Whether it's a formal family dinner or an office party with co-workers, food has always been the centerpiece of holiday get-togethers.
But it's becoming harder and harder these days for people to break bread together.
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Appetites are stratified by an ever-widening array of restrictions: gluten free, sugar free, vegan, vegetarian, low fat, low sodium, no carb, no dairy, macrobiotic and probiotic.
What's a host to do?
Before you throw the cheese ball under the bus, consider some advice from Jennifer Ruby, registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist, with Summit Endocrinology in Chambersburg, Pa., an affiliate of Summit Health.
It can be very overwhelming to have guests or family members coming to your holiday table with rigid food requirements, Ruby agreed. But with a little planning and some cross-referencing of diets, you can alleviate a lot of stress and ensure that, at any given meal, everyone can eat something.
First, Ruby said, it's crucial that the host and the eater with dietary restrictions understand what the expectations are for the meal.
"It's very important to ask a lot of questions," she said. "The host should determine whether the individual is expecting you to make every dish to their specifications or if other dishes can be used, even if it is not permitted in the individual's diet. The host also can encourage the person to bring a dish to the holiday party that would suit their specific dietary needs.
"Secondly, if the host offers to accommodate the guest's dietary needs, it is very important to do research and find out what ingredients need to be avoided," Ruby said.
It is much easier to control the ingredients when the food is made from scratch, she said. But if the host plans on using pre-made items or processed ingredients, "it is vital to read the food labels very carefully before the food is purchased."
Another tip, Ruby said, is to keep the different foods separated.
"There are several ways to present the food," she said. "You can set up buffet-style or family-style so that guests can serve themselves what they want. Or you can add decorative food labels to identify the various foods on the table."
The United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition, suggests putting some foods on the side, rather than incorporating them into the meal. For example, serve bread on its own plate but don't include it in items such as casseroles or desserts. Likewise, if you have a guest on a low-sodium diet, season food lightly and encourage guests to add their own salt and pepper table side.
In addition to food preferences and restrictions, Ruby said it's important to make healthful food choices all the time, but even more so during the holidays, when dietary restrictions are sometimes ignored and eaters tend to overindulge.
"Holidays can be very joyous times," she said. "But they can be very difficult occasions for many people, especially when large quantities of food and tempting desserts are available."
Parties and dinners can be especially hard for diabetics, said the USDA, and the best course of action is to not stray far from the recommended eating pattern.
Be sure to practice portion control and if you're not sure what ingredients are in a particular dish or drink, leave it alone.
Individuals with food allergies also face serious consequences if they make poor food choices, says the USDA. The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. Before RSVPing a party or dinner, be sure to make your host aware of any allergies.
Ruby offered the following tips, which, she said, "can be utilized so that individuals can enjoy the holidays without feeling guilty."