Do you love to entertain but wonder how to accommodate special diets, food allergies and sensitivities? In years past, we’ve been oblivious to dietary restrictions. I would make one vegetarian dish and give myself a pat on the back for being thoughtful. But is it enough? Here are nine easy ways to be inclusive for everyone’s food restrictions and allergies – regardless of what they are!

There’s vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, flexitarian, paleo, no carbs, low carbs, and too many more to count. And then of course specific food allergies like peanuts, tree nuts or Celiac Disease. My stepson has several friends with nut allergies from the mild to the severe. I want our family to be inclusive, but I was scared to make something wrong, especially if it’s life or death, or will cause someone distress.

I’m “food sensitive” not “food allergic” but all the same – I no longer eat many normal foods, and am eliminating more and more foods each week to an already restrictive diet. It’s not a fad diet, it’s a lifestyle that is keeping me healthy.

Whether you are entertaining kids or adults, play dates or dinner parties, here are nine ways to help you be inclusive that will hopefully take some of the fear away:

1. Know your audience. Write down or remember who eats what, and if you don’t know, ask. Trust me, these days, folks are not shy about expressing their dietary restrictions. Also, know the difference between their sensitivities and allergies. While both should be taken seriously, one can be life-threatening.

2. Make Pinterest your best friend. Search on the specific food/restrictions and find some recipes. Also try reputable food blogs like Whole Foods, Oh She Glows, Sprouted Kitchen, Autoimmune Wellness, Oh My Veggies, and many, many other!  Or ask your friends if they have any good recipes for main dishes, desserts, side dishes, etc.

3. TRY THE NEW RECIPE FIRST. If you are going to cook the food, you don’t want to experiment on something new the night of the event. VERY IMPORTANT – run the ingredients by your friend and check to make sure it’s free of whatever ingredient/s it needs to be free of. And look at your labels. Don’t assume that the person you got the recipe from knows what they are talking about. For example, I’ve seen plenty of “healthy” food blogs that call a recipe gluten free when it obviously (or not so) isn’t.

4. Cross contamination: Make sure you not only know what ingredients to use, but also be aware of cross-contamination during preparation. Depending on the severity, cross-contamination will produce the same results if you included the forbidden ingredient itself. For example, you don’t want to make a peanut-free dish for the play date right after your kid eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

5. Experiment! Once you are comfortable making one dish, experiment. You may realize that your family loves the new recipe/s.

6. Or not! And on the flip side if you are still not comfortable with getting out of your comfort zone, be a one-trick pony. Have your go-to dish for gluten-free, vegan, etc. If it’s good and it works, don’t mess with it.

7. Label, label, label. Be sure to clearly mark the dishes, and DON’T MIX the food on the same plates.

8. Potluck is always an option. If you are still not comfortable making the items yourself, ask your friend to bring along their favorite dish, along with the recipe. Or maybe they can show up at your house a little earlier and you can make it together.

9. Just be a good friend! Remember that your friend wants you to succeed and appreciates your efforts. Don’t be nervous and don’t feel bad about asking them questions. Trust me, we would rather you ask us questions rather than guessing or assuming!

As someone who has been on both sides of the fence and is still trying to figure it out, I can honestly say that a little education and a little understanding will go a long way.

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