Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? What to do when your guest has a special dietary consideration

With the holiday season upon us, many of us who are gluten-free, have a food allergy or other special dietary consideration are stressed about the holiday food-centric gatherings.

We aren’t the only ones stressed!  Those who are having us over for dinner are also worried about having a meal we can all enjoy.  We live with our diets, our friends and family members only see it from the outside a few times a year.

I asked a few of my favorite blogging friends, those with special diets and those who are simply great at hosting folks like us,  to share tips on how to help our friends and families share a meal with us.

I’ll start with my quick tips:

1.  Label everything.  It doesn’t have to look utilitarian, download a cute printable and attach tags to each dish.    Here’s a fun Thanksgiving one and here’s a Winter one.  A simple GF for gluten-free, DF for dairy-free, V for Vegan, etc…will help us know which dishes are safe to eat.

2.  Ask!  We want to make having us over for dinner easy and are happy to answer questions.  We eat this way everyday and understand you don’t.

3.  Let us go through the buffet line first.  This reduces the chance of double-dipping of serving spoons, cross contamination happens fast!

4.  Invite us to bring a dish we can share with everyone. Invite us over to cook.  Just don’t exclude us because of how we eat.

5.  Keep an open mind.  Sure, my version of turkey and dressing looks different than yours but it’s flavorful and safe for me to eat.  Try it, you might like it!

Wise words from Shirley of gfe–gluten free easily:

“Don’t be afraid to share your basic menu plan with your guest with special dietary needs ahead of time and ask for any input. We certainly don’t need to be able to eat everything on your menu, but we are happy to tell you how to tweak a recipe or offer a simple suggestion for an alternative ingredient or side dish when necessary. Please understand that we truly don’t want to make your life harder; we just want to eat safely while enjoying dining with friends.”

A terrific tip to make menu planning and grocery shopping easier from Bree of Baked Bree:

“Give the host a list of acceptable foods, that makes it easier when I go to the store to buy ingredients. I want to be accommodating, but don’t necessarily know what to look for.”

More on that topic from Debi of Hunter’s Lyonesse:

“Always ask your guest with special dietary needs what is safe and how to handle the food to keep safe food safe. Never assume that something you buy pre-made and or processed is safe just because it says ____-free on the label. Offer to involve your guest in menu planning. Chances are they’ll be thrilled you asked.”

An insightful story from Valerie of City Life Eats:

When you invite someone with special dietary needs for dinner (or a holiday meal) please be aware that cross-contamination can always be an issue, and it helps to have a sense of what the source would be. Do you bake a lot? Do you use the same cutting board for bread and vegetables? I have a friend who bakes with wheat flour a lot (especially around the holidays), and as we all know, flour can get airborne and be a source of cross-contamination. The first time she invited me over for Thanksgiving after I learned I could no longer eat gluten, she was very open about how much she baked in the kitchen, and was so gracious, saying she wanted to have my husband and I over, but did not want me to get sick, and asked me for input. We came up with a strategy where I would bring a safe dish I could eat, and share with everyone, and she bought salad ingredients, which we prepped after I arrived, away from her kitchen counter, so that we could both be aware of cross-contamination. She also bought gluten-free crackers and hummus and a gluten-free dessert, which she covered until serving. Did I get to try every dish on her beautiful Thanksgiving table, no, but I was able to benefit from the company of everyone, and knowing she cared very much about not making me sick. Now, this was a more extreme unusual case because, as my friend said, her kitchen was “teeming with wheat” – I have eaten dinner at friends’ homes without quite that amount of precaution, as there was no risk of airborne flour. The lesson in the story, however, is that my friend was welcoming and aware of cross-contamination, and asked me what I was comfortable with.

Fabulous tips from Kim at Cook IT Allergy Free:

  1. Take special precautions to find out exactly what the dietary restrictions of your guests may be and make sure that there are at least two hearty dishes that you have prepared to be safe for them.
  2. Think about any areas of cross contamination in your kitchen.  A dish that may have been safe for a guest with food allergies can be easily contaminated and made unsafe if it is either prepared on a surface or mixed with a utensil that was not thoroughly cleaned.
  3. Make sure you have individual serving utensils for EACH of the different dishes.  So, for example…do not use the spoon for those dairy-filled mashed potatoes to coop out some of those dairy-free green beans!

A stress-relieving tip from Chef Amber Shea:

“If a friend with a special diet offers to bring a dish to your dinner, let them! It’ll relieve stress for both of you—your friend doesn’t have to worry about whether or not there will be something he/she can eat, and you don’t have to worry about learning to cook or bake something in a way you’re not experienced with. Everyone wins!”

An important tip from Katie of HealthNut Foodie:

“Read the labels on every ingredient. Gluten and other allergens hide in places you may not realize. For instance, most soy sauces contain wheat.”

And a most-important final tip from Diane of The Whole Gang:

“If after reading this you are still unsure about some of the topics covered or recognize some of your kitchen practices don’t match up, don’t cook for your gluten free guests.  We would rather bring a dish to eat than take a chance on getting sick.  For me if I’m accidentally given gluten I’m sick for 5-7 days.  The point of gathering together is to spend time together, does it really matter who cooked the food?” Diane wrote a post on this topic last year, with input from even more terrific bloggers.  Visit her blog to read it.

Have you got a tip to share?  What helps you with your dietary considerations when eating during the holidays?  Please comment below!


  1. Jacqueline Kolb says

    We are newly GFCF, hardly any good at it yet. I’m super stressed at what/how to make desserts my 2 y/o son can enjoy. I’m not much of a baker to start and he loves cake etc… poor baby :/

    • says

      I know how stressful it can be. I remember nearly panicking my first holiday season, but I know you can do it Jacqueline! So many great recipes are available now from trusted sources.

    • says

      Hi Nancy,Rumford, Clabbergirl, Davis and Hearth Club make gluten-free bkaing soda. I use Rumford because most grocery stores carry it or I make my own.When bkaing soda is made they use a starch to absorb moisture. The starch may be cornstarch (gluten-free), potato starch (gluten-free) or wheat starch (which contains gluten).


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