Cooking for individuals with specific dietary needs is no joke. I’m not talking about your dislikes of specific foods – those are more preferences (e.g. not liking raw vegetables or toddlers who only eat one color). Rather, I’m referring to medically necessary diets where consuming a specific food could cause significant physical distress or anaphylactic shock. As a lover of food preparation, I don’t want to be responsible for creating this kind of a problem for someone.
Managing this can be stressful, but it is doable. Here are a few rules that I follow:
- Ask questions – If someone has shared an allergy or food sensitivity (think gluten), don’t hesitate to ask them about whether specific ingredients are ok or what level of contact is acceptable (e.g. can there be nuts on the table). While you may be uncomfortable, that feeling is a lot better than the one that you would get if you made a serious mistake. While I can’t assume that every individual with a special dietary need is comfortable answering those questions, I err on the side of communication.
- Avoid the danger food – This can be challenging, but it is doable. I prefer not to have to point out what can and cannot be eaten to my guest who I want to relax and enjoy the meal. If I can, I’ll skip the allergen entirely in my food prep. With some allergies, like nuts, this is probably preferred and not terribly difficult. With others, like gluten sensitivies, this slightly more complicated, but not overwhelming. You would be surprised at the number of gluten-free foods already in your pantry!
- Be willing to experiment – Cooking for a dietary need is an opportunity to push yourself out of your cooking comfort zone. Use to making lots of dairy meals and serving someone allergic to dairy – think about meat or vegan dishes that would like to try out. Pinterest is a great place to find lists of menu ideas for almost every combination of dietary issues.
- Breathe – Remember, your guest eats (successfully!) without this food in their diet for every meal. You can manage it for one meal. Relax and embrace your ability to make one more person comfortable at your table.
Sunday – Nachos, salad
Monday – Potato leek soup, arryos (These are pita stuffed with meat and grilled and have become a common Israeli street food. We learned about them with our community’s amazing shaliach in a pandemic cooking lesson.) corn on the cob, broccoli (probably dousing it in olive oil and shoving it in the air fryer), green beans
Wednesday – Pizza bagels, salad – This simple meal is courtesy of a community barbecue during the day. I’m hoping that the kids are so stuffed that they don’t ask me to make anything else!
Thursday – Enchiladas, quesadillas, cut veggies
Friday – French onion soup, candied turkey, carrot soufflé, quinoa
Saturday – Lasagna roll-ups (nothing sophisticated – just didn’t feel like layering a lasagna the normal way), eggplant parmigiana, cut veggies