Coping with Vegan, Gluten-Free and Other Challenging Eaters Over the Holidays
So I missed Thanksgiving. But I was listening to the radio the day before, and they said that one in five families had someone who restricted their eating in some way. And that they appeared to be on a continuum from those who had specific personal preferences like eating Vegan, Paleo or Gluten-Free to people with bona-fide food allergies and diagnosed sensitivities.
But we have a whole month more of festivities ahead of us with possible issues of feeding and eating with people who have to eat a certain way for varied and sundry reasons. I’m not including your immediate family here; if you’ve been dealing with challenging family eaters, I assume you’ve worked that out already. If not … time to have a serious conversation before MORE challenging eaters descend upon you.
To have a great holiday month, it’s important that all persons concerned get together on their festive eating. Because festivities are supposed to be happy, healthy, and full of family-and-friend bonding. But it’s impossible to bond if you’re at odds with one another over food.
So if you’re a Vegan, Gluten-Free, or other Challenging Eater, here’s what I’d suggest:
Tell Your Host or Hostess. I’ve heard so many stories from clients who were invited to meals where they couldn’t eat anything. And, as a result, they felt uncomfortable in so many ways. They felt they couldn’t tell anyone. They sat staring at a plate of food that they didn’t choose, dreading that someone would say something about their failure to eat. They couldn’t participate in the “YUUUMMS” circulating around the table. Eventually, they excused themselves early. And perhaps went home and binged on all the foods they allowed themselves to eat. Or … alternatively … went to bed hungry and sad, refraining from eating altogether.
So bite the carrot and share your food preferences with your host or hostess before the event. But do yourself and them a favor … don’t demand that they do anything to accommodate you. Just share that you have certain food preferences for whatever reason you have them. It might open a dialogue with whoever is inviting you to foster festivity instead of discomfort.
BYOF … Bring Your Own Food. Once you share your food preferences, it might open a dialogue to make you both happy. And, most of all, relaxed. Offer to bring one or two dishes that you cook yourself. Which might lead to a discussion of you both cooking something together. Together for the event.
Either way, you’ll at the very least definitely have something to eat. Even better, you’ll have shared about something important to you with somebody else. At most, you might even be able to share your food ethic with others. You might even share recipes; I’m always asked for them when I bring them to or throw my own dinner parties. I’ve even started a recipe section on my website so I can share them with the world.
Eating Out? … Do Your Research. I recently talked to a client who is emerging from a period of extreme illness; a functional medicine doctor and testing for food sensitivities has really helped her down the path to wellness. For Thanksgiving, she shared with me that she was eating at a certain restaurant that served steak grilled with just salt and pepper (she was sensitive to turkey) and some grilled vegetables.
There are even apps for your phone that can identify restaurants that serve safe foods for you. For example, I mentioned a few in in my book, Gluten Free in 5 Days, including “Find Me Gluten Free”, that identifies Gluten-Free restaurants and Gluten-Free-friendly businesses near you. Do whatever you can to make the experience a joyful one.
And … if you’re the hostess or host, what do YOU do?
Serve it YOUR Way … Or Possibly Theirs. Your dinner party is your baby. And you can serve whatever you want. Some of my friends even send the menu to their invitees … I like to surprise them instead.
But if you know that someone eats in a certain way, and you know them well, you might want to approach them about their tastes. Once, I even polled everyone who was coming to a dinner I threw. But you can drive yourself crazy trying to accommodate everyone afterwards. So, instead of doing that to myself, I encouraged everyone to bring stuff they loved. Which evolved into a raucous pot luck that everyone adored. They even started to feed each other the foods each had brought. As a result, the evening turned out to be an even greater success than if I had meticulously planned it and cooked it all myself.
Focus on Something Else Besides Food. If you know that you have a bunch of people you’ve invited with disparate tastes, DON’T host a dinner party. Instead, do a holiday theme thing. Play Madlibs (or any other game), dance, discuss a book, have musicians play or actors act … sing Christmas carols. And serve finger food … again encouraging invitees to bring things they will eat (and drink).
I once did a dessert party (with some Gluten-Free desserts), a dim-sum party (don’t try it if you want to spend time with your guests), and even once just served assorted weird finger foods. Of course, all these are impossible if you’re having the relatives for holiday dinner. So, when all else fails … to finally save your sanity …
EAT OUT! If you feel you might go a bit gaga from all the holiday “festivities”, go out to dinner. That way, everyone gets what they want. As someone who eats Gluten-Free I, like my client above, can always find something to eat in a restaurant. It can be an adventure … and infinitely more fun and less stressful for you … to haul the whole gang out to dinner. If you have a big group, you might even get a private room.
If you’re the host or hostess, the bottom line is to have fun and enjoy the company of your guests. So don’t let people’s food preferences get you down. Instead, be proactive and have them bring things that they’ll eat. Hey … I was a chef and, although I love throwing elaborate dinner parties, I hate, hate, HATE it when people don’t also have fun and great conversation. Take my advice … and don’t let that be you.
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Do you have specific food preferences? What do you do when a friend or relative throws a dinner party?