Feeding a Mixed Crowd: one meal for a variety of food needs

Photo: Amanda Donaho Photography

About 18 months ago I had the pleasure to serve as private chef to an incredible group of female business owners. They were at a creative retreat designed to infuse their businesses with new vision. One of the perks of this retreat was all meals served up in-house by yours truly. The menu was in place BEFORE the participants. Upon registering, each person had a chance to list food allergies, intolerances and preferences. So there I was, not only needing to meet pretty tight timelines for meal service, but also needing to adapt each meal to accommodate 3 very specific needs. TIME TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX!

TIPS FOR ADAPTING A MENU

1.STAY CLOSE TO NATURE.

Menus made of mostly whole, unprocessed foods are the easiest to modify. You can control EXACTLY which ingredients to include and omit. This does require making most of your food from scratch, but with good planning you can make a lot of things in advance. (Don’t get me started on my love of meal plans. That’s a post for another day!)

2. DON’T OVERTHINK.

I remember freaking out the first time I had to cook for a friend who has celiac disease. This is not just a matter of a tummy ache, too much of the wrong food could land her in the hospital. I used to go to elaborate lengths to cook a different meal for her. She actually wanted to be eating what everyone else was, so I stopped over-planning. When I made a big batch of lasagna for our small group I made a smaller pan using zucchini noodles. One simple ingredient switch. Instead of serving cake or cookies for dessert, we did fruit parfaits. They were every bit as delicious, but wouldn’t hurt our friend.

3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

Cooking , and especially baking, can be pretty tricky when it comes to certain food needs. Spend some time learning. Just a few tips can go a long way. A while back I took a deep dive into gluten free baking. I learned all about alternative flours, which could be subbed 1:1, which could not. Now I have this little reference file tucked away in my brain. It makes adapting a baking recipe so much easier and I can use MY favorite recipe and still serve my gluten free friends.

4.KEEP YOUR ADJUSTMENTS TO YOURSELF.

If you serve it, they will eat! Did your parent ever try to sneak extra veggies into your meals? Maybe they did and you didn’t even notice! The best way to serve a mixed crowd is to just SERVE THE FOOD and say nothing. Instead of announcing to the group about this gluten free/dairy free/paleo brownie, just serve it and watch what happens!


I think the best compliment I received the weekend of the retreat was the women asking if I had remembered their allergy when preparing a certain food. I always assured them I did, but they couldn’t see a difference between their food and the rest of the group. One woman teared up telling me how much she enjoyed eating some foods she hadn’t had in ages. SHE didn’t even know of some of these tweaks were possible. There’s so much joy in serving food, especially when folks have been feeling left out.

Today I’m sharing with you my recipe for the delicious quiche pictured above! I used to serve it in a flour crust, but I decided to try a potato crust for my gluten free friends. Guess what? I loved it, my family loved it! It’s our new go to quiche.


All photos in this post courtesy of Amanda Donaho Photography http://amandadonaho.com/

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