The party season can be a minefield if you need to follow a special diet. Here are some easy ideas to keep you, and those you love, healthy and happy throughout the festivities.
You’ve just started to plan what you’ll serve at your Christmas or New Year’s function when it hits you – didn’t your cousin tell you he’s now on a gluten-free diet? Come to think of it, your neighbour has diabetes and your niece has a nut allergy. Suddenly, your entertaining plans seem a whole lot more complicated than you thought. But don’t panic.
“While you may have to rethink conventional party food, cooking for people with special dietary requirements isn’t a problem with a bit of know-how,” says dietitian Juliette Kellow.
“Whatever your guests’ requirements, you don’t need to single them out by serving something completely different just for them.”
Instead, if you’re doing a buffet or nibbles, offer plenty of choice so nobody misses out or feels embarrassed. Or, if it’s a sit down dinner, why not try serving a menu that everyone can eat, with maybe an easy alternative for the kids?
Our experts share their top tips so you’ll have no problem feeding your cousin, neighbour, niece and everyone else, whatever the occasion!
“With any true food allergy, you have to be extremely careful as sometimes even the smallest traces can be dangerous,” warns dietitian Amanda Ursell. “If someone is allergic to nuts, for example, I wouldn’t even have nuts in the house.” Ursell suggests it’s good to find out what the symptoms are and know what to do in the worst-case scenario. Other food allergies, or food intolerances (such as lactose intolerance), may have less extreme reactions than nut allergy, but be guided by your guest as to what they can and can’t eat. Store-bought products have to be labelled with potential allergens, so always check, and serve up allergy-free alternatives to traditional options.
The nut/s they are allergic to
Many salad dressings and sauces, especially satay
Some dips, such as pesto, hommous or cashew dip
Some turkey and chicken stuffings made with nuts
Many chocolates, puddings, biscuits, cakes and crackers
Nut-free dips, such as salsa, tahini or tzatziki, served with nut-free crackers or vegie sticks
Nut-free sauces and stuffings
Nut-free desserts such as nut-free chocolate, cakes and biscuits or fruit-based desserts
Dried fruit and seeds
Fresh produce such as dairy, fruit, vegies, meats and fish
Other helpful nut-free tips
Make pasta salad without nuts
Remove nutsfrom the platter!
Try nut-free sourdough
Skip walnuts in your salad
Ask for nut-free cake at the bakery
Serve pavlova without almonds
“If someone has high cholesterol they’ll need to cut down on saturated fat,” says Kellow. Offer alternatives to fatty red meat, cream, cheese, full-fat milk, butter and many desserts. “Some foods contain heart-friendly fats, so don’t be afraid to include these – salmon and other oily fish, avocados, nuts and olive oil are all good foods to choose,” Kellow says.
For those with high blood pressure, salt is the issue. The major source of salt in our diets is processed food, so choose fresh or reduced-salt options where you can.
Processed meats such as salami, cabanossi and ham
Sweet treats such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and chocolates
Full-fat diary – butter, milk, yoghurt, cream and cheese
Salty snacks like salted nuts or chips
Canned products like beans, tomatoes and corn
Stocks and sauces including tomato, soy and creamy dressings
Reduced-salt canned foods or processed meat
Lean meat, oily fish (such as salmon), chicken and turkey
Fresh fruit and vegies and reduced-fat dairy products
Snacks such as unsalted raw nuts, hommous and reduced-fat tzatziki with unsalted crackers or vegie sticks
Homemade salad dressings
Other heart-friendly tips
Add a small portion of reduced-fat camembert
Use low-fat dressing for potato salads
Try a smaller amount of reduced-fat feta
Replace sausages with lean meats and oily fish
Make pavlova with low-fat yoghurt
Dish up smaller pieces of cake
People with coeliac disease need to avoid all foods containing gluten, found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. “Ask your guest what they need to avoid and get them to suggest some good substitutes – they’ll be able to point you in the right direction,” advises Ursell. Manufacturers are required by law to label foods containing gluten, so check the label. “Luckily, there are some fantastic gluten-free products available in the health food section of the supermarket – you’ll be able to find everything from Christmas pudding to crackers for the cheese,” Ursell suggests.
Wheat, rye, oats, barley and other similar grains such as couscous, durum and triticale .Any packaged food made with the above grains (check the labels)
Regular bread, pasta, noodles and crackers
Regular biscuits, pastry, puddings, cakes and tarts
Many stocks, sauces (including soy), gravies, soups, sausages or processed meats (such as ham and salami)
Gluten-free pasta and bread, rice, potato, sweet potato and rice noodles
Fresh produce such as salads and roast vegetables
Meat, fish, eggs or dairy
Gluten-free biscuits, crackers cakes, stocks and sauces
Nibbles like nuts and dried fruit
Other helpful gluten-free tips
Use quinoa instead of pasta for a salad
Buy gluten-free crackers
Use gluten-free bread rolls
Skip the sausages and make gluten-free lean rissoles
Try a gluten-free, flourless chocolate cake
Speak to your guest beforehand as people with diabetes have varying health requirements, suggests dietitian and diabetes educator Dr Kate Marsh. “Just like the rest of us, people with diabetes should follow a healthy diet most of the time, but the occasional indulgence is unlikely to be a problem,” she says. And for those who are on insulin, “giving the person an idea of what you are serving, and when the meal will be served, will be helpful as it will influence when and how much insulin they need to take for their meal”.
Large serves of carbohydrate foods, particularly those that are high-GI as they can cause spikes in blood sugar levels. High-GI foods include white bread or rice, potatoes, crackers and foods high in added sugars like lollies, soft drinks, biscuits, cakes and many desserts
Sugary drinks like soft drinks, juice and alcohol
Healthy snacks such as unsalted nuts, roasted chickpeas, hommous, or tzatziki with vegie crudités Lots of salad or vegies to balance the main meal
Small portions of lower GI carbohydrate foods to help keep blood sugars stable, like basmati rice, pasta, quinoa, legumes, fruit and wholegrain bread
Desserts based on fruit with low-fat yoghurt or ice-cream .Drinks such as sparkling mineral water with fresh lime.