Recipe Spotlight

What to Cook for a Crowd with Different Dietary Requirements

When cooking for a group with multiple dietary restrictions, it can be tricky to be the consummate host. Here's how to feed everyone.

Published Sept. 25, 2023.

Recently, I hosted a four-day gathering for nine people with 10 different dietary restrictions. To say I was worried would be a vast understatement.

We had everything: no gluten, no meat, no dairy, no mushrooms, and much more. All had varying degrees of importance from “just a preference” to “just in case, do we know where the closest hospital is?” 

Though my task was uniquely challenging, this scenario is becoming more and more common. Whether nature or nurture, food allergies and dietary requirements are on the rise

Many restaurants are aware and accommodating of dietary issues, but it can be difficult when this problem arises at home. You can’t make different dinners for everyone.

We’ve compiled a list of suggested meals and preparation styles to cook for a crowd where everyone—including the host—enjoys the dinner, feels included, and stays healthy. 

(But first, an important disclaimer: There's more to cooking for people with special diets than just choosing a recipe. If you're cooking for someone with severe allergies, make sure they're comfortable with your serving setup.)

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

Spread-Style Meals That Offer Ultimate Flexibility 

My coworkers are food lovers and problem solvers. When I asked them what they would serve in this scenario, they all had the same answer: DIY-style meals offer the most flexibility for the diners and the least amount of stress for the cook.

Build-it-yourself meals allow people to select what foods work for them and avoid the ones that don't, without putting the responsibility on you.

For tackling this kind of meal, we suggest taking inventory of all guests' allergies (and the level of cross-contamination they allow) and then creating a themed dinner with choose-your-own elements. Make sure each person has at least one option at every step.

Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Build-Your-Own Bowls

Bring Sweetgreen home by making a couple plain bases, a few simple proteins, and some roasted veggies, and ending it all with a topping and sauce bar.

Bases: Everyday White Rice, Foolproof Oven-Baked Brown Rice, Quinoa Pilaf with Herbs and Lemon, Basic Farro Pilaf 

Proteins: Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts, Garlicky Broiled Shrimp, Teriyaki Tofu, tempeh steaks, sautéed eggplant with plant-based meat

Veggies: Skillet-Roasted Carrots and Parsnips; Skillet-Roasted Broccoli; Kale with Garlic, Red Pepper Flakes, and Lemon; Roasted Sweet Potatoes 

Sauces: Hummus with Smoked Paprika, dairy-free green goddess dressing, Roasted Garlic Chimichurri, Lemon Aioli, Tzatziki Sauce, Red Pepper–Almond Sauce 

Toppings: Microwave-Fried Shallotsshichimi togarashi, Microwave Cheese Crisps, Gim, Chili Crisp 

2. Make-Your-Own Pizza

Whether you have an indoor or outdoor pizza oven or you simply make them on the grill or in your oven, making your own pizza is one of the easiest DIY meals because it mostly just requires the host to chop toppings and stretch dough

Almost all ingredients can be store-bought, but if you feel like elevating the experience with a few homemade options, we have some suggestions. 

Dough: Classic Pizza Dough, gluten-free pizza dough, thin-crust whole-wheat pizza 

Sauce: No-Cook Pizza Sauce, Basic Pizza Sauce, Perfect Pesto, alfredo sauce   

Toppings: Caramelized Onions, pepperoni, roasted vegetables, anchovies, Spicy Honey, dollops of homemade ricotta  

3. Burrito/Taco Bar

For this simple spread, make a variety of proteins and vegetables, buy any additions, have a few homemade salsas on hand, and let your guests decide whether or not to use flour, corn, or other types of GF or dietary-specific tortillas. 

Fillings: Plant-based chorizo, shredded chicken, sweet and spicy fried fish, grilled steak, bean and vegetable

Salsas: Fresh Tomato, Roasted Tomato–Lime, Salsa Roja, Quick Tomatillo, Mango-Mint, fresh corn and avocado   

Additions: Tangy Apple-Cabbage Slaw, Bell Pepper Slaw, Chipotle and Pepita Guacamole  

125 Flavorful Recipes

Nutritious Delicious

You don't have to choose between eating healthy and eating what you want. These recipes use nature’s powerhouse ingredients to get great flavor while minimizing reliance on saturated fats, refined grains, and added sugar.

Single Recipes for Multiple Dietary Requirements

When you don’t want to prepare an entire spread and instead just feel like making one dish that has several dietary accommodations baked in, we have some options for you.

