Holiday Meal Hosting for Diets and Restrictions

a bountiful feast of wraps, greens and pasta salads sit on a long countertop

By: Carolyn Brown MS, RD

Playing hostess always starts out as this brilliant idea. Planning decorations, menus and your wardrobe goes off without a hitch. Cleaning might even be fun.

But it’s always in that cooking phase (why did you decide to increase the recipe by 2½ instead of 3 again?) when reality sets in. Your uncle had a health scare and is on a low-salt diet and your cousin is totally vegan. The family friends make up the gluten-free contingency and their (super cute!) son is a Paleo devotee. Wait…your sister’s kids can eat adult food, right? Suddenly your guests are arriving and you’re frantically hiding things with rollers in your hair…I really hope this isn’t just me!

Holidays are stressful enough, and when several different food preferences get thrown in the mix, talk about a hostess headache. We’ll get to some solutions, but first here’s a rundown of several of the most common diets and diet restrictions:

  • Vegan: No animal products of any kind – includes eggs, milk, yogurt, butter and often honey. Yes to beans, grains, nuts and seeds, tofu and tempeh.
  • Vegetarian: No meat, poultry or fish. Yes to eggs and dairy products.
  • Pescatarian: Fish-eating vegetarian – still no meat or poultry, but yes to eggs, dairy, fish and shellfish.
  • Celiac/Gluten-free: Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and spelt; so bread and breadcrumbs, pasta and beer are off limits. Naturally glutenless foods include: white and brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, beans, lentils and sweet potatoes. Dairy, eggs and meat/poultry/fish are (hopefully) fine. If hosting someone with full-blown celiac, be aware of cross contamination using knives/cutting boards.
  • Paleo: The Paleo diet is the popular one this year. While I don’t think you need to honor fad diets (because you can’t humanly honor everyone’s weird diets), in case you want to, Paleo means no grains, dairy, beans, alcohol, sugars or processed foods. Yes to meats, nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies.

You want everyone to enjoy themselves, so of course honor requests where you can, but you can’t make everyone happy. What you can do:

  • Create a build-your-own-meal buffet. The vegetarians can skip the chicken, the gluten-free can avoid the bread bowl and the low-sodium dieter can skip salty ham.
  • Invite anyone with a food preference to bring a dish. People always offer, say yes.
  • Make a few basic side dishes and a big salad and no one will go hungry.

Overall, aim to keep things as simple as possible – for the sake of both food preferences and your own holiday-sanity. You’ve got this whole holiday hosting thing in the bag. Now for that glass of wine…