5 of My Favorite Recipes for Accommodating Special Diets at the Backyard Barbecue

(Image credit: Megan Gordon)

A few weeks ago, we invited an acquaintance over for dinner and when we asked her if there was anything she was allergic to or didn’t care for, she sent back a pretty lengthy email of all the things she didn’t like.

I confess that for a moment this dampened my enthusiasm for hosting, adding a feeling of burden and exhaustion rather than excitement. But considering dietary allergies and preferences is of course an important part of hospitality, and we try to turn the challenging moments into opportunities for creativity. Here are a few dishes that have been working well for as we host backyard barbecues for friends of diverse dietary needs.

I suppose the reality of today’s eating issues and allergy concerns is such that if you’re having a group of folks over for dinner, there’s some inevitable shuffling and accommodating that just has to happen. The nice thing about inviting your friends over is that you probably already know most of their allergies or issues. You know your neighbor is gluten-free while your coworker has been vegan since she was a teenager.

But for friends you’re just getting to know, it’s always best practice to ask. We once invited a couple over that we were excited to get to know better and as 7 p.m. neared and we realized we weren’t quite as prepared as we’d intended to be, we picked up pizza from a really great wood-fired spot in town only to learn she was vegan and gluten-free. Oops.

This time of year, most of our gatherings are outdoors, which means a great deal of grilling and family-style salads, crackers and cheese, easy drinks and simple desserts like brownies or cookies. Or ice cream. Many of these are easy to adapt for everyone to enjoy.

My Five Try-To-Please Everyone Dishes

Here are a few menu ideas that have worked for us lately — great dining outside recipes that are simple to pull together and often please all kinds of eaters. And of course, I’d love your tips or recipe ideas for friends with allergies or food aversions.

1. Perfect Protein Salad – Vegan

I love this salad because it’s vegan and packs a serious hit of protein —great for the vegetarians or vegans in the crowd (and it’s light on the gluten, although it does contain spelt), but perhaps more importantly: it’s truly delicious. I’ll be 100% honest here and say that I’ve never made it at home, but I buy it often at our local co-op, and it makes a brilliant side dish to accompany anything on the grill.

I find that even the pickiest of eaters really seem to dig soba noodles and peanut sauce. Many soba noodles (although not all — check the package!) are gluten-free (if prepared without the soy sauce), vegetarian, and you can doctor them up with seasonal vegetables or baked tofu — if done right, this can be an entree in and of itself.

Fruit salad is always a must in the warmer months. It’s colorful, easy, and doubles as a quick dessert if you’re out of ideas in that regard. This time of year, berries and stone fruit are so ripe and juicy and a little drizzle of honeyed yogurt makes them feel downright regal.

What would an outdoor gathering be without a good deviled egg? I find many recipes today can get pretty fancy, but a good classic deviled egg appeals to old-school and more hip diners alike. This version has a little bacon (because, why not?) and a smattering of chives. Pretty and delicious.

5. Chicken Satay Skewers – Gluten-Free

Both kids and adults love a good chicken skewer. And while the vegetarians in your group obviously won’t flock to these, they’re a great easy source of protein and — in my experience — disappear very, very quickly. Plus, they can be served warm or room temperature so it’s easy to prepare a big batch ahead of time and cover them until guests arrives.