Feeding a large group is challenging. Everyone has different palettes, preferences and dietary restrictions. Whether you’re providing daily dining or hosting a special event, it’s important to create an inclusive menu that everyone can enjoy.
It’s common for people to avoid certain foods for personal, medical, religious or cultural reasons. Catering to your guests’ dietary needs will ensure that they feel welcome and included at your organization or event.
This guide will help you understand the most common dietary restrictions so you can accommodate all of your guests.
Understanding Dietary Restrictions
Dietary restrictions are certain foods or ingredients that a person can’t or won’t eat. In the U.S, 40% of the population follows nutritional rules of some kind. They can be adopted by choice or recommended for medical purposes. Regardless of their motivation, it’s vital to understand and respect all dietary decisions for the following reasons:
For some people, their food choices have a significant impact on their health and well-being. Allergies, diabetes, celiac disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are just a few diseases that demand dietary restrictions.
People with diet-related health conditions often struggle to find foods that are safe to eat. It can feel isolating to watch everyone else enjoy a meal that you can’t have. Providing foods to accommodate these dietary standards will ensure that your guests are happy and healthy.
Accommodating cultural and religious diversity is essential at any gathering. When planning a meal for a large group, it’s necessary to consider your guests’ various nationalities and religious backgrounds. There are many different cultural and denominational dietary restrictions. Some religious diets also have strict rules on how their food is prepared and served.
Understanding these special diets will help you prepare an inclusive menu that everyone can enjoy. Celebrating the diversity of the group with your food choices will ensure that everyone feels recognized and included.
Consuming certain ingredients can be life-threatening for people with food allergies. Their bodies mistake the food for something harmful, which triggers the immune system to attack. In extreme cases, this could lead to fatal swelling in the airways. It’s crucial to request allergy information in advance to avoid those ingredients during your meal planning.
8 Common Special Diets
Most people follow special diets for moral or health-related reasons. Requesting dietary information in advance will help you prepare alternative meals to meet their needs. Here are the most popular diets that guests are likely to report:
A vegetarian diet is a well-known option that people have adopted for decades, whether by choice or due to lack of access to meat. In recent years, the percentage of vegetarians in the U.S. has grown to 10.61%. The odds of serving a vegetarian guest are relatively high, so it’s essential to understand their dietary restrictions. Vegetarians follow one simple rule — they don’t eat any meat products, including:
This dietary restriction includes any meat byproducts like bone broth, gelatin and lard. However, they can enjoy meatless options like black bean burgers and veggie sausage. This diet doesn’t prevent them from enjoying products from living animals, such as eggs and milk.
The pescetarian diet follows the same rules as the vegetarian diet, with the exception of fish. Pescetarians can eat fish, shrimp, crab, oysters and any other seafood. An estimated 5.82% of the population follows a pescatarian diet.
The vegan diet has slowly risen in popularity over the past few years. Approximately 3.8% of Americans follow a vegan diet. Veganism is similar to vegetarianism, but there are more dietary restrictions. All vegan meals are vegetarian, but not all vegetarian meals are vegan. Understanding the difference between the two will help you design a menu that accommodates everyone.
Like vegetarians, vegans don’t eat meat. However, they also abstain from eating any animal byproducts, including:
Most of the vegan diet consists of plant-based foods and meat and dairy alternatives.
People with lactose intolerance or allergies often follow a dairy-free diet. Dairy products are foods made from the milk of mammals — usually cows, sheep or goats. Typical dairy products include:
- Ice cream
Depending on the reason for eating dairy-free, some people can still enjoy lactose-free dairy products. However, it’s just as easy to create dairy-free meals with all of the dairy alternatives on the market.
5. Gluten Free
As its name implies, the gluten-free diet limits all foods containing gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and other grains. Some people follow a gluten-free diet due to a medical condition like celiac disease or gluten ataxia. Other people choose to eat gluten-free to help them lose weight and feel more energized.
Gluten is challenging to avoid because it’s in everyday foods like:
Carefully monitor your ingredients if you plan to offer a gluten-free dish.
Paleo is also called the caveman diet for its primal focus on unprocessed foods. The paleo diet includes basic food groups like meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and healthy fats. While that might seem like a lot of ingredients to play with, there’s also a long list of off-limits foods:
- Artificial sweetener
- Trans fat
- Most vegetable oils
The paleo diet excludes all processed foods — which includes almost anything that wasn’t hunted or harvested.
7. Raw Food
True to its name, the raw food diet consists of uncooked and unprocessed foods. People who follow the raw food diet consume vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts primarily. Raw meat is often unsafe to eat, so followers get their protein from raw eggs, legumes, nuts, dairy and sushi-grade fish. Their goal is similar to the paleo diet — focusing on natural foods — except without cooking and often without meat.
The main dietary restrictions of a raw food diet are:
- Food temperatures must remain below 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The ingredients should be unrefined, unpasteurized, unprocessed and free of pesticides.
Keto or the ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat meal plan that helps some people lose weight. It can also prevent seizures in people with epilepsy. People following the keto diet must follow strict rules to achieve their desired results. By eating minimal carbohydrates, their body enters ketosis, burning fat instead of sugar for energy.
Their daily diet consists of high-fat meat, eggs, low-carb fruits and vegetables, nuts and saturated fats. Keto followers must avoid the following high-carb foods:
- High-carb fruits and vegetables
- Cow’s milk
8 Religious Dietary Restrictions
When you’re preparing a meal for a large group, it’s important to consider the diversity of your guests. Some cultures and religions follow strict dietary rules and traditions. Understanding these nutritional restrictions will help you plan meals to accommodate all of your guests:
The Jewish community follows a kosher diet, which conforms to the Judaic dietary laws of Kashrut. Kosher rules are complex and specific, so it’s helpful to consult a member of the faith to help you plan appropriately.
