Social situations when you are dairy free can be stressful and without careful planning can leave you feeling starved and left out. I am the veteran of many a gathering where the only food I could safely eat was off of the fruit platter.
I have since learned that I am in charge of my own diet, and it is up to me to avoid situations that leave me feeling deprived and crabby. That doesn’t mean I stay home and avoid meeting friends and family because they insist on serving cheesy dishes. Why shouldn’t they eat the foods they love? Instead I have begun to take steps on my own that have made my social life much more satisfying and enjoyable.
How do you navigate dinner parties, work functions, and backyard barbecues if you are on a restricted diet? I have compiled a list of my tricks and I hope they will help you in your own dairy free life.
Be a gracious guest
Most people don’t have any experience with food allergies or sensitivities (lucky ducks!) and might not be aware of the serious consequences that eating the wrong food may have for you. Chances are they are not trying to be insensitive; they just have no idea what it means to have food allergies. Keep this in mind.
When you receive an invitation it is up to you to contact your host, inquire about the menu and explain your dietary restrictions. Stress that you do not want to inconvenience them and are not asking for a total overhaul of the menu! If the main dish is something like lasagna, and obviously cannot be changed just for you, accept that. If you are polite and undemanding your host may be accommodating and leave the butter off the vegetables, and the cheese and dressing to the side of the salad. You can make a meal of side dishes. Besides aren’t you really going for the company?
Offer to bring a dish
This may not be possible for a formal dinner, but for a casual gathering your host may be relieved and thankful for the offer. Just make sure your dish doesn’t clash with the planned menu; there are dairy-free recipes for every occasion
Don’t forget dessert. Most desserts are chock full of dairy, so if you don’t want an empty plate while everyone else is enjoying cheesecake offer to bring your own cake to share. You may be rescuing another dairy-free guest from yet another dessertless meal!
Eat before you leave home
Unless you know for sure there will be plenty for you to eat at the party, don’t go on an empty stomach. You’ll be a much happier, friendlier guest if your stomach isn’t growling.
Bring a small snack
Stash a granola or dairy-free protein bar in your purse or pocket. If you are starving, you can sneak away for a few minutes and take the edge off your hunger. Sometimes just knowing it is there helps to tame your inner hungry beast and allows you to enjoy yourself while everyone else is eating from the cheese platter.
Ask questions—But not too many!
If a dish is unfamiliar ask what it is made of. I have a shellfish allergy in addition to dairy, and while I become uncomfortable if I accidentally eat cheese, a bite of crab could land me in a medical emergency. I always ask, and if no one is certain, I don’t eat it.
You don’t want to be overly pushy and fall into the realm of rudeness in your inquiries. If you suspect you shouldn’t eat something, don’t, and quietly leave it at that.
Answer questions—But not too graphically!
When people ask why you aren’t eating something, they don’t want a description of the rash you will endure or the digestive distress that will occur. They may be curious, but a party is not the place for descriptions of your allergic reactions. My standard response is, “I have food allergies and have to be careful what I eat”. Then change the subject.
Don’t be a bore
Whatever your reasons are for not eating dairy don’t go on and on about it. A dinner party or family gathering is not the time to list your allergy symptoms or lecture on the mistreatment of dairy cows. If someone is genuinely curious, offer to meet another time and have a discussion. You are an invited guest, don’t hog the conversation and make it all about you.
Remember to have fun
You may not be able to eat everything on the table, but you can still enjoy everyone’s company and conversation. Enjoy what you can, and don’t agonize about what you can’t.