I asked my coworkers: Whether vegan, vegetarian, soy-free, nut-free, gluten-free, or peanut-free, what do you make when trying to accommodate multiple diets?

1. Japchae 

This was my go-to meal when cooking for my large, dietary-restricted crowd and it was a hit. The base noodles, Korean sweet potato noodles, are naturally gluten-free and hold onto sauce really well. To keep the dish gluten-free, I used tamari instead of soy sauce which generally contains wheat. To accommodate a pescatarian and someone with a mushroom allergy, I just cooked these elements separately and left them on the side for people to sprinkle onto their own plates. 

Who It’s Good For: Those following dairy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, tree nut–free, soy-free (using tamari), vegetarian, and vegan diets.

2. Breakfast Casserole 

Essentially a crustless quiche in a baking dish, a breakfast casserole is great for a varied crowd because you can swap any protein, vegetable, or spice in or out depending upon your group's dietary needs. One of our members raved, “One of us is dairy-free, the other has celiac, so this was perfect to please everyone."

Who It’s Good For: Those following dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, peanut-free, tree nut–free, or vegetarian (provided they eat eggs) diets.

3. Red Lentil Soup 

This soup is spiced, rich, and nourishing because of the thick texture and nutrients that simmered red lentils bring. To make this a complete meal, pair it with a hearty salad and serve dressings on the side. 

Who It’s Good For: Those following gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, nut-free, soy-free, vegetarian or vegan (if you use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth) diets.  

4. Vegan Barbecue Tempeh, Mushroom, and Bell Pepper Skewers

Tempeh is an awesome, naturally gluten-free (most often; check your brands) vegetarian protein for grilled skewers. You can add any vegetables, or even fruit, to your skewers and the same glaze can be used for any meat skewers you make separately. 

Who It’s Good For: Those following gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, nut-free, soy-free, vegetarian or vegan diets. 

5. Walkaway Ratatouille

Most ratatouille recipes call for labor- and time-intensive treatments like salting and/or pressing to remove excess moisture from the vegetables. Not only is this meal largely hands off and fuss-free, but it's also ready in under an hour, and it’s chock-full of vegetables while accommodating some of the most common dietary restrictions. 

Who It’s Good For: Those following dairy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, soy-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets.

6. Falafel

Like a cross between a spread meal and a single dish, making falafel the centerpiece of your dinner allows you to provide lots of pita, sauces, and toppings on the side for people to choose from while you only have to cook one main element. Though this recipe uses all-purpose flour, an equal amount of chickpea flour can be substituted for a gluten-free version. To accommodate this substitution, we increase the water. 

Who It’s Good For: Those following dairy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, soy-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets.

7. Chili-Spiced Chicken Thighs and Potatoes

This recipe is a great example of a jazzed-up protein that is still widely applicable to different dietary needs without sacrificing flavor. It can serve as a complete meal as is, or for a vegetable element you can add some simply dressed greens on the side. 

Who It’s Good For: Those following dairy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, and soy-free diets.

8. Best Prime Rib

Provided your guests eat meat, you’re in luck. Though this is technically a plain protein, there is nothing plain about a centerpiece-worthy prime rib. Serve it with any vegetable sides, salads, or potatoes to round out the meal. 

Who It’s Good For: Those following dairy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, and soy-free diets. 

9. Chicken Shawarma 

Instead of going out for shawarma, we were able to create a home version by using the broiler and boneless chicken thighs. Chicken shawarma allows guests to assemble their own pita pockets with as much or as little sauce and vegetables as they desire. To accommodate more diets, make roasted tofu as a vegetarian option and provide gluten-free pita.

Who It’s Good For: Those following gluten-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, and soy-free diets.

170+ Good-for-your-gut recipes

Cook for Your Gut Health

Whether you struggle with a gut disorder or occasional digestive discomfort, or are simply looking to eat a more healthful diet, these recipes and resources can help you eat well and maintain a healthy digestive tract.

Allergy-Friendly Swaps We Love

Sometimes a recipe is so close to fitting your restrictions but doesn't quite work because of an ingredient or two. We have a few standby swaps that are typically fine in small amounts without significantly altering the overall recipe. 

  1. Swap tamari for soy sauce when you need to be gluten-free.
  2. Swap sunflower seed butter for peanut butter when you need a peanut- or tree nut–free alternative. 
  3. Swap vegan, non-dairy milks for cow’s milk. We like oat milk when baking due to its higher sugar content and almond milk in savory applications because it is more neutral. 
  4. Swap garlic or onions for garlic oil when alliums can cause an issue, such as with the Low FODMAP diet. 

This is a members' feature.