Hosting a party where guests have specific dietary needs doesn’t have to be complicated. We all know someone who avoids gluten, is allergic to nuts, or is vegetarian; a party guest with diabetes doesn’t mean a whole lot of changes.
By the time you get to the end of this blog, you won’t know what the fuss was all about! Because putting together a tasty feast that everyone can enjoy, no matter their individual needs, is less about food preparation than good communication.
Planning a party for anyone with specific dietary requirements nearly always requires communication. If you’re inviting close friends over for an intimate dinner, you probably know exactly what they can and can’t eat. They’ll feel completely at ease with a plate of food that looks different from the rest of the group.
But when you host a work party, an event, or a ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ get-together, you can’t be expected to know everyone’s preferences and needs. Unless you ask.
Step One: RSVP
When hosting a diabetes-friendly party, your first step will be the invitations. Ask your guests to note down particular dietary requirements when they RSVP. Make sure a deadline is clearly stated. That way, you can ensure you have plenty of time to prepare.
When catering for larger groups, adding a checklist to the RSVP is a good idea. This should cover several types of dietary requirements. All your guests need to do is check the appropriate boxes. This method also invites them to add more specific information. For example:
- Do you have any food allergies? What are they?
- Are you lactose intolerant?
- Do you prefer/require any of the following dishes?:
If some of your guests have diabetes, they’ll check the low-carbohydrate box. They might also check other boxes. There’s no point serving up lots of carefully prepared animal protein to a guest with diabetes who happens to be vegetarian. Diabetes isn’t always only about carbs.
Step Two: What’s Different for My Guests with Diabetes?
When you receive an RSVP that ticks the low-carbohydrate box, it doesn’t automatically mean that this guest has diabetes. Many people prefer low-carb options. Think of keto lifestyles, for example.
And not all people with diabetes avoid every fast-acting carbohydrate, either. Insulin-dependent diabetes (or type one diabetes) can be extremely well managed, allowing for the occasional carb-rich snack. But that snack will probably need an extra unit or more of insulin.
A guest with type two diabetes who doesn’t inject insulin to compensate for extra carbs will nearly always experience a blood glucose spike in the same situation; there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to diabetes. If you want to know more about living with diabetes, whether to cater for your guests or just because you’re interested, install the Diabetes:M app. It’s packed full of useful, diabetes-related information. Perhaps you can get some diabetes-friendly party menu ideas from the Diabetes:M community forum.
If one or more of your guests check the low-carbohydrate box on the RSVP, you know that, whether they have diabetes or not, you’ll need to add several low-carb options to the menu.
Step Three – Mindful Menu Planning
When hosting a party for people with diabetes, low-carb dishes are a must. But did you know you can lower the glucose-raising effects of a high-carb meal by adding lean protein and healthy fat?
For example, many people with diabetes avoid rice, especially white rice. This processed grain has its fibrous husk removed and is very quickly digested. The carbohydrates in white rice are absorbed rapidly by the digestive system and sent into the blood, leading to higher blood glucose levels. This happens to all of us. Even people without diabetes will experience a rise in blood sugar after a portion of white rice, which is quickly counteracted through natural insulin production. People with diabetes need help to produce enough of this vital hormone, and/or let their cells use it.
When white rice is only part of a dish – for example, it is mixed with fiber-packed vegetables, high-protein meat, and fiber and protein-containing legumes – the blood sugar curve will be more gentle. So mindful menu planning for diabetes doesn’t mean cutting out every source of carbs.
Instead, it balances carbs with protein and healthy, non-hydrogenated fat choices. A buffet set up, or self-service at the dining table, gives your guests with diabetes free rein to do their own balancing. They’ve probably been doing this for years, after all.
For the ultimate diabetes-friendly buffet, the simpler – the better. Hidden, sugary ingredients should be avoided, or at minimum, labeled. By all means, serve high-carb dishes. But give your guests with diabetes the option to avoid these or balance small portions of them out with a selection of the following foods:
- Lean proteins like chicken, fish, tofu;
- Raw and lightly steamed vegetables;
- Legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas;
- Fatty protein snacks and sides like nuts, seeds, and cheese.
Be aware that many salad dressings have high sugar content, like honey and mustard dressing, for example. Don’t dress your salads; place a small pitcher of the accompanying dressing beside them. Or how about a salad-dressing station on a corner of the table with a selection of sweet and savory flavors?
Who’s Up For Dessert?
