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Catering to Special Diets


By Mary Vlahos

In the world of meetings and events special diets are a norm not an exception. Religious practices, allergies, medical restrictions and personal beliefs involve numerous dietary restrictions. The following are just a few possibilities you may encounter. As always it’s best to research the diet in advance, work with a food supplier that specializes in that specific diet and of course consult with the client. The client can provide you with a guideline as to what they prefer and what you should avoid. Never guess when it comes to dietary restrictions. No one wants to offend someone else’s religious beliefs or worse cause someone to become gravely ill at a conference or event. Include a special diet section in your event registration and address each issue as it comes in. In some smaller cities it may be difficult to find things such as Kosher or Muslim meals and you may have to have something shipped in. The restrictions listed below are basic guidelines. If you have someone with special dietary needs, especially if they are complicated, it is best to consult with your client.

Kosher meals (Judaism)
A Kosher kitchen has separate sections for dairy, meat and pareve using different utensils, pots, pans, plates, etc. Using a Kosher caterer is advised in this situation since kosher laws are very complex. This meal can easily be reheated but leave the cover intact so the guest can see the rabbinic certification seal. Many Jewish people follow some dietary restrictions even if they do not keep Kosher. It’s always best to ask in advance.
• No pork or shellfish
• Only fish with fins and scales are acceptable
• Refrain from eating meat and dairy at the same meal
• Wine must be kosher
• Meat prepared by a qualified kosher butcher

During the holy month of Ramadan, (late February to early March), Muslims are not allowed to eat from dawn to sunset.
• They do not eat carnivorous animals
• No pork or pork products
• Sea animals that do not have fins or scales are considered undesirable
• No alcohol
• Permissible meat must be prepared in the correct way (Halaal)
• Products avoided by Muslims are lard, gelatin, rennet, whey, and vanilla extract
• Utensils for Muslims should be separate with no contamination from Halaal and non Halaal

• No beef or beef products
• Strict Hindus are vegetarians

• Many are vegetarians

• Strict Buddhists are vegetarians

• Lacto-ovo Vegetarians eat dairy and eggs in addition to plant foods but no meat, poultry or fish
• Ovo-Vegetarians eat only eggs and plant foods, no dairy, meat, poultry or fish
• Lacto Vegetarians eat dairy foods and plant foods, no eggs, meat, poultry or fish
• Vegans are strict Vegetarians and eat only plant foods no animal products, dairy or eggs
• No sweets or anything with excessive sugar (some juices, glazes etc. are high in sugar content)
• Most Diabetics have calorie restrictions and follow a diabetic exchange system that may require measuring. They need a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat.
• Ask your client for suggestions on what would be suitable meal

Gluten free (Celiac)
Gluten is a protein found in all forms of wheat. Many health food stores, restaurant and caterers are now carrying Gluten free products and menu items.
• No wheat, barley, oats, or rye
• Gluten may be hidden in foods such as licorice, soy sauce, vinegar, most processed foods, some lunch meats, self basting turkeys, prepared stocks and soups, caramel coloring, and vegetable protein.
• No Spelt, semolina, millet or buckwheat
• No couscous or kamut
• No commercial salad dressings, instant coffee or malted milk
• Avoid white vinegar, beer, ale and anything made from grain alcohol
• No curry powders, dry seasonings or gravy mixes
• Canned tuna must only contain water and salt

Lactose intolerant
This is a milk protein allergy and a dairy free diet is required (no cow’s milk or milk products). Rice milk, soy milk and tofu are often used as substitutes.
• No butter, cheese, milk, cream or milk powders
• Some margarines may also have milk proteins in them

Catering to Special Diets

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