A Beginner's Guide to Alternative Diets For Any Event

How to Plan for Alternative Diets at an Event

There are an incredible amount of i's to dot and t's to cross when planning a private event. One of the most important details you want to be sure to address is dietary accommodations for your guests. Great food is always key to a successful event, but anything from allergies to diet preferences can put off a number of guests.

Planning around different dietary restrictions, especially for a larger group, can be difficult, but is still an important part of creating a positive dining experience and ensuring all your guests enjoy the evening. Taking a few simple steps during the planning process can save you and your guests some unnecessary diet-related headaches.

Ask Your Guests About Dietary Restrictions in Advance

First things first: make it easy for your guests to share any allergies, restrictions, and foods they'd like to avoid. Depending on the size of your gathering this can be difficult, but even for a larger group you can curate a simple method for guests to share dietary restrictions.

If you go formal, include an option to select some common dietary restrictions in the RSVP. If it's a little less "black-tie" provide an email or phone number to send any dietary restrictions to. Or, for the more tech savvy people, create a basic survey for guests who might need accommodations.

Make it easy on your guests by providing a menu list to choose from – Gluten Free, Vegetarian, and Vegan have grown in popularity, but people often forget that lactose intolerance is still one of the biggest dietary restrictions out there, not to mention severe food allergies to common ingredients such as nuts and eggs. Don't forget to include an "other" category too just in case you miss, or are unaware, of specific restrictions. 

Ask Your Caterer About Their Food Handling Methods

Providing an accommodating alternative menu is more than just communicating with your guests – talking to your catering company about the food prep process can help avoid cross-contamination. Doing a little work ahead of time and finding a caterer with the right credentials can help ensure you are working with someone who understands the importance of handling food safely, especially if one of your guests has a severe allergy. Have this conversation while you are planning out the menu, your caterer may have insights on how to craft menu items to help avoid accidental cross-contamination as well.

One final touch you can include, is making your guests aware of any food prep that might have exposure to dairy, nuts, meat, or fish. Including a notice with every menu item can make things easier for your guests to navigate, as not everyone is familiar with each dish's usual food prep process.

Discuss Alternative Menu Options   

A big part of making sure your guests' needs are accounted for is hiring the right caterer. You may have a good idea of menu items you would like to include and price points you need to stay within, but don't make the menu selection a solo endeavor. By hiring an experienced caterer with strong credentials, you have access to wisdom and expertise that has ensured the gastric satisfaction of thousands of people.

Many caterers will have experience in helping develop menus to meet different dietary needs and restrictions, and by collaborating with them you can develop great menu options to meet all of your guests' needs while maintaining your budget.

Remember, because caterers have to navigate this on a regular basis, most will be flexible and accommodating when it comes to crafting and preparing delicious meals that avoid allergies, observe religious prohibitions, and help your guests enjoy their evening without having to break their dietary preferences. During the hiring process, make sure to discuss menu options for some of the following common alternative menu needs:


There might be some nuanced differences in what's in and what's out for vegetarians, but typically this is a no meat, no poultry, and no fish diet but does allow for "animal products" such as cheese. Whether someone is adopting a new and healthy lifestyle, or is practicing vegetarianism for moral or religious reasons, there are plenty of fantastic options for guests to choose from.

The first and most obvious options are salads – these can be more than a simple light bed of greens. If you want to make a salad a main dish option, make sure to include plenty of alternative protein and nutrient sources such as nuts, beans, seeds, and cheese. Meatless pasta dishes such as mushroom rigatoni, or cheese stuffed tortellini or ravioli, can also be an excellent choice for flavor and satiation. And don't forget the flexibility that tofu can offer.


Like vegetarianism, vegan diets avoid all meats, poultry, and seafood. The big difference within veganism is that it does not allow for any animal-based product such as dairy, eggs, honey, and a lot of dietary supplements that are derived from animals, such as Omega-3s. These restrictions shouldn't discourage you and your caterer from finding flavorful and tasty options – you can definitely do more than sides of fruits, veggies, and nuts.

Since you'll need to avoid eggs and milk, potatoes and sweet potatoes can be a great heavy carb to build dishes from. Roasted vegetable skewers are an excellent option to bring some BBQ flavor for your guests, and don't forget squash (butternut and acorn) and bean-based soups as a filling and nutritious option.