The main specifications of a kosher diet surround the meat and dairy food groups. Only some animals are considered kosher, excluding pork and shellfish. Kosher animals like beef, chicken and fish must be butchered and prepared in a specific process. It’s forbidden to serve meat and dairy together, and they must use entirely separate equipment, including cutting boards, cookware, plates and utensils.
Creating a kosher kitchen can be challenging. Getting kosher meals from an experienced caterer will ensure they are correct, so your guests feel confident that their meal is entirely kosher.
Muslims only consume halal food, according to Islamic dietary laws. Similar to the Jewish community, they don’t consume pork products. Butchers also prepare the meat in a specific process that involves prayer. Muslims prepare and serve milk and meat together, as long as they are both halal, however, their utensils mustn’t touch nonhalal ingredients. Unlike the Kosher diet, alcohol is prohibited.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The holiday moves forward each year, so check the dates carefully.
3. Roman Catholicism
During the observance of Lent, members of the Catholic church won’t eat meat on Fridays. Lent begins 46 days before Easter, so the dates shift slightly every year.
Mormons follow the Word of Wisdom health code, which includes a few dietary restrictions. They abstain from drinking alcohol, coffee and tea. Some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will enjoy meals that contain beer or wine if the alcohol is cooked off. Herbal tea is also allowed since it’s naturally caffeine-free. The purpose of their dietary restrictions is to avoid mind-altering substances to support their health and happiness.
5. Seventh-Day Adventist
The Seventh-Day Adventist Church encourages a balanced vegetarian diet to promote their members’ health. They recommend eating nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Members are not required to participate, so check with your guests to determine their dietary specifications.
The Hindu scripture encourages a vegetarian diet for its spiritual benefits. While not required, many Hindus abstain from eating meat. The cow is considered a sacred animal, so even meat-eating Hindus don’t eat beef. However, they do consume dairy products.
Fasting is a significant part of Hinduism. Check with your guests to determine their dietary restrictions and fasting schedule.
Vegetarianism is common among Buddhists, but some groups do eat meat. Their dietary choices vary depending on which sect they belong to and their personal preferences. A Buddhist diet varies significantly, so it’s best to ask your guests for their specific dietary restrictions.
A primary component of Sikhism is protecting the world from destruction. Vegetarianism is common in Sikhism to protect animals from being butchered. However, followers are allowed to choose their diet, and some do consume meat. Halal and kosher meats are forbidden due to the butchering process. Sikhs believe the Jhatka method is more humane, where the butcher euthanizes the animal in one stroke. Sourcing ingredients for their meal will require careful planning and research.
6 Most Common Food Allergies
Every year, 200,000 Americans are rushed to the hospital to treat an allergic reaction from food. You can protect your guests by requesting their food allergies in advance and planning your menu accordingly. Here are the most common food allergies to look out for:
Milk allergies are more severe than lactose intolerance. The proteins in cow’s milk activate the immune system, causing an allergic reaction in some people. You can prevent reactions to milk by choosing a dairy-free recipe or using alternative ingredients like oat milk and chickpea-based cheese.
Eggs are another source of protein that cause allergic reactions. They’re sometimes used to make unexpected foods like mayonnaise, salad dressing, tortillas and meringue. If you’re serving a guest with an egg allergy, be sure to monitor your ingredients carefully.
Peanuts and tree nuts are notorious for their allergy-causing characteristics. Nuts are sometimes present in cooking oil, flour, barbeque sauce and even lunch meat. Exposure to small traces of nuts can cause dangerous reactions for someone with a peanut or tree nut allergy. Whenever you’re serving a meal with nuts, it should be labeled and identified clearly.
Here are some of the most common tree nuts that you should look out for in your recipes and ingredients:
Wheat allergies affect up to 1% of children in the U.S., and while most grow out of it, some adults remain allergic. Wheat is a grain commonly used to make pasta, bread, tortillas and other flour-based foods.
You can search for wheat-free alternatives or choose a recipe that features other ingredients like fresh vegetables and meats.
Soy allergies are common in children and a small percentage of adults. Soy is commonly used in East Asian cuisine. It’s a primary ingredient in miso, okara, natto, tempeh and soy sauce. However, soy is also common in cookies, crackers, peanut butter, cereal and other standard American foods. If you’re creating a soy-free meal, check for traces of soy in all of your ingredients.
Fish and shellfish allergies are common amongst adults. In the U.S., 1% of the population is allergic to fish, and 2% are allergic to shellfish. Although fish and shellfish are both sourced from water, they have unique compositions. Therefore, just because you’re allergic to fish doesn’t mean you have a shellfish allergy. However, cross-contamination frequently occurs since they’re often processed in the same facilities.
The following fish are known to cause allergic reactions:
Look out for these allergy-causing shellfish as well:
Learn More About Our Dining Plans Today
Accommodating various types of diets, religious restrictions and allergies is a lot to manage. American Dining Creations has the experience, resources and talent to create an inclusive menu to satisfy all of your guests’ dietary constraints. As a hospitality company, we are determined to exceed our clients’ expectations. Whether you’re searching for an event caterer or a full-time dining partner, we provide customizable meal options and allergy-friendly recipes for everyone.
Our dishes are more than just edible — they’re innovative and exciting for people following strict diets. We use the freshest ingredients from local sources to provide the highest quality culinary experience. Contact us today for inclusive dining solutions!