I would like to have some friends over to my house for dinner, but I realize that everyone has big food preferences. Last time that I entertained I found out that one friend is a vegan, one friend eats gluten-free and I listened to another one tell about some food allergies and acid reflux. Should I offer a big selection of vegetables, a tray of meats, and no dessert because everyone is on a diet? Or should I politely find new friends who might like what I like to cook?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: I do not expect people to alter a meal for me. That being said, my sweet mom and sister always make sure that I have something I can eat at family meals. Maybe you can ask your friends who have special needs to bring their favorite dish for everyone to try! No need to find new friends, as I am sure the ones you have are just great!
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: I hope that your friends are just sharing that information with you because you are friends and not because they expect you to alter an entire menu for them. Maybe they simply want you to understand if they choose not to eat something. I also hope that you understand that food allergies are a big deal and in some cases can be life threatening, like allergies to nuts, which can cause a severe reaction in the smallest of doses. People with certain allergies have to be extremely vigilant and protective at all times, and obsesity can lead to another set of health problems altogether. It’s understandable when people watch what they eat, but it isn’t always polite to make it someone else’s problem. I wonder if it it seems more people have food preferences these days because science has gotten better at helping people understand why they are sick.
While you can be sensitive to life-threatening ingredients when people ask, you can’t always accommodate every bite of gluten, sugar and carbs. I think you go ahead and plan the menu you started with and try to offer a variety of foods on the side so people have something to eat. Don’t get too upset if people ask about the menu in order to protect themselves. And if you really like to cook exotic foods, find other ways to spend time with your food-challenged friends and then develop a different set of friends who love food in all forms without having restrictions. True friendship exists when both sets of friends understand and accept the challenges faced by the other, whether on the eating side or on the cooking side.
HELEN’S ANSWER: What a challenge! If you have special dishes that you love to cook for guests, go ahead and cook them. Make sure you have a wonderful salad filled with vegetables for an optional choice for friends who might rather have that. If you know what others might prefer, fix it too.
People can make their own decisions on whether they would rather stay home because a host might serve something they cannot eat. It is bad manners for guests to point out what they can and cannot have for dinner. They should choose what they can eat and politely refrain from discussing it. Or they can offer to bring a dish that suits their diet and bring enough so they can share it with the others.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Dave Cathey, Food Editor, The Oklahoman: Find new friends for dinner parties. Invite the friends with all the special dietary needs to a cocktail party with a selection of light appetizers, which are easier to prepare for vegans, celiacs and gluten-freers.
Callie Gordon is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.