How to create a Shabbos or Yom Tov menu that will make all your guests happy year round.
Second only to the terror of not having enough food for all your Shabbos guests is the prospect of serving your guests food they can’t—or won’t—eat. Though you may know your family’s food preferences inside and out, when you’re filling your table with guests, you add a layer of uncertainty that can be eased with careful planning.
Invite your guests with your menu in mind:
Don’t invite vegetarians if you’re planning a meal that has meat in every dish. If you’re committed to certain types of cuisine, then be sure to invite guests who will appreciate them.
Ask them what they avoid and prefer:
When your guests accept the invite, ask them about dietary restrictions. Make sure to ask about dislikes as well as allergies. Don’t just eliminate foods, though. Ask them what their favorite Pesach dishes are, and then try to incorporate those foods into your menu.
Assume that they’ve left something out:
If you’re the kind of person who brings home guests from shul at the last minute, you need to expect the unexpected. Even if all your guests have assured you that they “eat anything,” don’t be cavalier in planning your menu. Some guests are reluctant to tell you about their dislikes or preferences. Others just don’t think about how much they hate olives (or tzimmes or fish) because they’d never make it at home. Strive for enough variety to please everyone.
Balance your meal:
Think of your meal as needing three essential components: proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Make sure to include at least one dish from each of these groups in your menu. Don’t repeat the same ingredient in too many dishes. If you don’t eat gebrokts, the carbohydrates might be difficult to vary, so make sure to have plain matzah on hand if your guests are sick of potatoes.
Vary your ingredients:
Making mushroom chicken alongside mushroom crepes might thrill your children, but what about a guest who doesn’t eat mushrooms? Limit controversial ingredients like broccoli and spinach to one dish per meal. If you’re inviting families, consider the ages of your guests when planning and include kid-friendly food.
Don’t forget the dieters:
Shabbos and Yom Tov can make it hard to stick to diet plans. Make sure that your menu includes healthy choices, such as lightly dressed vegetables and fruit options for dessert. Dieting guests will quietly thank you.
Make sure the menu works “minus one”:
If each of your guests didn’t eat one item you serve, would they go home hungry? If the answer is yes, you need to diversify your menu.
When preparing your meal, be careful when using high-allergen ingredients such as nuts and fish. Wash all your utensils and cutting boards and wipe down your counters thoroughly if you’ve used them.
Make things easy to separate:
If you know you’re hosting picky eaters, serve sauces and dressings on the side. Avoid “hiding” ingredients or chopping strong-flavored items too finely. Though food gurus will tell you to hide foods your kids don’t like in soups and purees, this could be a nasty surprise for your guests.
Pesach preparations can be stressful, but planning to please all palates can eliminate some of the stress. You don’t need a staff of twelve to turn out a Yom Tovmeal that satisfies even the pickiest of guests. Just design a menu that has something for everyone, and your guests will be sure to go home happy.