How to navigate a dinner party with special dietary requirements

When I first went full-time vegetarian (for me it was a process that took about 10 years), I found it difficult to attend dinner parties. I felt guilty when my friends went through so much trouble to cook a beautiful meal, which I wouldn’t be able to eat. I used to keep myself invisible and filled up on potatoes. As you can imagine, this tactic didn’t go down well with my friends, and made me miserable.

So over the years I learnt to play the game. Here is what I do:

1. I find out what the menu is for the night and see if I can make any adjustments. If it is family-style meal, with shared platters I may be able to pick and chose what I eat, without anyone going through any extra effort. I may also be able to suggest some tweaks during preparation time – like holding back cheese from a portion of the dish, or roasting some potatoes separately, in some coconut oil, if the star of the meal is potatoes roasted in goose fat.

2. I’m up front and let them know what I do and don’t eat. I find that people are generally very accommodating, some of them even cook me a separate main. As a host, I also always check if any of my guests has dietary requirements, or food sensitivities/allergies. Trust me, this makes everyone’s life easier.

3. I decide what I cannot compromise when it comes to my diet and make sure I explain it clearly to my host. Most people wouldn’t think twice about adding butter to some cooked vegetables or honey to a salad dressing, but it may be a problem for you, so make sure you give your hosts heads up.

4. I have some easy recipes for dishes I can eat up my sleeve, so when my host askes for suggestions, I have some readily available. Trusts me, most of dinner hosts will not let you just eat the side salad. If you don’t provide them with some recipes they will spend a lot of time on Google, and then fret whether what they found is suitable for your needs.

5. I offer to bring a dish to share with everyone. I am not always taken up on my offer, but most of the time I bring a desert at least.

6. I offer to give them a hand in the kitchen, especially if they need to cook a separate dish for me. Some people are very possessive about their kitchen (myself included), so don’t be offended if they politely decline your offer.

7. Bonus tip: I revise answers to inquiries about my food choices before any dinner party. You will always have to answer a few questions, especially in a new group, so be patient, put a smile on, and have fun. If you are lucky, you may even convert some poor soul!

Food is supposed to bring everyone together, and dinner parties should be a relaxing event. Make sure you plan in advance so that both you and the host can have a nice, relaxing evening, and enjoy the meal.

I would love to know are your tips and tricks to navigate dinner parties with different dietary needs? What has worked for you? What has been challenging?