The other day while I was talking with a friend, we decided it was time we plan a get-together. Before I had time to think of different options, I blurted out, “let’s have a dinner party!”
A shot of panic flew through me as I realized what I’d just suggested was a gathering focused on food — and not just snacks, but a full-on meal with courses.
Thankfully, the panic quickly subsided when I remembered my friend practices the paleo diet and her daughter has a severe allergy to dairy, so I knew she would be well-versed in nontraditional diets. In fact, after I suggested the dinner party, we both giddily discussed what we wanted to cook and how we could accommodate our different needs.
We decided on preparing a salad, an allergy-friendly paleo lasagna (without animal protein) and a paleo carrot cake for dessert.
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As most of you with special diets know, such conversations as the one above are rare when planning a dinner party.
Most of the time my family and friends are too scared to cook for me, so I always offer to eat ahead of time, bring my own meal or be the cook. These options make it a lot less stressful on the host, and honestly it’s easier for me to not have to worry about ingesting something that was well-intentioned but could make me sick.
However, deep down inside, I always have that little desire to just be able to show up to a dinner party and have the host come up to me and say, “I hope you have an empty stomach because we made this meal with you in mind!”
Since that’s not even close to what reality is like most of the time, here’s some alternative ways to manage the conversation.
Your friend calls and says, “I want to invite you to a dinner party, but I’m worried about cooking for you because I don’t know what you can eat.”
You can respond, “Thanks for the invitation, and for your willingness to be open to cooking something I can eat. I completely understand your hesitation; I felt the same way when I first started having to cook for myself this way. Why don’t we make something together that everyone can enjoy? I’d be happy to come over early and help you cook. I’ll bring the ingredients that are safe for me and we can figure out what recipe would work for everyone.”
If your friend responds, “Great! That sounds so fun, let’s do that,” then you’re golden.
But if they say, “Well, I don’t want to make you have to cook since I’m inviting you,” you’ve got a couple options.
Either you can say, “I don’t mind at all. It would actually make me feel more comfortable if I could help out so I can see how things are being made,” to which your friend may agree but worry that not everyone else at the party will like the food too.
You could then say something along the lines of, “I have a ton of great recipes that I’ve cooked for my friends and family and they don’t even notice a difference. In fact, a lot of times they say it’s one of the best things they’ve ever had! Would you like me to share what some of those dishes are and we could pick one to make?”
The second option involves allowing your friend to cook but still making yourself available. For example, “That’s so sweet of you! Would you mind if I still came early and brought the ingredients that I know I can have to include in the meal? That way we can catch up on (insert topic here) while you cook. And if you end up needing help or have prep questions I’ll be right there to ask and happy to help if you need it.”
Although your friend may like the idea, they might have already selected their own dish.
“That’s fine,” you can say. “Let me know what it is because we’d likely be able to modify it so it meets my needs and still tastes awesome for everyone else.”
If all else fails and your friend decides they’re not ready to venture into cooking for special diet needs — which is completely understandable and acceptable — you can either bring a totally separate dish, or ask ahead what dishes they are cooking and bring your own personal serving of the same dish modified for you.
I especially like that second choice because usually people don’t notice it’s anything different. If they do, it can spark an educational conversation about food allergies, special diets and health. The more people know, the better and safer they will feel around you with food.
And who knows, maybe next time that fantasy dinner party scenario will play out!
Mary Beth Eversole is an actress, voiceover artist and musician living in Los Angeles. She is a native of Overland Park. She has performed all around the world in opera and musical theater, as well as on film and television and as a voiceover actress. She currently has a show, “Allergy Actress Cooking,” on YouTube, and it is soon to be distributed by TV Tibi and Akyumen TV.