bar, offering diverse add-ins, condiments, toppings or fillings. Or you can go elegant with a formal buffet, making sure your spread includes a range of offerings to suit varied guests.
Find the common thread: Another approach is to build your menu around one central dish that everyone can eat, then offer supplements to please those with wider appetites. For example, to accommodate a vegan guest, serve everyone bowls of hearty vegetable-and-bean chili. Sliced sausages or seared steak can be served separately, family-style, for omnivores to add to their own personal portion.
Book joint headliners: Choose a main that can be made in two alternate versions — one for the general group, one for guests who try to avoid certain foods. For example, a baked pasta can easily be made in side-by-side versions: For omnivores, make one pan with sausage and cheese; for vegans, put together another batch made with mushrooms and soy cheese instead of meat and dairy. (Or use rice pasta in one batch if you’re accommodating gluten-free guests.) You’ll save on labor and ingredients because even with two different batches, much will be shared between the two versions of the dish.
Set out a spectacular side: Side dishes can be special enough to take center stage — just ask vegetarians at Thanksgiving. Instead of a plain veg and starch, be sure to offer a more complex side that can stand alone for anyone who might not want your main dish. For example, a gorgeous, well-seasoned grain-and-vegetable salad is a good bet (go for millet, quinoa or rice to satisfy anyone who’s gluten free). Just be sure to skip the nuts. Bon appetit!