If the issue is celiac disease or gluten intolerance, consider what role bread plays in the meal. If it’s necessary for soaking up your delicious goat cheese or marinara sauce, you might find a good gluten-free bread at your local health food store. If it’s just to serve as a vehicle for the creamy brie, you could offer a selection of store-bought gluten-free rice crackers — or make your own.

This mindset makes almost everything easier. Breaking down a meal into components like flavor, texture, and sentimentality allowed me to get more creative. One year for Passover, I made potato-based “matzo” balls but left the rest of the soup exactly as it was — carrots, consommé, celery, and onion. It looked the same and tasted mostly the same, which made all of us happy.

Try to incorporate something for everyone

In the most restrictive phase of Sammi’s six-food elimination diet, our protein sources were limited to seeds, lentils, and beans, none of which were among my older daughter Ronni’s favorites. Because we’d agreed to eat all the same foods when we were together, Ronni had to accept eating these meals a few nights a week, but I also made sure to find a gluten-free pasta we all liked, tweaking sauce recipes until we found several that worked well for Sammi’s restrictions. And, at least once a week, I made chocolate-chip “Sammi-safe” pancakes for dinner with a big pile of fruit. Even Ronni would be giddy on pancake night.

I liked to keep a notebook filled with new recipe ideas and foods I wanted to try, and would have family members and regular guests rate them on a scale of 1 to 5. If the majority of my people liked something, I’d add it to my regular rotation. Know that, with so much new food in your life, you’re bound to find things that don’t quite work, but you’ll also be surprised to discover new meals you enjoy well enough to keep making them even when your restricted guests aren’t around.

Substitute, don’t sacrifice

Imagine your guests’ delight when they find that, instead of a card table off to the side marked “VEGAN” or “GLUTEN-FREE” in aggressive Sharpie, the whole meal is safe for them to eat. If you carefully think through the ingredient substitutions for some of your favorites, this is more achievable than it sounds.

For desserts, think about replacing nuts with seeds, cow’s milk with non-dairy milk, regular flour with gluten-free flour, and butter with a dairy-free margarine. Audition a batch of “safe” cookies first; if you like them just as well, why not make all the cookies safe for your guests? Aside from the benefit of not risking cross-contamination, you also give your diners and family members the gift of not feeling “othered” or burdensome.

One Hannukah, my daughter’s elimination diet required me to make our family’s potato latkes using gluten-free flour. There was no discernable difference in flavor, so now, when we host guests with celiac disease, I make all of our latkes this way.


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