When I was in college, I lived in a women’s co-op for two years. Along with weekly meetings and chores, the by-laws of the house required its members to cook dinner for the entire house about twice a month.
A lot of girls chose to live in the house because it was off the college’s meal plan and they could cook their own food, so many of my housemates had limited diets or food allergies. While I lived there, I cooked meals for vegetarians, vegans, girls on paleo diets, and ladies with all sorts of food allergies and intolerances.
There was a pretty steep learning curve at first (There’s gluten in soy sauce? Honey isn’t vegan?) but cooking for my housemates and learning about alternative diets has helped me in my adult years. Now I can cook for nearly anyone who walks through my door, and I now make smarter choices about the food I eat myself.
Whether you’re inviting your vegan co-worker to a spring BBQ, cooking a romantic dinner for your date who’s on a paleo diet, or planning a girl’s night in with your gluten-free roommate, having some basic knowledge (and a couple of recipes) in your back pocket can help you accommodate your loved one’s dietary needs. Here are some tips:
Table of Contents
Cooking for Vegetarians
Before the husdude and I started our Whole30, we ate mostly vegetarian (we considered ourselves flexitarian, but that’s neither here nor there). Vegetarianism comes in many forms, but it mostly means that a person doesn’t eat any meat products. If you may be cooking for a vegetarian, ask them what they will and won’t eat – some vegetarians eat dairy and eggs, others may be okay with eating fish.
When looking for vegetarian recipes, seek out sources of protein other than meat, like soy products (tofu, tempeh, and edamame), beans, nuts, and cheeses (if your veggie friend eats cheese – and watch out for cheeses made with rennet, an animal by-product). If you’re uncertain if a product like a cheese or condiment is vegetarian, be sure to read your labels! Some products will marked as vegetarian, but skimming the ingredients list just to be sure won’t hurt.
Vegetarian Recipe Ideas:
- Drunken Wild Mushroom Pasta from Joyful Healthy Eats
- Carrot Tahini Quinoa Burgers With Tzatziki from Rhubarbarians
- Roasted Vegetable Galette from Cook Your Dreams
- 30 Minute Vegetarian Pho from Oh My Veggies
Cooking for Vegans
Veganism is a branch of vegetarianism, and vegans do not eat any animal products at all, including dairy products, eggs, and honey. Some vegans are flexible with products like honey, so again, it’s always good to ask your friend what they will and will not eat.
When looking for vegan recipes, it’s easiest to look for recipes that are specifically labeled vegan. That said, most vegetarian recipes can be made vegan by omitting or swapping out ingredients, like honey for agave, or omitting cheese. Be wary of sauces and condiments: some, like fish sauce, are clearly not vegan, but others, like Worchestershire (which contains anchovies) and barbecue sauce (which may contain honey) are less obvious. When in doubt, again, check your labels!
Vegan Recipe Ideas:
- Smokey BBQ Bowl from My Darling Vegan
- Red Quinoa Chili from Free People
- Vegan Red Beans and Rice from Budget Bytes
- West African Peanut Soup from Cookie + Kate
Cooking for Friends Who Are Gluten-Free
Your friends with Celiac disease, gluten-intolerances, or who are just on gluten-free diets, cannot eat anything with gluten, which is the elastic protein that holds baked goods made from wheat, barley, or rye together. This means that most traditional forms of bread, pasta, and most baked goods are out.
The good news is, your friends can still eat other grains, like rice and quinoa, and other types of noodles, like all-buckwheat soba noodles and rice noodles. (Again – read your labels! Seeing a trend here?) You can make creative substitutions for your favorite pasta dishes with gluten-free pasta, too, if you’re willing to spend a little more. And, again, be careful with condiments – traditional soy sauce, for one, often has gluten, so opt for gluten-free tamari.
Gluten-Free Recipe Ideas:
- Roasted Red Pepper and Black Bean Soup from Three Owls Kitchen (make sure your broth is gluten-free, or make your own)
- Sake and Ginger Soba Noodle Salmon Stir-Fry from Half-Baked Harvest (sub soy sauce for tamari and make sure your soba noodles and sake are gluten-free)
- Tofu Yum-Yum Rice Bowl from Bon Appetit (make sure the cornstarch is gluten-free)
- Katie’s Quick Shepherd’s Pie with Garlic Cheesy Mash from What Katie Ate (make sure your broth and sauces are gluten-free)
Cooking for Friends on Paleo Diets
Folks on paleo diets (or similar clean-eating diets like the Whole30) only eat meat, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, and certain kinds of oils. That means that they can’t eat most grains, like bread, pasta, and rice, they can’t eat dairy, and they can’t have any added sugar.
While this diet is preeeetttyy restrictive, there are tons of recipes out there that are paleo or can be made paleo-compliant with a few substitutions or omissions. Salads with a simple protein are always a safe bet. If you’re uncertain, ask your paleo friends what they generally eat and can’t eat and run the recipes by them beforehand, if possible.
Paleo Recipe Ideas:
- Fish Taco Bowls from Whole Fork (bible, I am eating this literally as I’m writing and it is SO TASTY)
- Salmon Niçoise Salad from Bon Appetit (omit the added sugar from the dressing)
- Karniyarik (Turkish Stuffed Eggplant) from The Domestic Man
What do you think?
Do you have any friends on an alternative diet? Are you on an alternative diet? What are your go-to recipes when you’re cooking for anyone with a restrictive diet? Let me know in the comments below!