The Fourth of July is an occasion to celebrate the birthday of the United States. It’s also a time for gathering with friends and family, grilling and enjoying good food and cool drinks.
Unfortunately, those with special dietary needs face unique challenges when eating away from home.
Nearly one in five adults report following a special diet. Special diets are sometimes needed to help manage medical concerns or food allergies, requiring limiting or avoiding certain ingredients or foods such as sugar, salt, dairy, nuts or gluten, for example. They may also involve adhering to a dietary pattern such as vegan or vegetarian for ethical or environmental concerns.
Regardless of the reason for special diets, it’s important for guests to have safe, healthy and satisfying food options. While it may not be realistic to serve a menu that 100% accommodates all guests with and without food restrictions, it’s important to offer safe alternatives when able. Whether you are hosting the barbeque or bringing food to a potluck, there are ways to help accommodate those with special dietary needs.
Ask guests about their special diets ahead of time.
By asking your guests ahead of time about their food restrictions, you can plan your menu accordingly. If you are unable to know your guests’ dietary needs before the event, opt to make your menu friendly to the most common dietary needs, which are vegetarian, nut/peanut allergies and gluten intolerance. A barbeque menu that includes veggie burgers, gluten-free buns and a nut-free dessert can be extremely inclusive for those with common food restrictions.
Label all dishes.
Those with food restrictions and allergies greatly appreciate when dishes are labeled. Use note cards or sticky notes to indicate items with nuts, shellfish, eggs and other common allergens. Keep gluten-free options separate from those containing gluten and label special dishes made to accommodate guests with food restrictions such as a dairy-free dessert or a low-sodium bean salad. Keep packaged items in their original container so guests can read the food label if necessary.
Include healthful, plant-based options.
Those who are vegan or vegetarian can be unintentionally excluded at a barbeque with typical fare like ribs, burgers and hot dogs. Fortunately, convenient meatless alternatives are easily found at most supermarkets. These include vegan hot dogs, plant-based burgers and meatless “chicken” to name a few. One way to accommodate the entire spectrum of eaters is to include healthy plant foods like beans, tofu, salads, fruit and whole grains in a variety of recipes.
Don’t be afraid to discuss your special diet.
If you have special dietary needs and will be attending a food-focused gathering, let your host know about your diet ahead of time. Offer examples and suggestions of foods that are safe and reasonable options. Offer to bring a dish that you can safely enjoy and share with others. If your dietary needs are severe or particularly unusual it may be best to eat before you go. This can help take the pressure off feeling hungry around foods that may not be appropriate or could cause illness.
Food and nutrition are an important part of treating and managing numerous health concerns. Planning ahead and communicating clearly about special dietary needs are important steps toward making sure your Fourth of July barbeque is safe and healthy for everybody.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at [email protected].
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