Catering for special dietary needs
Vegetarian, Vegan, Veggan? Pescatarian? People who don’t believe in murdering carrots? (Alright we admit that one was only in a movie.) How about food intolerances or allergies? Religious beliefs? Health concerns? Pregnant? Having people who have special dietary needs adds to the complexity of setting a menu for any corporate catering event. So what to do?
The first thing you need to do is find out if anyone attending actually has any specific dietary needs. If you are responsible for planning regular catered events, it might be a good idea to keep a spreadsheet of colleagues’ likes and dislikes for easy reference.
Then you need to become familiar with company policy on how far you can go to accommodate wants versus needs. If you have an HR department they would be your first port of call. It may be that, for some dietary needs, the attendee has to handle some issues them-self. For example, people can have food sensitivities versus actual allergies. If they know they get a rash from eating strawberries, the solution is to not eat anything with strawberries in it. Whereas a severe nut allergy means no nuts anywhere and have an EpiPen at the ready.
Next you just have to tell us. The earlier you do it the better so we have plenty of time to help you plan, prepare and prevent.
Finally, relax. Once you’ve told us, you can rely on us to get it right.
So what do you need to ask people when trying to get an accurate picture of dietary needs? Where are some the preferences you need to be au fait with include:
Nuts have become a more common allergy over the years due to lack of early childhood exposure and, for some individuals, it can be quite serious. If even one person at your event is allergic to nuts, you might need to consider keeping them off the entire menu. Speak to the person about how severe. If they stipulate a nut free kitchen then you might have an issue that requires careful handling.
Gluten Free is a very common dietary demand, where people want to avoid eating foods that contain gluten. Gluten is the general name for the proteins found in wheat and is most commonly found in bread products, but can be hidden in many other items. However there is a difference between people who just want to avoid it versus people with celiac disease and need to avoid it. Due to food trends, this one is often more a want than a need. For those who need, they generally know how to handle it. Again speak to people to understand what medical issue they are dealing with.
Wheat Free is a dietary restriction where you cannot have wheat or wheat by-products. Although wheat contains gluten, this is not the same as gluten free. Often people are OK with gluten but not OK with wheat and vice versa. However, often removing wheat products from the menu or providing an alternative can deal with both issues.
Often people exclude certain foods from their diet based on general lifestyle choices.
Vegetarians eat a diet that does not include meat of any kind. However there are some variations depending on whether people eat eggs and/or dairy products:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians can eat both eggs and dairy products.
- Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but avoid eggs.
- Ovo-vegetarians (veggans) eat eggs but not dairy products.
Pescatarians eat fish but not meat. Fish includes all sea food including shell fish. Again there are the same variations as with vegetarians in regard to eggs and dairy.
Vegans do not eat any food that comes from animals. This includes meat and fish as well as eggs, butter and milk. Because of this restriction, the vegan diet can be the most challenging to accommodate but remember mushrooms are a trending substitute for meat.
Paleo is a diet based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans. The food choices consist mainly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and excluding dairy or grain products and processed food. So rule out bread and cheese for one. Apart from that, this diet is probably the easiest to cater for.
Often people exclude certain foods from their diet due to their religious beliefs. Preparation of food is also an issue. Two common faith based diet restrictions within New York City are from Judaism and Islam.
Kosher foods are defined as those that are accepted by Jewish law as fit for eating or drinking. Not all people of Jewish faith follow kashrut laws so don’t assume either way, make a point of asking. There are many strict specifications within this diet. It is not just “no ham” and don’t mix dairy with meat. So consult with us before choosing a menu.
Halal is when a type of an animal (or its meat) is slaughtered or prepared in the manner prescribed by Islamic law. This meat must have the halal certification. In addition, be aware that during the celebration of Ramadan, Muslims worldwide fast from sunrise to sunset during this time.
There are many more religious based diets. You can read more here.