Health Habits: Cooking for Those with Special Diet Needs
The holiday season is upon us and that means sharing meals with friends and loved ones around the table. It’s a time for enjoying comfort foods, rich, savory, creamy and sweet. For many, this can be a time of joy and excitement to cook for those whom they haven’t seen in a long time. For others, it can be stressful if their guest has certain dietary restrictions or needs. Anxiety and concern about cooking safely for our loved ones can hamper the enjoyment of the holidays, but it doesn’t need to be that way.
Before letting the anxiety kick in, the best way to go about planning a meal that is safe, ask. When planning a holiday gathering with food involved, request information about food allergies or lifestyle choices with the RSVPs. This will not only help you plan a balanced meal that will meet everyone’s needs but will show that you care. Keep in mind that if guests have food allergies, it does not mean you need to remove foods from the menu. The focus should be on having a balanced menu that incorporates food that provide plenty of options for those in attendance.
For food allergies, avoid cross-contamination. Avoid using the same cooking pans or utensils when cooking gluten and non-gluten food items. If you’re cooking pasta, be sure to thoroughly wash the strainer in between gluten and gluten-free pastas. Remember not to bake nut-free cookies on the same sheet pan that you roasted almonds or peanuts on. For the vegetarians, try to use separate tongs or serving utensils for the meat and non-meat foods. Your dairy-free and vegan guests will appreciate simple swaps such as olive oil to toss sautéed vegetables instead of butter. You can also use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, which works for them too. The most important thing you can do is read labels while shopping for all your ingredients.
Guests with diabetes, the focus for them is managing their blood glucose levels. This means portion control and choosing foods higher in fiber. Many foods already on the traditional holiday foods menu do not need to be changed. Foods such as brussel sprouts, salad and turkey can still be served. Increasing fiber is simple to do; if making potatoes, leave the skin on, or provide sweet potatoes, nuts, and fruits. To help your guests manage their portions, provide serving spatulas or ladles that hold half to a cup of food at a time.
While the guests are ultimately responsible for making sure their food is safe, you can help by making simple changes. Do not be afraid to ask each guest for food preferences or more importantly, food allergies. If you’re unsure of foods when shopping at the grocery store, ask someone. HyVee in particular almost always has a knowledgeable and qualified dietitian on staff to help at no charge. Utilize resources to plan your holiday meal and enjoy!
This week’s health habit: ask your loved ones about their special dietary needs and learn some fun ways to tweak recipes or find delicious new ones!