Like many others, over the last few years I learned I have gluten and dairy dietary restrictions. As someone who made it to her twenties with no dietary restrictions this has greatly changed the way I approach parties, work functions, and going out for meals. In an effort to not draw attention to the changes or make others unsure of how to accommodate my dietary needs, I have found the best way to navigate the situation is to plan ahead!
Here are my tips for navigating social interactions around food as someone with dietary restrictions, as well as, my tips for hosts who may encounter a guest with a dietary restriction:
- Research the menu/restaurant before you go!
- With almost all restaurants having their menus online and so many restaurants aware of the common dietary restrictions, it is easy to take a look and find out what your options are before you arrive for the meal. Personally, this helps me to not feel like I am being put on the spot for taking too long to decide my order while also allowing me to know ahead of time the exact accommodations I need for my order rather thank asking a lot of questions.
- If you have trouble finding something on the menu before you arrive, call the restaurant and let them know you have dietary restrictions. Giving the host notice allows them to let the chef know and often they will do what they can to assist with your dietary needs.
- Alert the host of your dietary restrictions well before the gathering. Letting your host know far in advance, allows him/her to implement your dietary needs into the menu.
- Some individuals are unaware of how to cook for your dietary needs and as the person who knows your restrictions best, it may be better to keep the cooking in your own hands. When this is the best option, offer to bring your own dish! You may even be able to cook it along with the main meal and often times, other guests will not even realize your plate is something different.
- When sending in an R.s.v.p. which requires a meal selection, choose the menu item that best fits your dietary needs then add a note of any accommodations needed so the chef is aware. (i.e. check “Salmon with vegetables” then add to the side “Dietary Restriction: No gluten, no dairy”)
- When not prompted to select a meal, ensure you include your dietary restriction in the registration information for work events/conferences, travel bookings, and on all R.s.v.p. cards.
- Have a snack before you go!
- I have learned it is best to be on the safe side when going to a cocktail party, sporting event, concert, or similar large scale, non-seated dining event. Try as I might to scout out the menu beforehand, sometimes I simply do not know what options will be available to me. When this happens, I find it is best to have a snack before I go. That way, if I show up and I am unable to eat any of the dishes being served, I will not be left starving; however, if there is something I can have, I am not so full that I cannot enjoy it.
- This is also important when traveling especially to other countries. If you are traveling and experience a language barrier, you may not know how to communicate your dietary restrictions. In these cases, it is always best to have a handy dandy snack bag in your suitcase in case you get in a pinch!
- As the Host
- Consider your menu and research the ways to make it fit your guest’s dietary restrictions. If you have no experience cooking in the way your guest needs, look into local restaurants, specialty stores, and bakeries who offer that type of food and special order something.
- Offer your guest the opportunity to bring a dish, but ensure he/she knows it is not necessary. Some guests appreciate the opportunity to bring their own food and welcome sharing their cooking with others.
- If you are having a larger party where the food is served buffet style, include a display next to the dish with the name of the dish and a note underneath as to if it fits in a certain dietary category (i.e. gluten free, nut free, vegan, etc.)
- Food for Thought: As someone with dietary restrictions, it is often awkward to answer the question, “Why do you have dietary restrictions?” Whether an individual is not eating something due to an allergy, medical condition, or food intolerance, he/she may be uncomfortable going into the explanation. Maybe the person learned he/she is not allergic to a particular food, but get sick every time eating it. This person does not want to have to explain his/her bodily functions to you or worse, a whole group of people.
Although having dietary restrictions can be challenging at times, I try to think of it in a positive way: Now that my foods have to be different, I have been learning to cook/bake with a lot of alternatives and trying out new dishes! I hope these tips help everyone navigate personally having dietary restrictions or hosting someone who does!