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Carol Fenster's Tips for Serving Holiday Guests with Special Diets

Denver, CO (PRWEB) December 03, 2012

Guess who’s coming for the holidays? Guests with lactose intolerance, food allergies, and celiac disease and maybe a vegan, a diabetic, or someone who eats Paleo. What’s a host to do? Relax, says Carol Fenster, author of 10 special diet cookbooks. Holiday celebrations—cocktail parties, dinners, informal get-togethers—can be safe and festive with a positive attitude, careful planning, and the right ingredients.

“Approach the holidays with a positive attitude, rejoicing in the wide variety of available foods,” says Fenster. Natural food stores––and some grocery stores––offer an ever-growing array of substitutes for common allergens like wheat, dairy, and eggs. Awareness of vegan and Paleo diets is also becoming increasingly common. The result is that there are more foods to meet all of these needs, such gluten-free pie crusts and lactose-free milk, yogurt, and sour cream. Many baking mixes can be assembled using substitutes such as flaxmeal to replace eggs.

“Learning how to cook holiday family favorites with these substitutes is easier when using recipes that are specially designed to omit the offending ingredients,” says Fenster, who writes a weekly online gluten-free cookbook and menu planning service at GfreeCuisine. Mom’s traditional stuffing recipe, for example, can be made with gluten-free bread or cornbread instead of wheat bread. But for most other recipes, Fenster says, “It is best to start with allergen-free recipes for holiday favorites like rolls and pie as well as the year-round standbys like bread, pizza, and cake. This is much simpler? especially for those new to allergen-free cooking?than trying to adapt a traditional recipe at the last minute and have things go wrong. Better to save the experimenting until after the holidays and stick to the “tried-and-true,” she says.

Whether it is a simple cocktail party or a multi-course dinner, it is always wise to ask guests about food sensitivities beforehand. Try to include at least one all-purpose dish that is safe for everyone—such as a vegetarian risotto or paella, or perhaps a hearty vegetable soup—and wait to plan the full menu after querying all prospective guests about any food sensitivities. Use these vegetarian dishes as main dishes for the vegetarians and side dishes for everyone else and?for the meat-based main dishes?serve plain meats such as a pork tenderloin or roast beef. Then offer a variety of sauces (with ingredients clearly labeled) so meat-eaters can safely enjoy meat?but with a sauces appropriate for their diets.

Fenster lets guests know the full menu ahead of time because some guests like to eat beforehand so they aren’t tempted by unsafe foods. Or, if guests offer to bring food, ask them to bring a dish they can eat but that fits with the theme and that most of the other guests might also enjoy. The traditional holiday pies can be supplemented with a fruit dessert such as poached pears with chocolate sauce or baked apples with cinnamon sauce. For diabetic guests, Fenster is always clear about what time meals are served so they can plan insulin injections accordingly.

“Buffets are an especially good when serving lots of allergenic guests because they can serve themselves from the wide variety of dishes and not have to explain what’s on––or not on––their plates,” suggests Fenster. Every dish should be clearly labeled and have separate serving utensils to avoid any accidental cross-contamination when guests serve themselves. Try to have a few plain foods such as raw vegetables with non-dairy dips like hummus. Also offer olives, nuts, and roasted vegetables and potatoes, and a nice array of fresh fruit that the majority of people can safely eat.

When preparing dishes for the holidays, be alert for prepared foods that may contain unsuspected allergens. Wheat lurks in commercial cream soups and fried onions used in green-bean casseroles, “non-dairy” foods may legally contain casein (a milk protein), and eggs are used in some sauces. The eight major allergens of wheat, milk, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, and peanuts must be listed in plain English on the label so be sure to read food labels each and every time a purchase is made. Manufacturers can change ingredients or manufacturing practices that might alter the status of a formerly safe food.

Above all, says Fenster, try to make guests feel welcome?despite their food sensitivities. The whole point of celebrating the holidays is to express warmth and love toward friends and family. What guests can and can’t eat should not be the focal point of the meal; being together is what it’s all about, she adds.

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