Being Conscious of Your Guests’ Dietary Requirements
If you’re hosting a dinner over the holidays, or even at any other time, you will likely at some point have guests with special dietary requirements. This may seem daunting, especially if different guests follow different rules, but as long as you ask in advance to find out what people can and cannot eat, your awareness will help make the evening comfortable for everyone.
The health of your guests is the first thing you need to consider. Some people have life-threatening allergies or intolerances that can be triggered by even the smallest contact with certain foods, so it is of utmost importance to find out who is allergic or intolerant to what, and pay close attention to the ingredients you use. Cross-contamination is also a factor — never use the same utensils to make one dish that you use to make another, unless they have gone through the dishwasher between preparations. It is not enough just to rinse the spoon off before using it for something else, because if even the smallest amount of food remains on the spoon and gets in the other dish, it can mean a trip to the hospital for one of your guests, which is obviously something you want to avoid.
Religion also plays an important part in dietary requirements. Some religions restrict followers from eating certain foods, like pork or shellfish, and if you wish to adhere to this it also means that you should refrain from using any kind of derivative products, as well. If you do not have any dietary restrictions of your own, it is very easy to slip up and not realize that you have used a stock or some kind of flavoring that has a restricted ingredient in it. Of course, most guests would probably forgive you if it was an accident, but it just takes a little bit of extra attention to make sure that those mistakes don’t happen. The rules of cross-contamination apply here, as well — do not use the the same spoon to stir vegetables that you used to stir a soup with ham in it, for example.
Also, aside from having to refrain from serving certain foods, it also pays to find out if there are any additional restrictions where religion is concerned. For example, in conservative Judaism it is fine to eat both meat and dairy products, but it is not kosher to serve them together, or even to use the same pan to cook them. In a conservative Jewish home, there are separate pans for cooking separate ingredients, and those pans are never used for cooking anything else. Conforming to these rules may take some effort, but it can make the difference between a comfortable situation and an embarrassing one.
Personal lifestyle choices are another matter, but they are equally important. The most common choice, of course, is vegetarianism, but even it has degrees of strictness that are not equal across the board. Some vegetarians will eat certain things that others would balk at. It is essential to ask ahead of time, just to make sure that things like cheese and eggs are okay before you put them in your vegetarian dishes.
These things may seem like a lot to remember, and it will require some thought on your part to make a dinner that fully includes everyone. In the end, it is your dinner party, and of course you have every right to decide what to serve, and leave it to your invitees as to whether or not they wish to attend. However, if you make an effort to accommodate the various dietary requirements of your guests, not only does it show courtesy on your part, you will soon become the most popular hostess in town, and it’s a wonderful feeling to know that everyone enjoyed your meal and was able to eat everything they wanted to.