Meal Planning for Special Diets

When guests include folks with special dietary needs such as diabetes, allergies or celiac disease, take care to modify your menu for them. Use these recommendations to plan your meal, and turn to the Giant Eagle® Special Orders department for more help addressing the special needs of your guests.
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Before You Plan

  • Ask your guests if they have any dietary needs or restrictions. If so, they may choose to bring the food they need or volunteer a recipe.
  • Stock up on staples that suit a wide variety of dietary plans. These include:
    • Decaffeinated coffee and tea.
    • Alternative sweeteners (Stevia, sucralose, aspartame, and saccharine are options.)
    • Balsamic vinegar and olive oil for salads, Giant Eagle® olive oil spray and lower-calorie salad dressings.
    • Soda or bottled water, diet beverages and caffeine-free beverages.
    • Fresh lemon or lime for salads or beverages.
    • A “light” margarine or butter spread.
    • For guests with milk allergies, lactose intolerance or who don't eat animal products, offer soy, almond or rice milk.
    • Salt free herbs and spices.
    • Fresh-cut fruit.

Planning for Allergies and Celiac Disease

People with food allergies and gluten intolerance (celiac disease) adhere to strict dietary guidelines. Allergies to peanuts, shell nuts, seafood, eggs, soy, wheat, and dairy foods can be severe and even fatal, and guests with these allergies require separate, allergen free dishes. Guests with celiac disease require gluten free dishes. Consult our "Gluten Free Living" guide, check out our list of gluten free foods and/or contact for help with planning and recipes.

  • Read labels carefully and avoid all offending ingredients.
  • Keep “safe” foods separated from regular foods when preparing, handling and serving them to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Designate special allergen free or gluten free cookware and prep areas for guests. Trace amounts of allergens or wheat gluten on a toaster, knife or cutting board can contaminate a “safe” dish.
  • Know the ingredients in everything you serve, and inform your guests. (Tip: List ingredients on a placecard beside each dish, especially important when serving buffet-style.)

Planning for Diabetes and Low-fat Diets

A few simple rules will ensure your meal meets the special needs of Type II diabetics, or people on low-fat diets.

  • Serve lower-fat versions of old favorites. Instead of wings, opt for Spicy Oven Fried Chicken. Try a healthier spinach and artichoke dip or veggie pizzas on whole-grain or pita crusts.
  • Broil, roast, stew, or grill meat, fish, chicken, and turkey.
  • Replace high-fat fare with lower-fat substitutes. For example, use low-fat milk in soups instead of cream, or low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream.
  • Offer sugar free and low-fat beverages and dressings.
  • Serve sauces and dressings on the side.
  • Keep vegetable dishes simple — avoid heavy sauces.
  • Offer a green salad and non-starchy vegetables like green beans, asparagus, broccoli, or cauliflower.
  • Keep portions reasonable, or allow guests to serve themselves.
  • Offer fruit or low-fat, low-sugar desserts.

Planning for Sodium-restricted Diets

Read labels and choose lower-sodium alternatives. Check for monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, and other sodium-containing ingredients.

  • Look for low-sodium varieties of:
    • Processed meats and cheeses
    • Smoked and dried fish or meats
    • “Enhanced” or marinated meats and marinades and frozen meats like turkey breasts and pork
    • Soups, marinades and gravies (or make your own low-sodium versions. Lower-sodium broths and stocks are available at Giant Eagle. )
    • Salad dressings and condiments such as pickled foods, olives and sauerkraut.
    • Tomato or vegetable juice cocktails (most true juices are low in sodium).
  • Select fresh breads, such as Giant Eagle French bread or baguettes, over packaged breads, which may contain high-sodium additives.
  • Season foods with herbs and cracked black pepper rather than salt.
  • Rinse canned vegetables to reduce the sodium by about 40%. (Giant Eagle offers a selection of no-salt varieties.) Most frozen vegetables and all fresh vegetables are low in sodium.
  • Offer a simple, healthy homemade vinaigrette of olive oil, vinegar and herbs.

Sample meals for special diets

  • Smart appetizers — shrimp with sauce (unless a guest has a seafood allergy), raw veggies and salsa, hummus and pita chips, gluten free crackers, and an antipasti assortment.
  • Main dish — roast or grilled turkey tenderloin glazed with pure fruit preserves.
  • Side dishes of healthy vegetables and grains. One side should be hearty enough to be a main dish for any vegetarians in your group. Add a bean or grain dish and a side dish consisting of roasted or stir-fried vegetables.
  • A green salad with plenty of vegetables with a variety of dressings.
  • Breads and flatbreads. Set out a separate basket of gluten free bread if necessary.
  • Dessert — Fresh fruit topped with fruit ice and a sprig of mint, or a fruit-based frozen dessert. Thread fruits with cheeses on kabobs for the ultimate holiday treat!
  • Steaming cups of your favorite seasonal coffee or tea.
  • Include a meatless choice at any group meal. A bean casserole or a salad can be a side dish for all and provides a complete meal for the vegetarian. Try Corn and Bean Salsa, Spinach Salad with Kasha and Black Beans or Healthy Sweet Potato Lentil Stew.

If You’re a Guest on a Special Diet:

  • Take the food you need to the event.
  • Carry a snack to take the edge off  hunger when meals are late.
  • Use small plates, take small servings and fill half the plate with fresh fruits or vegetables to help with portion control.
  • Drink liquids that hydrate without adding calories, like water (even sparkling water) with slices of lemon or lime.
  • Aim for "bites" rather than whole servings of high-calorie foods.

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