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Something you definitely don’t want to hear when you get to a dinner party is, “Hi and welcome to the restricted diet dinner party!” That’s no fun. Whether you eat a special diet or are hosting, a party should still feel like a party, whether you’re watching your carb intake or not.
The truth is, in the age of one million different diets, hosts are often paralyzed to know how to feed many different guests. Between the dietary restrictions we’ve come to expect (what up, vegetarians, gluten-free and dairy-free friends!), it’s now common to host friends or family who are “eating clean” or following doctor-prescribed plans.
As a frequent hostess, and someone who’s at times had to eat a restricted diet for health reasons, I’ve come up with a sort-of cheat sheet for creating a fantastic dinner party menu that is mindful of all the things. Well, at least the allergens, intolerances, and so on.
The point is, everyone has the right to choose how he or she wants to eat. In 2018, it’s easier than ever. In fact, I included a special diets index in my cookbook, Healthyish, so that it’d be easy to narrow down what works for a mixed crowd.
Here are my guidelines for creating a delicious and gorgeous dinner party that makes almost everyone with any sort of food restriction happy:
1. The food should speak to the eyes first
If it’s pretty and looks abundant, eaters are likely to dive in, without worrying whether it’s all that unusual to eat beet hummus instead of the normal baked brie.
2. No fake food
It’s a rule of mine that when you’re showcasing how delicious this kind of food can be, there’s no room for anything that’s pretending to be something else. If it’s going to be vegetarian, then it’s going to be rich in beans, seeds and nuts, and of course, vegetables. But I won’t have anything masquerading as a burger, nor will I serve faux chicken breasts.
3. A gorgeous app platter is your friend
Start things off with a lot of colorful options! I love a choose-your-own adventure platter of beet hummus surrounded by pretty cut-up vegetables, ripe avocado wedges drizzled with lime and sprinkled with flaky sea salt, and some seeded gluten-free crackers like Mary’s Gone Crackers. Nice olives like Castelvetrano or Cerignola are generally crowd pleasers, too. A couple heads of roasted garlic wouldn’t be out of place, either.
Extra Large Dutch Bread Board
4. Do eggs if you can
If your guests all eat eggs, make them. My go-to is either deviled eggs with vegan mayo and Dijon mustard to start people off full and happy, or a quinoa quiche.
5. Have at least one fork-and-knife main
When you use your fork and knife to eat, the food feels heartier. It’s a subtle subliminal shift, but it makes all the difference when the meal isn’t full of the traditional indulgences. My favorites are quinoa cakes or massive wedges of roasted pumpkin topped with a lemon-parsley gremolata (a garlicky lemon-parsley sauce). There’s something about cutting up a grilled romaine salad like a steak that makes it feel meaty. I also love doing seared polenta rounds topped with a dollop of vegan mayo and roasted tomatoes, which give it that delicious What is that? umami flavor. (Bonus shopping tip! If you don’t want to make polenta yourself, you can find pre-cooked logs in the pasta aisle at your supermarket.)
6. Have fun with your vegetables
Thankfully there’s one area that you can go wild with when it comes to a special diet dinner party: veggies. This is my favorite area to get playful, and since I’m not spending money on expensive meat to roast or cheese for apps, I’m excited to splurge on some specialty vegetables at my farmers’ market. The name of the game is getting whatever is freshest and in season. Since vegetables are center stage, this is a fun place to get creative. Instead of plain roasted Brussels sprouts, what about roasting halves until super crispy and then tossing them with shredded raw Brussels sprouts and some toasted pine nuts, pickled chile peppers, and cilantro?
7. Condiments can be a game changer
I’ll put a condiment tray or two on the dinner table with an herb sauce like gremolata, pickled red onions, and a bowl of pickled chiles. That way, guests can season to their liking.
8. Don’t forget dessert
It’s a lot of work to host a dinner party, so I like to keep it simple. One of my favorites for a special diet crowd is simple, sweet, and hard to tell it’s even dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan. Start with the freshest fruit you can find, topped with whipped coconut cream, toasted coconut, and slivered almonds.
9. Drinks are still very much on the table
My go-to cocktail is mezcal (or tequila if you don’t like the smoky flavor) with grapefruit La Croix and lime wedges. If I have time to get fancy, I’ll muddle up some mint with the lime wedges, or even make a ginger infusion. As for wine, I always go natural, since it’s I like supporting small growers who use sustainable and biodynamic practices. Some natural wines are low in sulfites, which can help with headaches.
What are your strategies for pleasing many kinds of eaters?