Dear CHOW,
I’m a habitual host—I just dragged the Christmas tree out to the curb and I’m ready to have people over again. Thing is, I’m terrified. I just found out my best friend is not eating wheat the whole month of January, and God knows who else I know who’s decided to go vegan or toy with Paleo for the next few weeks. How do I plan a dinner party without ending up with a roomful of guests who won’t eat anything?
Eager to Please

Dear Eager,
I feel your fear. It’s a fact of modern life for hosts, especially in January: This one is Paleo, that one is vegan, and somebody else’s new boyfriend is only eating fruits on days that start with the letter “S.” It might seem easier to just ignore them all and eat solo until everyone’s diet resolutions have faded into forgetfulness and chocolate cake. I’m convinced, however, that hosting a dinner party doesn’t have to be a disaster or an anxious affair. Just learn when to accommodate and when to put your foot down. Let’s break down both approaches.

There are two ways to go with accommodating: making something that the majority of the party can eat, or providing a variety of foods so everybody has at least one thing to enjoy. If most of your party is practicing low-calorie and Paleo, for example, you could serve steamed fish accompanied by a low-glycemic cauliflower mash and simple salad. That way, most of your guests could find something to eat, without you having to design an overly complicated or obviously diet-conscious menu.

For a variety approach, consider a make-it-yourself taco bar. Put out different bowls of proteins, salsas, and toppings so guests can make whatever they like, or allow themselves to eat: salads, tacos, rice bowls, or whatever. As a bonus, a make-it-yourself meal makes guests more likely to interact and less likely to obsess over the precise nutritional breakdown of each component.

Remember, this isn’t the month to pressure guests to drink alcoholic beverages or indulge in dessert—avoiding both is the easiest way to cut calories in an unobtrusive way. If you see another guest needling a dieter to join her in one more glass of Syrah, swoop in and change the subject—this is another easy way to help without really causing more work or extra annoyance.

However much you decide to accommodate your guests, don’t go crazy—in other words, bend, but don’t break. You should never feel pressured to include extra items for a guest who simply must sip bone broth at every meal or who threatens to freak out if that quinoa salad might have been cross-contaminated with wheat dust. Simply let these people know ahead of time what the menu is, and if they are so bold as to say that it won’t suit them, it’s really on them to make alternate plans. And if everybody but your friend Lisa eats red meat, then Lisa can ignore the skirt steak and fill up on roasted carrots, fennel salad, and shaved Brussels sprouts. Although this should go without saying, it’s worth making explicit: Never allow anyone to make you feel that you haven’t done enough as host. You’ve opened up your home to people you care about to share a meal. What could be a more intimate and loving way to start 2015?

Vintage Westinghouse image by Karen / Flickr

Sarah Spigelman Richter is a New York City–based writer, blogger, and social media manager. She has developed recipes for Tabasco, blogs about her favorite restaurants and recipes at Fritos and Foie Gras, and can be found, most Friday nights, watching “Arrested Development” reruns.
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