Canada's Condominium Magazine
Holiday dinners are a time for family to come together for good food and great conversation. Relatives that live far away may come to visit, and it gives us the chance to catch up with one another and enjoy each other’s company. In some families, one person does the cooking and hosting for family get-togethers. This is usually the matriarch of a family or another relative to whom everyone is connected.
However, in other families, this may alternate. The family may head to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, great aunt Velma’s for Christmas, and someone else’s house for Easter. If you have prepared a holiday dinner before, then you know how much work goes into planning the perfect dinner… planning the meal and desserts, making and revising the grocery list, running to the supermarket to buy everything only to return to the store last minute because you forgot something, etc.
Then you have to plan when you will start cooking everything. Some holiday foods are best prepared a day in advance, while others need to be served fresh. Then there is the issue of dietary needs. People can have any number of dietary needs, and it is important to know what you are dealing with prior to making the menu. If you are preparing Easter dinner this year, then these tips should help you get through it in one piece.
Get the Facts
Be sure to reach out to friends and relatives who are coming for Easter dinner to find out about any dietary needs. Ask them in person, rather than relying on word of mouth. Aunt Jeanine may say that Billy is a vegetarian when reality he is actually vegan. Plus, someone who had a regular diet a year ago may have recently become a vegetarian or learned that they have Celiac disease. You will want to find out from everyone personally exactly what they can and cannot eat. The following are some tips for dealing with various diets.
This is the most important factor in determining what to prepare for Easter dinner. If someone is allergic to nuts, steer clear of anything that contains nuts or is produced in a factory with nuts. Peanut allergies are the most dangerous, and they can be fatal. It is essential that those with severe allergies keep an EPI pen on them at all times, just in case of an adverse reaction. However, it is best to avoid allergens to the best of your ability.
Check labels, keep anything with nuts stored away so that those with an allergy do not come into contact with them by accident, and make sure that anyone consuming nuts washes their hands thoroughly before touching anything else. It may seem excessive, but it is necessary and very much worth it to prevent a potentially fatal allergic reaction.
Guests with a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance may require special accommodation as well if most of the dishes are prepared with some type of dairy, such as milk, cheese, or butter. Substituting these with lactose-free milk (Lactaid, rice milk, soy, etc.) and dairy products can make these dishes enjoyable by everyone on your guest list.
The Gluten-Free Diet
This will require some follow-up questions. Is the person gluten-free by choice as part of a healthier lifestyle, or does he or she have a gluten allergy or Celiac disease? If they are gluten-free by choice, then this is easy to accommodate. Simply prepare foods that do not contain gluten, such as pasta with rice noodles, vegetables, biscuits or rolls made with gluten-free flour, etc. They will appreciate the extra effort, and most of the dishes they can eat will be enjoyed by others as well.
However, if they are suffering from Celiac disease or a gluten allergy, then this will require much more work and be difficult to accommodate. In many cases, these people will choose to stay home or eat out. Do not be offended. They are only doing what is necessary to keep themselves healthy.
Those with Celiac cannot simply avoid gluten items and eat everything else. Food prepared for them must come from a completely gluten-free kitchen. If you have ever prepared food with gluten in your kitchen, you would need to bleach and sanitize your entire kitchen and buy all-new kitchen tools, pots, pans, etc. Otherwise, they would become ill, no matter what they ate. So be sure to find out the extent of their gluten-free diet prior to making any definite plans.
Also, be sure to let guests know that it is vital that they be completely honest with you concerning diet restrictions. Some will claim that a gluten allergy when they do not, simply because they are tired of being grilled over their dietary choices. Others may hide the fact that they have an allergy or a disease like Celiac because they do not want others to fuss over them.
Assure them that you will accommodate their needs to the best of your ability, but you need to know if it would be a medical emergency if you served them gluten-free casserole in a dish that was previously used for foods containing every grain known to man. This will usually get the point across, and they should be up front with you.
Vegetarian or Vegan Guests
If you have vegetarian relatives coming to dinner, this may be a little more complicated. What do you serve them? They cannot eat traditional foods such as turkey or ham. Vegetarians are typically easier to accommodate. Serve plenty of vegetables, breads, desserts, etc. However, vegans require more effort because they do not consume eggs, dairy, and many other foods that vegetarians do. Be sure you know which a person is and offer a selection to fit their needs.
Staying Sane When Planning for a Diverse Group
The main thing is to remain calm. Most dietary needs are relatively simple. If there are any that you cannot accommodate, be honest about it. Do not turn your guests away but suggest that relatives with similar dietary needs bring something so that everyone has something to enjoy and nobody is left feeling unwelcome.
Once you have a pretty good idea of everyone’s needs, you can begin planning the menu. It can be helpful to email a loosely-planned menu to guests so that they can let you know if there are any problems. Run it by those with specific requirements and make sure that you include suggestions of anything from your menu that they should be able to eat. This will relieve a lot of pressure on your part, while letting everyone know that they and their needs are important to you. If you find that you are running low on ideas, check out the following websites for suggestions:
- Happy Healthy Life
- Finding Vegan
- Elena’s Pantry
- Betty Crocker
- The Spruce
- Williams Sonoma
- Go Dairy Free
- BBC Good Food