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Ask Our Dietitians: Special-Diet Cooking

The Giant Eagle® team of registered dietitians answers common customer questions about meal preparation for guests with food allergies and special dietary concerns.
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How do I plan a meal that is safe for my guests a food allergy or special dietary needs?

First and foremost, ask your guests if they have any food allergies or special dietary needs. Learn which ingredients to avoid and carefully read product labels and manufacturer advisories to be sure foods do not contain anything “off-limits.” Keep your dishes simple if possible—the fewer the ingredients, the more control you have. 

Naturally, food allergies are of greater concern in your menu planning, as even trace amounts of allergens can cause a severe reaction in sensitive individuals. If your guest has a severe allergy, play it safe and omit the food from your menu. Always practice good food handling techniques to avoid cross contamination of foods. Wash your hands with soap before and after you touch foods. Do not allow allergen-covered utensils to contaminate your "safe" foods. Use separate cutting boards, knives, and plates or bowls and keep foods separate and labeled.

Never hide “secret” recipe ingredients from your guests —their health depends on knowing what they’re eating. For guests with medical conditions like diabetes, serving size most often is more critical than the choice of food. Let guests determine the amount of each dish that best fits their needs.

 

What should I prepare for a guest who is a vegetarian?

It’s not difficult to accommodate and please your vegetarian guests. Because there are many variations of vegetarians, find out which foods your guest will eat. Some vegetarians avoid all animal products, while other will eat dairy products and even seafood.

Serve one or two sides with vegetable-based protein that can double as a main course for your vegetarian guest and as sides for the meat eaters. Try a quinoa dish (a grain with more protein than most grains) such as a pilaf or casserole. Lentils, a bean and corn salad, hummus as an appetizer. These are mainstream foods everyone can enjoy.

 

What ingredients can I add or substitute to create healthier meals?

Healthy cooking doesn’t mean that you need to sacrifice flavor. Sensible substitutions and additions can reduce fat and calories in your meals and boost nutrition. Here are a few tips to get your started:

  • Substitute skim milk for whole milk. One cup of whole milk has 160 calories and eight grams of fat, while one cup of skim milk has about 100 calories and less than one gram of fat.
  • Use one-fourth cup of egg substitute or two egg whites for every whole egg in recipes.
  • For most recipes, you can reduce sugar by one half without affecting taste. To maintain moistness, be sure to use at least one-fourth cup of sugar for every cup of flour. Enhance flavor with a bit more vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Replace half of all-purpose flour in your recipes with whole wheat pastry or whole grain flour in recipes.
  • Use salt sparingly and bring out flavors with fresh or dried herbs, spices, flavored vinegars, lemon or lime juice or zest and pepper. For the salt lover, replace table salt with Kosher or sea salt — the larger crystals mean less salt per sprinkle.
  • Replace regular sour cream with low-fat or no-fat versions or use plain yogurt.
  • Substitute oil-based spreads or a butter/canola blend to cut the saturated fat. Use “light” spreads to bring down total fat.
  • Offer sparkling waters with fresh lemon or lime slices as an alternative to soda.
  • Serve higher calorie desserts in smaller portions with fresh sliced figs, orange sections, or berries.
  • Offer lower fat cheeses on your cheese tray.
  • Arrange grilled vegetables artfully on a platter — they’ll offer a lot more appeal than overcooked veggies in a dish.
  • Add a splash of fresh spinach on a salad for extra interest and a healthy touch.

 

Questions?

For more nutrition tips and answers to your questions, contact Giant Eagle. You’ll hear back within 48 hours. Email us at nutrition@gianteagle.com.

Brought to you by the Registered Dietitians at Giant Eagle® and Market District®