When I host a party, I do my best to provide a variety of foods to allow my guests to choose at least a couple of options that meet their nutritional restrictions. I also ask my guests what food allergies or sensitivities they have so that I can make sure I avoid them.

A Little Bit for Everyone

Planning my menu, I usually prepare something that is free of the top allergens: wheat/gluten, soy, nuts, eggs, dairy and corn. I generally make a dish that is vegan, that is, no dairy, eggs or meat.

I include something that contains meat for those who don’t eat vegetables and add a fresh fruit plate or fruit salad, raw vegetables tray and a couple of other options.

Beware Cross Contamination

I know that there will be people who still cannot eat what I provide – those who have celiac disease, for instance, probably cannot tolerate any ‘cross contamination’ of gluten. Unfortunately, I do not have separate areas for preparing wheat items and gluten-free foods, despite the fact that I am gluten sensitive.

One cautionary note I’d like to share is that you cannot assume something is gluten-free simply because it doesn’t list wheat as an ingredient.

For someone highly sensitive to gluten, the bagged product must actually say ‘gluten free.’ Otherwise, it may be cross contaminated during the manufacturing process, and it may still make your friend sick.

The Challenges of Menu Planning

Planning a menu that caters to people’s food needs can be challenging, even for me, and I’m someone who cooks all the time.

Starting with a few basic food offerings is the simplest way to develop a menu. You will avoid most people’s allergies if you offer whole foods in a simple form, such as a fruit tray with each type of fruit separated in different compartment or container.

I add additional dishes that speak to my party theme. Not every dish will meet everyone’s special needs, but I provide choices so there is something for everyone. I also label my foods when I serve a buffet. That way, people can easily see if they can eat a particular dish.

Here are two holiday menus to consider for your next gathering. I am not suggesting that you serve every item on the menu. Choose several of the items – perhaps five or six – making sure to meet the specific needs of your guests.

I sometimes serve holiday fare in an informal cocktail party atmosphere, with the food arranged on my kitchen island. Other times, I offer a family-style sit-down meal, with everyone gathered around the dining room table.

Having food laid out on the island allows you to serve many guests and for your guests to move around and converse with others. On the other hand, eating around the dining room table would be a good option for an intimate group of friends.

Appetizers Party

These are all easy recipes to make. Of course, you can purchase ready-made party platters of veggies and fruits, if you are willing to pay the added cost. You can find these recipes, and many more, on my website, Recipe Idea Shop.

  • Raw vegetables – celery, carrots, red peppers, green peppers, raw cauliflower, raw broccoli, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers – with hummus or Baba Ghannooj a.k.a. eggplant dip
  • Sliced fruit tray: apples, oranges, grapes, melons, pomegranates, etc.
  • Corn chips or corn tortillas
  • Soft flour tortillas
  • Potato chips
  • Spinach stuffed mushrooms, some with cheese and some without
  • Shrimp or canned crab with cream cheese, served with wheat crackers and gluten-free crackers. I think the best GF crackers are the Schär brand.
  • Chicken kabobs
  • Cucumber salsa
  • Deviled eggs, as most people adore these
  • Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts
  • Knorr’s spinach dip is always a hit
  • Sliced cheeses and crackers, both wheat- and gluten-free
  • French Bread & Gluten-Free White Bread, baked in French bread pans

Make Your Own Taco Party

Most of these items can be purchased ready-made. Please read the labels to avoid animal products – if you are inviting vegetarians or vegans to attend – and the various allergens that apply to your guests.

  • Soft flour tortillas
  • Hard corn tortillas, the kind that stand up on their own and are gluten-free
  • Gluten-free tortilla chips
  • Shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese
  • Taco meat: fried ground beef, onion, taco seasonings
  • Vegan refried black beans (regular refried beans contain lard) or vegetarian black beans
  • Roasted vegetables or maple roasted vegetables
  • Sautéed onions, red peppers and green peppers
  • Chopped lettuce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Sliced green onions
  • Guacamole
  • Pico de Gallo or store-bought salsa
  • Sour cream

If you stick to whole foods and recipes that avoid wheat, gluten, milk, eggs, nuts, corn and soy, your friends with food sensitivities will appreciate you. It’s not hard to provide good options that everyone can enjoy, but you do have to think about what you are serving.

What’s your favorite go-to recipe for holiday gatherings? Do you bring a dish to share when you attend a party? Do you appreciate it when your guests bring food to share?

 Lois CrawfordLois Carter Crawford is a freelance editor, writer and blogger. She loves to cook, talk about food and share her recipes on Recipe Idea Shop. Each of her recipe blog posts includes a nutrition label and a photo of the finished recipe. Crawford is also co-author of Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling, a sales training book. Subscribe to her free weekly email recipe newsletter at http://recipeideashop.com.

Let's Have a Conversation!