Could Catering to Special Diets be Worth it for You? Part 3

9910-quinoa-tabbouleh-lIn our final installment of our special series, “Could Catering to Special Diets be Worth it to You?”, we’re going to jump into the meat and potatoes—or tofu and rice, as it were—of the practical steps of how you actually cater to folks with special dietary needs. How do you offer truly healthy options for all kinds of different lifestyles, including people who have health concerns, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure; people who don’t eat meat, such as vegans and vegetarians; and people with food allergies? Can you find easy ways to incorporate dairy-free, gluten-free, low-sodium, low-fat options into your menus—and still have them be tasty?

Offering these kinds of options for your clients is inclusive—not exclusive. If you’ve ever been that kid who was picked last for kickball, then you know how it can be to watch everyone else enjoying the party while you wait on the sidelines.

By offering food options that everyone can eat, you’ll make everyone at the party feel like they were thought of and included. Just think of the delight you’ll create (and the applause you’ll win) when you offer no- or low-sugar desserts that people with diabetes can enjoy at a wedding or vegan or gluten-free baked goods for people who don’t eat animal products or who have food allergies. They will remember your event as being one of the best ever, instead of sitting on the sidelines wishing they’d eaten more before they came.

We’ve been talking with Yeshi Demisse, a well-known and extremely knowledgeable health coach, health advocate, caterer and restaurant owner. For decades, she has trained with some of the finest minds ever to have studied the healing properties of food, including Dr. Ann Wigmore, the person behind the wheatgrass juice therapy movement. Yeshi has been sharing her thoughts and knowledge about what it takes to offer delicious, healthy food that people want to eat that also fits their lifestyle.

One service Yeshi recommends is the U.S. Department of Agriculture database on the nutrient values of ingredients. It is incredibly complete and gives you lots of information on calories, nutrients, and other properties of every ingredient you can think of. You can access and download the USDA nutrient database for free.

Other easy strategies include doing internet searches of some of your favorite recipes and networking with specialty restaurants and stores in your neighborhood (including Whole Foods Market and any locally owned natural or health food stores in your area). A quick internet search for “vegan brownies” or “gluten-free cookies” will quickly yield many delicious, healthy options that will suprise you—and delight your clients!

Trying to avoid eggs and dairy to please a vegan crowd, to offer food that’s lower in cholesterol, or to give more options to people with allergies? Check out one of our favorite sites, the Post Punk Kitchen.

Here are some more quick and easy ideas for catering to special diets and requests:

  • Avoiding dairy? Try Earth Balance non-dairy butter spread in place of butter. Cooks up just like butter—you can even make a killer dairy-free frosting with it.
  • Daiya brand non-dairy cheese-style products can help you expand your vegan repertoire and reduce the fat content of many foods. Extreme Pizza offers a vegan pizza using Daiya mozzarella-style shreds, and both Tofurkey and Amy’s use Daiya products in many of their dairy-free meals.
  • Want to bake without eggs? Substitute 1/4 or 1/3 cup applesauce (depending on your recipe and your preference) in place of every egg. It’s cheaper, healthier, and cuts out cholesterol and a potential allergen. Another great egg substitute—flax seed eggs. Take one tablespoon of ground flax seed and mix with three tablespoons of water. Let stand for several minutes. The mixture will start to become thick and gelatinous like eggs. This ratio replaces one egg. Flax seed also contains brain-boosting Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Experiment with different types of milk in your cooking and baking. Unsweetened coconut milk makes a great, creamy substitute for cow milk. Trader Joe’s brand of unsweetened coconut milk adds no coconut flavor. Experiment with different brands and types of milk (including rice milk, almond milk, and many others that are on the market) to find what works best in different recipes. And make sure to check if your client has nut allergies before proceeding with almond milk.
  • Consider using recipes that can be made vegan or vegetarian upon request by leaving out certain ingredients or substituting ingredients, such as pasta dishes, sandwiches, pizza, and soups.
  • Lentils make a great beef substitute in many soups, stews, stroganoffs—even marinara sauces. Different lentils cook up differently, so don’t be afraid to experiment to find the right kind for your recipes. Check out this quick lentil comparison guide. Lentils are also very high in protein, iron, and fiber.
  • If you haven’t tried quinoa (pronounced kee-nwah) yet, do! Quinoa is a super food—it’s the only plant-based food that is a complete protein by itself, in addition to being a great source of fiber. Adding it to soups, stews, and salads can really boost any recipe’s nutritional value. It cooks up quickly and easily, just like rice. In foods such as chili, the small round texture of quinoa can fool people into thinking they are eating tiny pieces of ground meat.
  • Try baking with agave instead of sugar when you need to sweeten desserts. Agave offers a great-tasting way to lower the glycemic factor of your desserts, so diabetics and folks looking to lower their sugar intake can enjoy them too!
  • Try using high quality olive oils and different spice combinations (perhaps from local Indian or Asian stores, for example) that can add flavor without having to rely on fats and salt.
  • Think fresh! When you use fresh ingredients (fruits, vegetables, meats, beans), the flavors will speak for themselves. Resist the temptation to over season them.

Once you find a few substitutes and tricks that work for you, you’ll quickly find yourself looking forward to those special requests from clients—because it will be just another opportunity for you to win applause.

You’ll gain a reputation for quality and flexibility, perhaps even gaining an edge in the competitive catering market, as you become known as the company to call when you have to please your vegan cousins and your aunt with Celiac’s disease all in the same meal.

Done properly, and with an open mind, not only can catering to special diets and lifestyles actually increase your marketshare—you’ll be doing something good for your clients and their health, whether they realize it or not.