Nut allergies, seafood allergies, low-fat, low-carb, vegetarian, vegan, Indian vegetarian, kosher, non-dairy, gluten and soy-free … when the heck did dietary restrictions get so complicated? And where, as an event planner, does it end? To be honest, I don’t have an answer on this question. But “where does it end” does go through my mind as I am writing menus. Since we planners need to accommodate this ever-growing group of sensitive attendees, let’s review how to best accommodate the above allergies and preferences without making several separate meals.
For starters, look at your group history. It is rare you are going to have all of the above dietary groups at one time. At best, you will have a couple that need to be considered. Let the catering sales manager (CSM) know in pre-planning the culinary makeup of your group. Second, make sure you capture the information during registration and pass it along to your CSM as soon as possible. The facility doesn’t mind taking care of these guests, but it is difficult for them to jump through hoops at the last minute.
Since I am Jewish, let’s start with kosher (which also includes glock-kosher). When you get a request (in advance) for kosher meals, just tell the chef and he will know what to do with the information. People who keep kosher are very particular; the chef has to give the participant their own tray of food. It can not be incorporated into the buffet.
If you have people with allergies attending, tell banquet captains to label all foods to alert diners of possible allergens. Communicate to attendees in advance to look at the food labels as they go through the buffet line. Be aware that people allergic to some items, like gluten, can get sick through cross-contamination, so make sure that special dishes have their own servingware and are kept separate from foods containing the allergen during preparation and on the banquet line. Also bear in mind that it might be safer for people with nut allergies if nuts aren’t on the menu at all, since some people will have a reaction even if they don’t ingest one.
The bulk of dietary restrictions can be incorporated into buffets, which allows people to mix and match foods to their liking. If you stick with low-fat, fresh, steamed or grilled items with a glaze you are going to be able to accommodate almost every one of these groups.
Of course you also should talk to the chef. But just in case they’re not as creative as you would like, here are some ways you can accommodate special dietary needs. Consider offering:
- Low-fat breakfast breads with sugar free jelly options. (The range and variety of gluten-free breads and muffins are becoming easier to find, if needed, too. Udi’s makes some that are gluten, soy and dairy-free.)
- Salad bar instead of tossed salad.
- Vegetarian soups. (If I don’t have a vegan or dairy allergy, I will make this a cream-based soup, because It is more filling.)
- Steamed veggies with a lemon drizzle for added flavor.
- Grilled meats. (They have to have a light glaze or the meat will dry out, but try to avoid marinades if attendees have gluten or soy allergies.)
- Low-fat ice cream bars or 100-calorie packs for dessert. (And if someone is gluten, soy and dairy-free they now make some great coconut milk options.)
When researching possible menus, I find going to a diet website like Weight Watchers is helpful because it will give you a wonderful variety of options along with recipes. Another resource that features recipes is the magazine Living Without, which is available at Whole Foods grocery stores.
My last tip is: Don’t get so caught up focusing on your special dietary needs folks that you forget about the rest of your guests. With a little creativity, you can satisfy all palates without leaving anyone feeling deprived.
That is my story for now, and I will be sticking to it.