Whether you like hosting parties or being hosted, you know the experience of being welcomed into someone’s home in a way that makes you feel like you’ve just sat down in a comfy armchair. Good food, friends, music, libation, and conversation make for timeless hours of enjoyment.
But, the reality of planning and hosting a dinner party can be overwhelming. When I consider the dietary differences of my own friends and family — some are either vegans or vegetarians, or only eat gluten-free food or things on the Keto diet — the planning, shopping, and cooking decisions don’t get easier.
So, how do we host in a way that is generous, flexible, and joy-filled when dietary differences feel confusing or uncomfortable? Here are some considerations on approach, terminology, and recipes for a stress-free and fun night in with friends.
The heart of it: We host because coming together with friends strengthens relationships and it is an act of generosity. “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with them,” said Cesar Chavez. “The people who give you their food give you their heart.” In hosting, we make a gift of our time, our energy, and our homes to our guests. With this lens, accommodating different eating becomes less burdensome and more joyful. Welcoming people in and giving them our heart is a pretty cool thing we get to do for the people in our lives.
Ask clarifying questions: People are on different diets for various reasons. Some diets are temporary and serve a particular purpose while other diets are lifestyles. Helpful questions to ask your guests in preparing for your dinner party may include: What are particular foods that you refrain from eating? What are some of your favorite dishes to eat? For vegetarian and vegan friends: What would you suggest for a non-meat protein? Would you mind bringing an appetizer, a side dish, or dessert?
You don’t need to do it all: One of the tips I was given on hosting well is to let your guests help. Guests want to feel taken care of, but they don’t want to feel like they are helplessly sitting around while the host is preoccupied buzzing about.
Especially when you are hosting people with different dietary preferences, allowing guests to bring a dish or assemble something when they arrive both alleviates pressure for you and allows your friend to feel comfortable knowing there is food for them that is satisfying and safe. If you feel stuck or don’t know what to make for an element of the meal, you can ask your friend to bring that particular dish.
While alternate diets have become more mainstream, clarifying eating differences can be helpful as you prep.
Veganism: Folks practicing veganism focus their diets on plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, lentils, etc.), nuts, and whole grains. Vegans abstain from all animal products — think eggs, milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, honey, etc.
Vegetarianism: People who are vegetarian abstain from eating meat, and focus on plant-based foods. Many vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products like cheese and yogurt. Pescatarians abstain from red meat and poultry, but do eat fish.
Gluten-free diet: While some choose to be gluten-free, others have Celiac disease and are gluten-free out of necessity. Gluten is basically a mix of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats. Food labels list foods containing gluten-carrying grains (bread, pasta, crackers, pre-made baked goods, frozen appetizers). Brown and white rice and quinoa are easy okay grains for your GF friends.
Keto diet: Keto is currently one of the more popular fad diets. Keto focuses on gaining calories from protein and fat and cuts carbs. Folks on Keto are good with red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese and dairy products, low-carb vegetables, and nuts.
Now for the practical and fun part of things — cooking. Nothing excites a host like a meal and theme coming together. Here are a few ideas to satisfy all kinds of guests.
Build your own mains: Adaptable main courses are a win for pleasing diverse crowds. Set everything out on your counter and let guests assemble as they desire.
- Taco Bar
- Main taco-filling options: pollo asada or carne asada, grilled vegetables like seasoned bell peppers and white onions, grilled fish.
- The vessel: flour or corn tortillas for folks okay with carbs, simple mixed greens for low-carb friends.
- Toppings: avocado, salsa, grated cheese, sour cream, cilantro, lime, guacamole, chopped white onion, lime.
- Sides: refried beans (vegetarian), Mexican or Spanish rice, chopped southwest salad with dressing options on the side
- Salad Bar
- Base: lots of mixed greens. Go with dark leafy greens, like a spring mix.
- Protein topping: grilled chicken, grilled tofu, toasted chopped or slivered nuts like almonds, pecans, or pine nuts.
- Veggie toppings: baby tomatoes, shredded carrots, sweet snap peas.
- Yummy fats: chopped avocado, crumbled feta, crumbled goat cheese.
- Sweet toppings: strawberries, blueberries, candied walnuts.
- Dressing: a variety (including simple olive oil and vinegar) all on the side.
- Serve with: crusty bread.
- Baked Potato Bar
- Main thing: baked russet potatoes or mix of russet and sweet potatoes.
- Meat toppings: grilled chicken, crumbled bacon.
- Veggie toppings: steamed broccoli florets, chopped green onions or chives, chopped tomatoes.
- Chili for topping: vegetable and bean chili, meat and bean chili.
- Other toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, butter, vegan cheese, vegan butter.
- Serve with: simple mixed green salad with dressing on the side.
- Vegan peanut butter cup pie: peanut butter and chocolate are just meant to be together — this pie is luscious for vegans and non-vegans alike.
- Cookies and ice cream bar: Build your own and have friends help bake to help make this spread.
- Blueberry peach crisp: this can be gluten free and vegan. Serve with ice cream of choice on the side.