Whether you're hosting a family summer get-together or a Fourth of July BBQ for friends from the office, setting the menu isn't as simple as it used to be. These days, it's important to include special diets for guests with food allergies as well as dishes for vegan, vegetarian, clean-eating, gluten-free and lactose-intolerant diets.

Here are five easy ways to make sure everyone has a good time — and gets what they want to eat — at your summer bash:

1. Just Ask

When you mail invitations, or post your event on Facebook, ask guests to list food allergies or dietary restrictions when they RSVP. Take into account this information as you plan your event.

2. Know the Dietary Terminology

Before you dream up your menu and go shopping, make sure you're familiar with these dietary terms.

Vegan vs. Vegetarian

Despite their similar names, vegetarian and vegan dishes aren't exactly the same.

"The difference between vegans and vegetarians is that vegans are more restrictive," said Meg Hagar, a registered dietician, certified dietician nutritionist and certified holistic health practitioner in New York City. "These individuals do not eat animal products of any kind - even honey, as it comes from bees," she said. Most vegetarians don't eat meat or poultry and some also exclude other animal products, such as fish, milk or eggs.

Include Middle Eastern dishes like Lebanese tabouleh or Curried Cashew Burgers on your buffet table as vegetarian options. Or try a take on Southern cuisine with Kale Hush Puppies with Lemon Aioli. For a hot dish, whip up Rigatoni Pepernota for your vegan guests.

When you set up your buffet, label each dish as "vegetarian" or "vegan" to make self-serve easy. Even guests who aren't on special diets or suffering from food allergies may enjoy these dishes: According to a 2016 Harris Poll commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group, 37 percent of adults choose at least some vegetarian items when eating out.

Clean Eating

Clean eating refers to choosing meals and snacks that are mostly unprocessed, with no added sugars or preservatives, explained Hagar. "When this term is used, it's describing a way of eating that is as whole, natural and unprocessed as possible" Hagar said. Some people may prefer not altering the food by cooking it. "Some people would rather eat sprouted legumes instead of cooking them," said Marty Davey, an Allentown, PA-based registered dietician and nutrition educator.


Gluten is the protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. A 2015 Gallup poll found that 20 percent of the population includes gluten-free foods in their diet.

"Including a variety of dishes is important - in particular gluten-free and vegan," said Davey. To simplify your menu when planning an event, select gluten-free menu items that are also vegan - for instance, veggie burgers with gluten-free wraps instead of buns.


Guests looking for lactose-free dishes will avoid dairy-based dishes that contain lactose, the sugar found in milk, cheese, and butter. Vegan dishes you put on your buffet table will also be lactose-free, as dairy products are animal products.

Remember to offer salad dressings on the side so lactose-intolerant guests can select a non-creamy dressing.

3. Keep It Raw

Summer is the perfect time to offer guests fresh raw veggies and fruits. These suit most guests with dietary restrictions. Instead of boring carrots and celery sticks with ranch dressing, include lesser-known raw foods such as plantain, jackfruit, pomegranate or starfruit.

4. Support the "Farm to Fork" Movement

Support your local "Farm to Fork" movement by shopping at local farmer's markets for fresh, local produce and other items. Let your guests know where the food is from.

"This idea attempts to bring us back to a more natural way of eating," said Hagar. Farm to fork encourages using fresh, unprocessed ingredients that are prepared and served immediately.

There's a financial benefit to your community as well when you patronize local farmers, wineries, bakeries and brewers. "The idea is to keep money in the local economy and have the freshest, most seasonal foods possible," said Davey.

5. Consult the Experts

Sisters Heather Bell and Jenny Engel are vegan chefs and owners of Los Angeles catering company Spork Foods. Their recipe for Fiesta Corn Fritters uses Follow Your Heart ™ brand vegan cheese that melts easily but adds no cholesterol to the dish.

Best of all? It's tasty enough to please both vegans and non-vegans. "This dish is super quick to whip up and you'll satisfy even the pickiest eater," said Bell.

Of course, you can't have a barbeque without burgers. This summer, alongside your beef and turkey patties, grill up some savory vegan burgers as well.

Sharon Palmer, an L.A.-based registered dietician and plant-based recipe blogger, recommends Edamame Ancient Grain Veggie Burgers, which are made with nutrient-rich whole plants like edamame, quinoa, walnuts, oats, carrots and flax.

"They're delicious served in a whole grain bun with lettuce, tomatoes and avocado, as well as an entree with a flavorful dipping sauce," she said.

Still struggling with menu options for your summer bash? Ask your chef, caterer or local butcher for suggestions.

You can't go wrong if you include an assortment of fresh, raw vegetables and fruits and at least one vegan protein dish, said Davey. "No one can cover everyone's likes and dislikes, but offering choices shows you care - and that is the most important thing."

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute an offer or solicitation to sell the products or services of the providers identified. City National Bank makes no recommendation of the products or services offered by the providers mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed are those of the persons quoted and not necessarily the opinions of City National Bank.