How to Navigate a Holiday Party With Dietary Restrictions

Because food allergies shouldn't keep you from enjoying yourself.

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Facing a roomful of delicious holiday food and drinks can be challenging when you have a dietary restriction. Whether you have a food allergy, or are following a special diet for medical, religious or personal reasons, not knowing what’s being served can make for a frustrating experience. And the last thing you want to do is leave a party hungry! Here are six ways to better navigate your next holiday party, and leave with a full stomach.

Give the host advanced notice. When you follow a special diet, give the host enough time to plan and prep a dish that is suitable for you. Some hosts pride themselves on making dishes that work for every guest – or they may plan a menu with several items that are suitable for guests with dietary restrictions. For example, if guests have a gluten allergy and are dairy-free, they may opt for a fruit salad for dessert. If your host is open to it, brainstorm and even send some of your favorite recipes their way to make planning even easier.

Ask the host what is being served. You can check with your host beforehand about the menu. Ask about ingredients in each dish so you know what you can eat and what to skip out on. For those with food allergies, knowing exactly what is being served gives you a heads up on if you’ll have many options or not enough. Dinner guests with a condition like diabetes should also ask about meal timing (diabetics need to balance food with their insulin and time it with other meal), so they'll know whether or not to eat beforehand.

Offer to bring a dish. Once you have a conversation with the host and know there won't be many options that meet your needs, ask the host if you can bring something. That way you can control the ingredients and also help the host out! Ask the host if there are any other special requests, and maybe you can even create a dish that meets the needs of others, as well.

Eat a well-balanced meal before leaving. If you’re not sure what is being served, don’t let yourself go hungry to the party. Have a well-balanced meal before heading out. If you find a few things you can eat at the party, great!

Politely decline. You may be offered hors d'oeuvres, cocktails, desserts or other goodies at the party that aren’t on your “can eat” list. Don’t be afraid to politely say, “no, thank you” without giving a long explanation. You can choose to eat or not eat whatever you feel most comfortable with. You don’t owe an explanation to anyone — so don’t feel obligated.

Focus on face time. Even if you don’t have many food options, don’t let the menu ruin the holiday festivities. In today’s world of electronics we don’t always get a lot of face time with friends and family. Take this opportunity to focus on great conversation, and you can raid the fridge when you get home.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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