When I first moved to New York City, I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know where to eat lunch, the best place to buy sneakers, or which bodega had the best snacks. Luckily, my wonderful coworker Kate was there to help me out (and talk me into going to Buff Yoga).
Since meeting Kate, we’ve both gotten new jobs, gotten married, and moved to new places (me to Brooklyn, her to Kansas City). A helpful side-effect of our friendship is that I am much more conscious of being inclusive of people who have dietary restrictions when talking about, cooking, or eating food — which for me is most of the time.
Kate has been eating a gluten-free diet since she was diagnosed with Celiac disease her junior year of college. More recently, she’s needed to cut out additional allergens. At one point, she couldn’t eat any of the Top 8 allergens — including all dairy, eggs, fish/shellfish, nuts, soy, and of course wheat/gluten. This is no small feat — check the ingredients for nearly any packaged product, and you are almost guaranteed to find one of these foods.
While she may spend more time reading ingredient labels, researching restaurant menus, and learning about about obscure grains than most people, Kate says the key to overcoming the obstacles (and stress) that dietary restrictions can present is not to dwell on what she can’t eat. Instead, she chooses to focus on all of the foods she can have and to have fun coming up with creative alternatives.
For example, one of Kate’s go-to weekday breakfasts is a homemade breakfast burrito with egg and cheese—two of those top 8 allergens. When she had to avoid those foods, instead of stressing to fit something else into her morning routine, she swapped the egg and cheese for greens, sliced avocado, and bacon. Even after she was able to add eggs and cheese back into her diet, she still regularly eats her bacon and avocado combo.
For the allergy-free among us, Kate has some advice for making sure your friend with dietary restrictions feels included, whether you are headed to a restaurant or entertaining at home.
If you’re planning a group dinner at a restaurant and someone in your group has a lot of restrictions, the key is planning ahead. Kate suggests letting your friend suggest a few places to pick from — they will likely already know which restaurants are most allergy-accommodating in your area. If your friend is from out of town, share a few restaurant menus with them so they can pre-vet the menus.
If you’re hosting, an allergen-free menu might be easier than you think! The first step, of course, is to talk to your friend. Make sure you understand their restrictions and give them a chance to educate you so that they can feel safe eating at your home. Need an easy starting point for a menu anyone can love? Kate suggests grilled chicken and vegetables, a warm potato salad, and a simple green salad would makes a great meal. (Note: Roasted chicken and veggies would be great in the colder months!) Complete the night with coconut ice cream topped with grilled or roasted fruit! (And wine. Lots of wine.)
(Check out Kate’s recipe for dairy-free potato salad here!)
While any effort to include your friend will be appreciated, don’t worry too much about accommodating friends’ allergies or food restrictions. (The last thing your friend wants is for you to be stressed on their account!) If cooking for your food allergic friend makes you anxious, tell them! Kate mentioned that she is always more than happy to to bring something they can safely eat with them to the party if that’s the easiest way to do it.
Find more recipes from Kate, check out her blog, Season Simply.
Photo by Kate Morin