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Dietary preferences, allergies and special food requests are more and more common these days in restaurants, schools and social settings, including wedding receptions. Being sensitive to guests’ needs is something couples should keep in mind as they start planning their menu. Most of the time, though, you’ll have no idea what those needs are until your RSVPs are in.

One way to help alleviate some stress is to include creative options from the very start of the planning. Incorporating dietary needs into the entire menu doesn’t have to be difficult.

Common Food Allergies and Restrictions

It can be confusing to understand exactly what people are talking about when they talk about food issues, especially if it’s not something you deal with every day. Here are some of the most common restrictions and allergies and what they mean.

  • Vegan: Does not eat any animal products at all, including meat, eggs and dairy.
  • Vegetarian: Does not eat meat (some vegetarians eat fish, some don’t, so ask).
  • Gluten-Free: Allergic to the proteins, aka gluten, that is found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Oats also can be a problem, if grown close to the gluten grains.
  • Dairy-Free: Allergic to milk proteins, casein and/or whey. Cannot eat any product containing milk.
  • Peanut Allergy: Allergic to peanuts. Most people allergic to peanuts can eat all other nuts. Peanuts are actually a legume (more like a bean).
  • Tree Nut Allergy: Allergic to almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, cashews, pine nuts, chestnuts, macadamias, brazil nuts and other nuts. Most people allergic to tree nuts can eat peanuts.

Cover All the Bases

Even if you think you have all diets covered, your caterer needs to be informed of every person’s particular issue. Make sure the staff knows who they are, what their diet is and where they are seated. Also, servers need to know which ingredients are in every dish.

If you have chosen a buffet-style-service, ask for items to be labeled: gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian or nut-free, and consider listing all the ingredients. Providing endless options for special diets isn’t something that many caterers do, so don’t be afraid to ask questions, request ingredient lists and even offer ideas of your own.

When planning first courses, salad is an obvious choice, but you’ll want to make sure to consider the toppings (nuts, cheese, croutons and dressings all might pose issues). That said, most places can easily prepare salads specific to guests’ dietary needs. Soups also can be tricky, so clients should definitely ask about the base. Is it a meat stock or a vegetable stock? Is there cream in it? Can it be made with alternate ingredients?

Creative and Delicious Dishes for Everyone

It can be relatively easy to incorporate dietary restrictions into all aspects of your menu, including hors d’oeuvres, first courses and entrées, which even guests with no food issues will love. The following dishes cover vegan, vegetarian, gluten- and dairy-free diets all in one. Some can work as either an appetizer or as a main dish. These ideas can offer a starting point as you figure out your menu Once those RSVPs come in, you will most likely be all set.

  • Gazpacho
  • Lemon-basil hummus with gluten-free chips
  • Roasted corn and chili salad
  • Quinoa salad with black-eyed peas, edamame and pickled red onions, served over field greens with a citrus vinaigrette
  • Ponzu tofu and ginger-marinated tofu with scallion and shiitake stir-fry, served over sushi rice
  • Grilled tofu skewers served with coconut Thai basil sauce
  • Black bean fritters with jalapeño relish
  • BBQ tofu skewers with Korean BBQ and sriracha toasted sesames
  • Moroccan spiced chick-pea cake served with seared baby carrots and green beans
  • Grilled cauliflower steak topped with curry tomato sauce, served over rice pilaf
  • Vegetarian paella served over Bomba rice
  • Braised potatoes with fennel, tomato, saffron and seitan, topped with crisp onions

Ready to start planning? Schedule a consultation with one of our event managers today!Robert Ryan Catering and Design plans and executes over 400 events each year, boasts a five-star rating on WeddingWire and has received WeddingWire’s Couple’s Choice/Bride’s Choice Award seven years in a row. Learn more about Robert Ryan Catering & Design and tour our venuesSubscribe to our e-newsletter for exclusive offers, up-to-date news and recipes from our executive chef.Kim MacKinnonPhotos, top to bottom: Jennifer McHugh Photography, mkPhotography, Martin Reardon Photography, Philter Photography