What’s a host or organizer to do? The more you understand people’s needs, the better you’ll be able to meet them. These are five of the most common food restrictions in 2022.
Intermittent Fasting (going a certain number of hours between eating) is very popular as a weight loss and anti-inflammatory measure. There are a variety of plans, and not everyone eats on a similar schedule. So how can a conference organizer or caterer account for people who are fasting? One idea is to focus fewer events around food. For example, having “walk and talk” breaks instead of “coffee breaks.” Buffets are kinder to fasters than sit-down dinners as they encourage walking around instead of sitting and eating. You can also ask your caterer to have some “grab and go” items that those fasting can take and eat when they’re ready.
Kosher (Judaism) and Halal (Islam) are the two most common religious diets. Jews and Muslims have different levels of adherence to these rules based on their personal beliefs. Generally, people who observe the rules of Kosher or Halal will be fine if eating vegetarian (see below). However, if you have concerns about serving these guests, make sure to ask questions. Some religious Jews will only eat food in restaurants if there was rabbinic supervision for the preparation. Many religions also forbid alcohol, which argues for more alcohol-free options [include link from last month’s post]. This handy chart of religious food restrictions may prevent misconceptions. Remember, if, in doubt, it’s always best to ask people directly.
Vegetarians do not eat meat (white or red) or fish, and vegans do not eat meat, fish, or animal products (cheese, eggs, etc.). Some vegans also do not eat honey. Many people are also dairy-free. Having a vegan option will meet the needs of many attendees. Many non-vegetarians worry about vegetarians getting enough protein in a given meal. Most vegetarians, however, are not as concerned about the protein at any individual meal. While tofu (and other soy products) and nuts are excellent vegetarian sources of protein, they are also common allergens (see below).
People are gluten-free for various reasons, including weight loss, gluten allergies, and celiac disease. Many people with gluten issues need the food to be prepared in a way that does not risk cross-contamination with gluten products. Almond flour is a common substitute in gluten-free foods but can be problematic since nuts are a common allergy (see below).
There are so many possible food allergies that it would be hard to meet everyone’s needs. However, the eight most common food allergies are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.
As you can see, preparing a menu that works for every food issue would be hard. However, by asking your guests or attendees about their needs ahead of time, you can identify the most critical problems for your group. You should also know that most people with food restrictions due to health or religious issues are very adept at planning to ensure they don’t go hungry.