T’is the season for decadent food and holiday entertaining. As host, we want our guests to feel welcome and to enjoy themselves in our homes. Entertaining frequently includes providing our guests with an assortment of delicious snacks and edible fare. While many enjoy savouring a variety of different foods around the holidays, the obligation to eat in a social setting can be extremely stressful for others.
The host cannot know every guest’s personal relationship with food. One guest may be struggling with her weight, another may be quietly suffering from an eating disorder. One may have food allergies, another might be sensitive to strong smells or certain textures. Food is deeply personal and reasons that guide food selection are equally so. The list of physical, ethical, medical and emotional reasons for why we each choose to eat what we do is long. What can a gracious host realistically do to not contribute to eating issues we may be unaware of?
Ask guests to indicate if they have any food allergies or preferences. Most who live with food allergies are well aware that the likelihood of cross contamination in a kitchen that isn’t allergen free is high. Even if the host is aware of an allergy, it requires diligence to prepare guaranteed allergen-free food.
The RSVP can also ask guests to indicate food preferences. Guests with sensory challenges can be unusually anxious in social eating situations, stress that can be significantly reduced by finding enough food to eat.
In either case, the host can ask guests to bring a favourite dish that is safe to eat in enough quantity so that it can be shared with others. Not only does this help reduce work and cost for the host, it ensures that all guests will have something they can enjoy.
How the food is served is often the easiest way to consider everyone’s preferences. A buffet line allows guests to pick and choose from what’s offered, but also makes it more difficult to keep serving utensils uncontaminated. It also provides an opportunity for well-meaning guests to critique the contents of another guest’s plate.
Be mindful of where serving dishes are placed to minimize contamination risk. Also, be ready to interject with a distraction if you notice one guest being politely badgered for not trying the green bean casserole. These situations can be avoided by offering your food sensitive guests a discreet opportunity to serve themselves first.
Expect words of appreciation for hosting a lovely event, but remember, the food isn’t the center of attention. Turn the spotlight to your guests, and encourage them to be proud of their recent accomplishments. Remember to keep the focus on the company present and off the food. Few people are eager or willing to discuss their personal eating struggles in public.
Follow the tradition of world class dining. A basket of rolls or a loaf of bread are usually appreciated for those who are anxious around food. For pasta, potatoes and rice, offer sauces on the side, or have a plain option available beside the mixed dish.
Nobody can be all things to all people. If you do have a guest who isn’t eating, it likely has nothing to do with your cooking. You may quietly inquire if there is anything you can do, but you do not have to interrupt your entertaining to make a separate meal for one person. Those who struggle with food often have their own socially acceptable ways of coping with social eating events. Trust your guest to take care of her own eating needs. You can help by not drawing attention to her empty plate.
Happy holiday entertaining!!
Please leave your considerate hosting tips in the comments.
And please… don’t drink and drive.