dinner menu entertaining dietary restrictions

Last month, my daughter’s friends came over for a casual graduation dinner…

…and planning it was head-spinning. Two of her friends are vegan. One is dairy-free. Another is both gluten-free and dairy-free. Most of them are vegetarian, except one guy who loves meat so much he calls himself a “me-gan” (rhymes with vegan).

Back in the old days, if I was having people over for dinner, of course I thought about allergies, and in general what people liked and didn’t like, but I was also a believer in the Emily-Post-like rules for being a good guest: You Will Eat What is Served. Nowadays, that feels like such dated advice. I know how seriously these restrictions are when you’re living with them day in and day out, and I want to make sure I project that with the right menu for whoever is eating at my table.

But this is a lot easier said than done, especially when you’re cooking for a large group. (And in theory I’m a professional! I write about food for a living!) It took a little while, but I came up with what I thought of as a pretty good something-for-everyone line-up, much of it make-ahead. I tried to make it so that no matter what your restrictions were, you could have at least three of the dishes. Here’s what I offered:

dinner menu entertaining dietary restrictions

Savory Galettes (Vegetarian)
I love galettes — they feel indulgent enough to anchor a plate, and most of them are delicious at room temperature (which means you can make them in advance).  For my daughter’s party, I made three mushroom-leek galettes, but this tomato tart (perfect for tomato season right now) or these roasted vegetable tarts would also work beautifully.

Roasted Tofu Salad with Vegetables (Vegan and Gluten-Free)
This doubled as both the main dish for the vegan and a lovely side dish for everyone else. The one I made was basically a slaw: To large bowl, add one small shredded red cabbage, 2 cups shredded spinach or kale, then toss with roasted tofu, fresh mint, cilantro, chopped peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, and a sesame-soy vinaigrette. (Replace soy sauce with gluten-free soy sauce or tamari.)

dinner menu entertaining dietary restrictions

Brothy Beans (Vegan, Gluten-Free)
I am so addicted to these beans, not just for entertaining, but for a regular old Tuesday night meal. I generally place a large pot of lima beans (that have been simmered with onions, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper) right on a trivet on the spread, then surround that pot with various toppings: store bought Romesco sauce (vegan, gluten-free), burrata (vegetarian), and pesto (vegan or vegetarian options). Sort of like a baked potato bar, but with beans.

Mac and Cheese (Vegetarian and “Me-gan”)
OK so there is not any meat in this, but I feel like a super indulgent, baked, three-cheese Mac and Cheese (like Martha Stewart’s iconic recipe) is the kind of dish that leaves no room for complaints from carnivores. I like to top my helping with an herby chopped cherry tomato salad to cut the richness.

Beautiful Farm-Fresh Salad (Vegan, Gluten-Free)
I didn’t make one for this particular party, but I think it’s always a good move to have something green and fresh on the table. Plus, salads, by definition are the easiest dishes to gluten-free-and-vegan-ize. I almost always make a kale salad with almonds and pomegranates, but it could just as easily be your own go-to, maybe with a hit of spicy nuts from the Trader Joe’s aisle (check the label!) to make it feel special.

I was delighted with this line-up — more important, so were the kids — and plan to refer to it as a general formula going forward. But what about you? Considering we’re all cooking for people with different allergies, restrictions, and tastes more and more, I’d love for everyone else to share successful menu line-ups. What worked? What didn’t work? What would a good dessert be?

P.S. The magic of candlesticks, and serving trays for summer entertaining.