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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

What you need to know if your party guests have special dietary needs.
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By Amy Ahlberg
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD

Having a dinner party? Whether it's a special occasion or a casual get-together, you can serve delicious dishes that everyone will enjoy.

Before you plan your menu, check in with your guests. Is anyone avoiding salt because they have high blood pressure, or watching their fat because of high cholesterol? How about gluten or carbs? 

From allergies to preferences, there are a lot of reasons some foods don't work for some people. And there are great-tasting items you can serve for all of them.

Who Eats What

Vegetarians don't eat meat, poultry, or fish, but may eat dairy products and eggs. Variations on vegetarianism include:

Lacto-vegetarians don't eat meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, but do eat dairy.

Lacto-ovo-vegetarians don't eat meat, poultry, or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy.

Pescatarians don't eat meat, poultry, eggs, or dairy, but do eat fish.

Vegans do not eat any animal products -- including meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and even honey, for some people. Whole grains, beans, lentils, and tofu are all popular vegan foods that you can easily include in main dishes.

Gluten-free diets completely avoid gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. There is no gluten in rice, potatoes, corn, or certain whole grains, including quinoa. There's much more than bread to watch out for, and you won't always see "gluten" on the ingredients list. For instance, malt (which is made from barley) and hydrolyzed vegetable protein (which often contains wheat) are common ingredients in many grocery store items. Soy sauce contains wheat, as do many vinegars.

These are most of the foods that are off-limits for gluten-free diets: wheat, barley, rye, spelt, millet, pasta, bread, crackers, breaded or processed meat or fish, cake, cookies, beer, white vinegar, commercial salad dressing, instant coffee, malted milk, canned stock or soup, curry powders, dry seasoning blends, some gravy mixes, and canned tuna (except tuna containing only water and salt).

On the Side

Think mix and match. Offer a lot of side dishes, so people can pick and choose what they want.

Keep bread away from other foods, and don't use it in stuffings or soups, Los Angeles dietitian Rachel Beller, RD, says.

Take it easy on salt when you're cooking.  Your guests can add their own salt and pepper at the table, if they want to.

Leave the nuts out, too. Ansel agrees that it's easy to adapt dishes by serving specific ingredients on the side. "For vegetarians or vegans, you can make a meat-free pasta sauce for a spaghetti dinner and serve meatballs on the side," dietitian Karen Ansel says.

Everyone will have something that works for them, and that makes you a great host.

Reviewed on August 21, 2014

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