This diet has been growing in popularity the last few years, and the odds of at least a few of your guests following a strict or modified keto diet are surprisingly high. The basic idea behind this is to minimize carbs and eat more protein and fat. This isn't quite the Atkins diet, but it uses some similar principles. The meals for this diet are fairly simple as high-quality red meats and fish are preferred.

Don't avoid veggies just because they are minimizing carbs but focus on low-glycemic fruits and veggies with lots of nutritional bang for the buck. Include a side salad with broccoli, spinach, kale, and blueberries – sprinkle in some walnuts and seeds to really boost the fat and protein content.

RELATED: How Much Red Meat Is Too Much?


A cousin-like diet to vegetarianism, the pescatarian diet cuts out meat and poultry, but leaves in fish while also focusing on an increase of plant-based calories. Like Keto, this diet is easier to accommodate for than vegetarianism and veganism because you have a wider variety of protein options available (at least protein options that most caterers will already be incorporating into their menu).

Pan seared salmon with red potatoes and asparagus spears is a classic dinner option for any pescatarian meal, and don't forget about sea bass and a side salad, or maybe even a local catch, depending on your region.


DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and is a plan that limits salt, saturated fat, and added sugars. Chicken and other lean protein are great options, but check with your caterer to see if they have low-sodium options for seasoning. You will also want to consider smaller portions of protein and increasing vegetable and fruit portions. It might be better to avoid any kind of cooked and seasoned vegetables as well, as these tend to be salted and cooked with some type of oil. Red meat is not necessarily excluded, but you will have to be very intentional about what you offer DASH dieters.

Religious Restrictions

There are a variety of religions that follow specific codes and restrictions for what can and cannot be eaten, and even how meals are prepared:

Kosher Meals

Judaism observes a strict diet as part of their religious code. This limits the consumption of certain animals and their byproducts, and no mixing meats and dairy. Kosher diets will exclude common catering items that have pork and shellfish, along with plates that combine meat and dairy among other things. Another important note, if serving wine/grape juice, it must be certified Kosher.


Although there are some similarities to Kosher dietary law (no pork) there are some significant differences. Halal does not have the same regulations around mixing meat and dairy, but all meat needs to be prepared following Islamic dietary law. Unlike Kosher meals, which can include certified Kosher wine, Halal prohibits any and all alcohol, including in the cooking process.

Other Restrictions to Be Aware of

There are a handful of other dietary restrictions that may be impacted by a guest's religious beliefs. Members of the LDS prohibit caffeine and alcohol, and certain Christian denominations prohibit alcohol as well. This is where that "other" box comes in handy when asking your guests for any dietary restrictions you will need to accommodate for.

Food Allergies

Allergies can range from benign discomfort to anaphylaxis, and all sorts of GI issues in between. Most people know what they can and should avoid, but your event will run more smoothly if you ask your guests about their allergies ahead of time and enter into the planning phase with an idea of alternative options for those with some of these common allergies:

Nut Allergies

The most common nut allergy is peanuts, but some people cannot eat any nuts or legumes without breaking out into hives.


Nearly 6% of the US has a gluten intolerance and severe reactions can lead to the need for surgery.


The good news about soy allergies is that there are still plenty of staple foods available. You will want to work closely with your caterer to ensure food prep includes avoiding products with hidden soy (vegetable oils, broths, and most baked goods).

Lactose Intolerance

Unlike some of the other allergies on this list that cause an immune response to treat your food like an invading contaminant, lactose intolerance has to do with not producing enough lactase to break down milk sugars. Many people are able to manage their intolerance while still enjoying dairy, but others can have severe reactions to even small amounts of dairy.


This allergy, despite being common, affects everyone differently. Some people can enjoy certain shellfish, and others cannot have food that was prepared in the same counter space without having a reaction.

With each of these allergies, it is important to identify the needs of your guests ahead of time, to prepare menu items they can enjoy, and to work closely with your caterer to avoid cross-contamination that could lead to an allergic reaction. Even small amounts of these food products can cause serious reactions.

Image Cedit: pexels-anthony-rahayel-19386650