Bring your own food to a holiday party

Etiquette lessons (and recipe ideas) for healthy eaters

For athletes with dietary restrictions, holiday feasts can present a set of bleak options: go hungry, eat beforehand, or bring your own food at the risk of coming off as rude.

But etiquette experts agree that arriving with a dish that fits your nutritional needs without rubbing anyone the wrong way is possible. You just have to navigate the situation politely. Here, the do’s and don’ts:

Do: Let the host or hostess know about your restrictions ahead of time

He or she may be preparing an elaborate meal, or perhaps has already even accounted for specific dietary restrictions. Maggie Oldham, a modern etiquette coach who teaches classes at The Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C, suggests RSVPing to the invitation with a "What can I bring?" If the hostess replies "Nothing!" or "Just bring yourself!" then you can explain your dietary restriction. “Let her know that you would absolutely love to attend the party, but would hate for her to go out of her way to accommodate, and then offer to bring a dish,” Oldham says.

Don’t: Bring a single serving

Make something that everyone can enjoy, says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, founder of The Protocol School of Texas. “Avoid bringing only food for yourself or a protein bar to eat during the meal.” Simply ask the hostess how many servings they recommend, adds Oldham.

Don’t: Upstage the host or hostess.

Stick with appetizers or hearty sides that could carry into the main meal. “Never bring a main course to someone's home if they're hosting a sit-down dinner party,” says Oldham. “It could take the spotlight off of the hostess and her hard work.”

Do: Be creative and fun with your selections.

“Make it a focal point of conversation or keep it low key–it’s totally up to you,” says Gottsman. Consider the below suggestions—sample dishes that will be well-received by all, from Bethany Snodgrass, operations manager at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute.

Restriction: Gluten-Free

Party Dish: Butternut Squash Lasagna

“Use a mandoline to make thin slices of butternut squash in a lasagna instead of pasta sheets,” says Snodgrass. Pop in a toaster oven 20 to 30 minutes before meal time. Or try using the root vegetable in this healthy spin on latkes.

Restriction: Vegetarian

Party Dish (1): Baked Peppers

Use half of a bell pepper like a bowl, and stuff it with veggies of your choice, lentils, and anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric and cayenne. Good for vegetarian diets.

Party Dish (2): Seasonal Salad

Take inspiration from Los Angeles-based chef Marcel Vigneron and triple or quadruple this Catalan Brussels salad. The vegetable is in peak season and goes well with tart Granny Smith apples. Pro tip: bring the dressing in a mason jar to avoid spills.

Restriction: Vegan

Party Dish: Hummus Dip

“You can bring veggie crisps to snack on with this healthy, homemade dip,” Notes Snodgrass. Try this lemon turmeric version or opt for a festivepumpkin-flavored one. “They can be made in advance, wrapped up, and will travel well.”

Restriction: Low-Carb

Party Dish: Cauliflower Rice

This cruciferous veggie makes a great substitute for carb-heavy rice. Pair it with tofu for an extra protein punch in this recipe.

Gluten-free tofu wraps with curry-almond sauce

Inspired by the Balinese dish gado-gado, these wraps pair protein and vegetables.