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Before you serve up the perfect holiday meal, it's important to know and understand the dietary needs of your guests.

Festive meals with friends and family are one of the best parts of the holidays—but they can easily be complicated by a range of dietary preferences. What if you’re setting a table for your vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, low-fat, lactose-intolerant guests? The number of potential dietary restrictions can be dizzying, but you can make sure everyone’s happy and well-fed with a few considerations. Read on for tips to prepare something pleasing for whatever palate comes your way.

Be sure you understand your guests’ dietary restrictions

If you’re not familiar with an egg allergy, for example, you might not realize that some pasta noodles and even pretzels contain eggs. Vegetable soup may seem like the perfect choice for vegetarians, but if it’s made with chicken stock, it won’t work. Do your research so that your efforts to accommodate won’t be in vain.

Beware of cross-contact

Take particular care when cooking for someone with an allergy, as these can be very serious and appear to be on the rise. It’s easiest to make the allergen-free meal first, then cover it up and keep it away from the rest of the cooking process. Make sure all the utensils and pans you use are clean. For example, a knife used to spread peanut butter and wiped off is never a safe utensil in the presence of anyone with a peanut allergy.

Get creative

Cooking around a dietary restriction doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy some tried-and-true holiday favorites. Ground flaxseed plus applesauce can replace eggs in baked goods, and there are a variety of alternative milks—almond, coconut, soy, rice—that can stand in for regular cow’s milk. Those who can’t eat gluten can still have treats like cookies, cakes, and pies, thanks to creative bakers who have perfected recipes for just about everything. The internet is a treasure trove of great ideas; you’re sure to find good options for your guests.

Make it a potluck

People with severe dietary restrictions are often used to bringing a dish of their own to dinner parties, so make it official and have everyone contribute something to share. This can be a fun way to try new things. You could provide the main dishes and have guests bring sides and desserts; that way, everyone has something they know they can eat.

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