Feeding Friends

We’re having guests for dinner tonight. A group of friends are coming, and I’m looking forward to the evening. The only problem is that I really don’t know what to make.

  • I’m on the keto diet. That means no carbs—no fruit except berries, no carb-heavy veggies, no grains, and of course no sugars in any form. Instead, I am eating low-carb vegetables, some protein, and a lot of fat.*
  • On the other hand, Pete is on a “heart healthy” diet prescribed by his cardiologist, which eliminates saturated fats and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and high fiber carbs.
  • One friend is a vegetarian who also eats fish.
  • Four friends don’t eat gluten (two are celiac), and one of these also avoids dairy.
  • Another shuns canola oil, soy, and any other GMO crop.
  • One couple only eats organic food.
  • Another woman refuses to eat anything that has been in a can.
  • One good friend has a restricted diet due to a medical condition—she can’t have red meat or a number of common vegetables including cauliflowers, mushrooms, and most legumes.

And that doesn’t include all the picky eaters. You see my problem.

As we get older, I’m finding that more and more of our friends have dietary restrictions. It’s hard enough to create a menu to accommodate one person, much less a crowd. Yet, I love to have friend (and strangers, at times) to dinner, so I’ve come up with several options that seem to work.

One thing that helps is keeping the various ingredients separate. Then, label everything. I find it very helpful to arrange things so that guests can help themselves. That way, they don’t end up with anything they find problematic. Buffets, salad bars, and the like take the load off of me, the cook, and place it back on the diners. My only goal is to provide sufficient options so that no one goes hungry.

I make sure that I keep every gluten-free except for the obvious items, such as bread or flour tortillas, which are kept segregated to avoid cross-contamination. Feeding people with celiac disease requires careful planning and execution.

If all this seems overwhelming, consider making it a potluck, where each person brings one or two items on the list.

Finally, I like to run the menu past those with the most restricted diets, just to make sure I’ve got it right. Even when I’m not avoiding all carbs, my health issues mean that I have significant constraints on the foods I’m allowed. As a result, I have been a guest at meals where all I could safely eat was the salad. As you might guess, it was embarrassing for both me and the hostess. I greatly appreciate those friends who check ahead to make sure that dinner will be something I can enjoy!

It may seem like a lot of work, but eating together bonds us as few other things can. It’s worth some hassle to include everyone, no matter their dietary restrictions.

Suggested menus

Taco bar
Watch what you use to season the meat, as some taco spice mixes contain gluten. I use chili powder, cumin, and oregano, along with some tomato sauce. Here’s what I include:

  • Crispy corn taco shells, soft corn tortillas, wheat tortillas, and tortilla chips. Corn offers a gluten-free option.
  • Lettuce, a lot, in case someone wants to pass on the tortillas altogether (that would be me)
  • Refried beans and/or black beans
  • Ground or shredded beef, shredded chicken, and sometimes pulled pork or carnitas
  • Shredded cheese: cheddar, Monterey Jack, Cotija cheese
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Sliced olives
  • Guacamole (homemade with avocado, lemon or lime juice, and a spoonful of salsa)
  • Salsa or pico de gallo
  • Cilantro
  • Sour cream

Make your own pizza
Pizza is easy but the individual pans will take some time in the oven. Be prepared to fill the time with appetizers or an antipasto plate. Accompany the pizzas with a huge salad.

The key here is offering a gluten-free crust option. Then, put out bowls of pizza sauce (I start with tomato sauce and add onions, garlic, cayenne, and Italian seasoning) and shredded mozzarella. Besides that, think of the popular pizza toppings:

  • Various meats, such as ham, sausage, pepperoni, and Canadian bacon.
  • Veggies, including mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, olives, artichoke hearts, pineapple, spinach, and fresh basil leaves.

Open grill
We provide the barbecue (along with aluminum foil for our celiac friends), the drinks, and several dessert options, plus all the non-food items, such as paper plates, etc. Everyone else brings their own meat (or veggie burger) to grill, plus a side dish. I figure that at the very least, everyone will be able to eat what they brought. As far as the desserts, I try to include fresh fruit for those avoiding added sugars, gluten, fat, or whatever.

* I should point out that since I’ve been “keto,” my cholesterol and triglyceride levels have improved drastically, in spite of all the fat (saturated and otherwise) I’m consuming Think bacon, heavy cream, cheese, and a lot of eggs. For the first time in decades, everything is exactly where it should be. Go figure! Maybe Pete should do what I’m doing?

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