If you’re going to offer your guests without diabetes a sweet and sticky dessert, it’s plain rude not to offer your guests with diabetes something sweet and sticky, too. Just don’t be surprised when you run out of that diabetes-friendly sweet and sticky option. Many of your non-diabetic guests will want some, too!
There are tens of thousands of low- to no-carb dessert recipes available on the Internet. Most of them use artificial sweeteners like stevia or erythritol. Type in search terms like ‘keto desserts’ and ‘Atkins desserts’ to find some mind-blowingly tasty, diabetes-friendly treats. They’re not all low in calories, so make sure portions are small or can be divided. In fact, that’s good advice for any high-calorie dessert!
Staying hydrated is crucial whether you have diabetes or not. But if blood sugar levels start to climb, a long drink of water can help dilute the sticky consistency that too much glucose in the blood produces. Pitchers of water dotted around the party area are extremely recommended.
Offer alternatives to alcohol. Alcohol and diabetes do mix, but only in very small quantities. It’s easy to find 0% alcohol equivalents of your favorite tipple in the supermarket, but don’t forget to pay just as much attention to those mixers. Many mixers for alcoholic drinks are literal sugar bombs. Again, you’ll find low-calorie (or low sugar, or diet) options in most stores. Diet Coca-Cola tastes great with an alcohol-free, diabetes-friendly rum, for example.
Step Four: Buffets – Every Guest a Happy Guest
Not everyone with specific dietary requirements appreciates being served a meal that looks different to everyone else’s. This isn’t a feeling limited to people with diabetes, of course. Think of a party guest who has irritable bowel syndrome, or reflux. They might not welcome curious questions from other guests.
A set, unknown menu nearly always causes anxiety for guests with medically-advised dietary restrictions. That’s why you and your guests will be much more at ease with a buffet-style meal or a broad selection of drinks, mixers, and snacks.
If the idea of a big spread is daunting, let your guests make their own selection from a smaller array of dishes. Have you ever watched Downton Abbey? Where servants wait at the table holding single plates, tureens, or crystal decanters? “Peas, Milord?”, “Wine, my Lady?”. You don’t have to hire extra staff or spend time as a party host walking behind your guests as you offer different delicacies. But a beautiful set of tureens and (hot) plates in the center of the table means everyone can pick what they can and can’t (or should and shouldn’t) eat without worrying about insulting the host or explaining why. Just as importantly, your guest gets to decide portion sizes, too.
For bigger groups, a buffet-style meal is a huge problem solver. Yet it creates several problems, too. So many different dishes are representing so many different ingredients. It’s unclear what foods or food types are in every bowl or serving platter. As a host, you don’t want to spend all your time communicating the ingredients of each dish to every concerned guest.
So how about using visual communication methods to fill them in?
As you requested dietary information on your invitation, you know which dietary requirements you need to cater for long beforehand. This gives you time to work out your menu; it also gives you time to source color-coded tablecloths or tableware.
Any health-conscious guest will be grateful when you take the time to make things easy!
Several decorated, laminated cards explaining your color-coded buffet should be dotted around the table(s) to avoid bottlenecks. This method means you now have plenty of time to circulate amongst your guests. You won’t have to stand beside the buffet table to explain what’s what.
If, for example, several RSVPs checked low-carb, vegan, and gluten free boxes, you could do the following:
- Blue tablecloth: low carb
- Green tablecloth: vegan
- Yellow tablecloth: gluten-free
Several of your buffet dishes might combine these three menu types. But you had plenty of time to prepare and found a blue and green patterned tablecloth, a green and yellow patterned tablecloth, a yellow and blue patterned tablecloth, and a blue, green and yellow one, too. Or you might have found similar color combinations in different tableware sets (a more expensive option).
Alternatively, use colored stickers beside each dish, or tape them to the ends of appropriate serving utensils.
If several of your guests have diabetes, what about using dark blue for low-carb and light blue for no-carb options? There are many ways you can communicate dietary information using color coding.
And it’s guaranteed at least some of your guests will take this tip home with them and use it when hosting their own parties!
Time To Party!
By now, you should feel confident about hosting a party for all dietary needs. The above tips work for any gathering that involves food, drinks, and groups of people.
A diabetes-friendly party is simply a friendly party. Your menu will work for everyone. The solid foundation of healthy eating is the option to fill your own plate with a broad and simple selection of all the food groups in their most natural forms. By visually communicating what foods fit specific dietary needs, guests can relax, eat, drink and enjoy their work and effort. And so can you!