Planning work meals, from catered lunch meetings to company parties, can be challenging, but add in dietary restrictions and it’s a whole other level of complicated. That is, unless you know some tricks to make it easier.
According to the Food Allergy Research and Education website, 1 in 10 American adults today has food allergies. Further studies have revealed over 170 known foods that can cause some type of allergic reaction.
Keep in mind, those numbers don’t take into account other dietary restrictions based on general health guidelines, like low sugar or fat intake, or ones that are based on lifestyle choices, and cultural or religious customs/beliefs. With those considerations, it’s no wonder dietary restrictions are so important when you’re trying to feed an office crowd.
Setting up a business meal can mean figuring out the menu for dozens, perhaps hundreds of employees, coworkers, and executives. You’ll need to come up with food ideas, themes, and dietary restriction information for the caterer. (No pressure, right?) While that may sound complex and time-consuming, there are some ways to simplify workplace food orders.
Survey your entire workforce to learn their dietary restrictions
If you’re in charge of employee events, you’ll want to know what allergies and restrictions to prepare for, and the easiest way to do this is to ask. Create a mass email including a quick employee survey focused on individual dietary restrictions. Be sure to include the following:
- A food allergies section, listing some common food allergens (milk, peanuts, eggs, etc.) in a checklist format so employees can simply check the food(s) they need to avoid.
- A section concentrating on special diet types (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, kosher, etc.).
- Be sure to add an “other” field for any restrictions not listed in the choices.
Compile the survey answers into a reference file for upcoming food events. This way, you’ll have an accurate count of employees with each dietary restriction at your fingertips.
Get familiar with common food allergies
Being familiar with some common food allergies will come in handy when ordering food and communicating with caterers. Food allergies have the potential to create an immediate safety issue, so they should be a top priority. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Gluten allergies: Gluten is a type of protein found in select natural grains. Rye, barley, and wheat all contain gluten. An intolerance to gluten is called celiac disease, and the condition can cause digestive issues, discomfort, and a range of other symptoms. Here’s a list of gluten-free foods.
- Tree nut allergies: Tree nuts include pecans, cashews, almonds, etc., and if exposed, people with this allergy can experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.
- Peanut allergies: An allergy to peanuts can cause dangerous reactions, such as anaphylaxis, tightening of the throat, and skin reactions. Peanut allergies are generally regarded as one of the most severe allergy concerns since even tiny traces of peanuts or peanut products can trigger those symptoms.
- Cow’s milk allergy: A common food allergy that can trigger digestive upset and many of the same symptoms as peanut allergies.
Some other common food allergies are shellfish, soy (soybeans), eggs, and fish. According to the FDA website, the 8 allergies mentioned here account for 90% of all reported food allergens in the United States.
Understand common specialty diets
Unlike food allergies, specialty diets are more of a lifestyle choice. While these diets are sometimes recommended by a health professional to relieve food sensitivities and/or improve long-term health, an occasional slip-up usually doesn’t result in a medical emergency.
Here is some general information about a few of the most common specialty diets:
- Vegan: A diet that restricts meat and products from animals, including dairy and eggs. Mostly plant-based foods are consumed.
- Vegetarian: A diet that restricts meat but permits eggs and dairy.
- Gluten-free: This diet overlaps with gluten allergies, discussed in the common allergies section above. Restricts most types of grains.
- Kosher: A diet that meets the requirements of Jewish laws.
Know the difference between food preferences vs. dietary restrictions
It’s important to note that dietary restrictions are very different from food preferences. Your role in planning office meals doesn’t include making sure each employee is always served their favorite foods, prepared and seasoned to order. Your job entails working with a caterer to order a good meal option for each employee while accommodating their dietary restrictions.
While personal food tastes should take a backseat to health and safety concerns, favorite foods and personal tastes can still be a priority. You may choose to incorporate a couple of questions regarding food preferences in the office email survey. This will give you an idea of a few collective favorites to keep in mind.
Work with restriction-friendly caterers
When you’re shopping for a caterer or food provider, ask questions to see if they have a smooth system of managing dietary restrictions. Also, ask to see the catering menus. (These menus can often be found online on the caterer/restaurant website.) If the menu offers several meal options for dietary restrictions, there’s a good chance the staff has an effective way of handling those orders.
Opt for buffet-style catering and accurate labeling
Depending on the types and number of food restrictions you’re working with, there are certain dishes that simplify the logistics for office food events. Dishes like tacos, nachos, and baked potatoes can be served via separate stations/bars, so employees choose only the foods and toppings they’re able to eat.
When planning for larger crowds, a buffet setup is perfect for accommodating dietary requirements. Just be sure to work with the caterer/food provider to display clear and accurate labeling.
Offer individually-packaged meals
When arranging a meal for a smaller group, individual meals, like boxed lunches, are a convenient and practical choice. ezCater can provide buffet-style or individually packaged meals for any sized crowd. You can also leave specific instructions for each meal and have the food provider mark the meals with the appropriate names so there’s no guessing or handling the food. You can simply give each employee the correct meal.
Let ezCater simplify food ordering and delivery for your workplace. We’re pros at helping you find great options to accommodate everyone on your team.