Does Atkins qualify as a "special needs" meal?

In other words, should people on low-carb diets be treated the same way you would a vegetarian in a social setting where you’re having people over? The reason I ask is that a friend of mine recently had a small dinner party. Now, she knew that one of her guests was vegetarian. The guest had asked that there be a meatless option, or if that would be too much work, indicated that she would be happy to bring something herself. It was very nice of her, and my friend the hostess took her up on her offer because some of the invitees had (rudely) invited more people to come with them and hadn’t offered to bring extra food, so the vegetarian brought some great vegetable casseroles. Another guest told my friend he was allergic to peanuts and walnuts. My friend who was hosting the party had been about to make a walnut cake, a signature dessert of hers. Well, that idea was out the window, and all she had on hand was fresh fruit, and no time to get other ingredients to make something else. My friend the hostess thought that another one of her guests might be on the Atkins diet, but really didn’t have time to go out and get something to accommodate her, too, so she decided not to ask since she thought about it too late.

It turns out the person who my friend thought might be on the Atkins diet was, in fact, on the diet, and was angry with my friend that she decided not to ask her if she had a special request because of her dietary “needs.” The friend who was on Atkins complained that all she was able to eat was salad because the casseroles the vegetarian brought had too many carbs in them (breadcrumbs), and the fruit had too much sugar (she’s still in induction), so she couldn’t eat any dessert, either. And, of course, she couldn’t eat the lasagna for the pasta, and the bread for the, well, bread. I thought it was rude of my friend to be angry at the hostess - after all, she was getting a wonderful meal and some really great wine, at no cost to her. I said if her diet was that important to her, maybe she should have brought something she could eat or mentioned it to the hostess earlier, while the low-carb friend contends that if the hostess had an inkling that she might be on a diet, she should have asked. She went on to say that her diet choice was every bit as valid as a vegetarian’s or someone with a food allergy, but I disagree.

So, would a Miss Manners expert help me with this one? My friend adjusted her meal to accommodate the needs of two of her guests - should she have gone ahead and made sure no one was on a low-carb diet, too? Should low-carb diets be considered “special needs,” like a vegetarian diet or a food allergy??

Food allergies and vegetarianism are not in the same ballpark as Atkins. The Atkins followers could have been invited and allowed to fend for themselves. Would your friend cater to somebody on a grapefruit juice and kelp diet?

I was just reading a Miss Manners book that touched on this topic, actually. It’s one of my personal pet peeves, and I say that as someone who is actually on what some people would consider a “special-needs” diet. (I’m not on Atkins, but I do monitor my carbohydrate intake to some extent; I would eat a small portion of brown rice, for example, but I would probably skip any kind of sugary dessert.)

The polite thing to do, if you are a guest and you show up for a dinner at which food is being served that you either can’t or won’t eat, is to politely pass on it. As a host/hostess, the polite thing to do is to accept the first refusal and not try to push the food on the person who has rejected it. In other words:

Host: Would you care for some fried potatoes?
Guest: If I ate a fried potato, my blood sugar would hit 250, and I would think you would know that after all the times I’ve talked about my diabetes. I can’t have potatoes! Isn’t there anything here I can eat?

Host: Would you care for some fried potatoes?
Guest: No, thanks.
Host: Come on, try some.
Guest: No, really, I’d rather not.
Host: One bite isn’t going to kill you. I spent all day making these, you know.

Host: Would you care for some fried potatoes?
Guest: No, thanks.
Miss Manners suggests that if there is absolutely nothing you can eat at a dinner party, accept a small amount of food on your plate and then “muss it around” to make it look like you’ve at least tried to eat. Then eat a real dinner when you get home. It is never appropriate to complain about the choice of food at a dinner party. (And, again, not that your OP mentioned this scenario, but it is also inappropriate to demand of your guests that they explain why they choose not to eat a particular item.)

It was very nice of the hostess in this case to try to anticipate the dietary needs of her guests, but it was not necessary of her to do so. For example, had she gone ahead and made the walnut cake, her only obligation would have been to tell the person with the nut allergy that the cake contained nuts. He would then be free to pass on the cake.

Of course your friend’s dietary choice is a valid one. She can choose to eat whatever she wants. But that doesn’t mean that the hosts at dinner parties she attends are required to provide something that is on her dietary plan, or even to ask in advance whether she has special dietary needs. (In the case of someone with an allergy, it’s their responsibility to inform the host or hostess of the allergy, not to imply that the hostess should then change the menu, but so that she can tell the guest if any of the dishes contains the offending item.)

See, that’s what I thought. I mean, I always thought that there’s a certain line over which you do not cross when taking advantage of a host or hostess’ hospitality. Plus, if you know the host or hostess is cooking for a large crowd of people, I think it’s inconsiderate to expect them to try to accommodate the tastes and diets of every single person there. I mean, vegetarianism and allergies are one thing - the first often has moral implications to the person involved, and the second can lead to death. But if I’m on a diet, I assume it’s up to me to make sure I don’t go hog wild at a party, versus expecting my host or hostess to cater to those needs. If it were a small party, maybe it would be different. But if it’s a big party where food needs to be made in bulk, it seems like you should just enjoy the company of your friends and bring something yourself if you’re worried there won’t be anything there you can eat.

I don’t see why vegetarianism is on a moral highground above low-carb. Many people on low-carb diets are on them for the purpose of restoring their health. They might be obese or have high blood pressure or high cholesterol or be at risk for heart disease, and thus have opted for the famous heart specialist’s diet. It’s not hard to provide something low-carb. In fact, it’s the easiest food to prepare that there is. Some chunks of cheese. Some pepperoni. Some broccoli. What’s the problem?

From the host’s point of view: If I’m having one or two couples over, I’ll inquire as to any dietary limitations anyone might. If it’s a dinner party (8 to 12 people seated at the table) or a party-party (20+ people, buffet), I leave it up to guests to fend for themselves. Of course, in either of the latter two cases, I have learned to expect that many, if not all, guests will ask “what can I bring?” Obviously, in that case, the person might well say “I’m doing Atkins, why don’t I bring along some [whatever the hell those crazy people can eat],” or “I’m a vegetarian, may I bring my famous veggie delight casserole?”

I do remember a dinner party where I made turkey; frankly, it didn’t occur to me that it might be a problem for anyone. One of the guests came up before I served dinner and said “Psst, I’m allergic to turkey – don’t take it personally when I don’t have any, but with all the other food, there’s plenty that I will enjoy.” I thought that was gracious of her – not that I would have commented on her decision not to eat turkey, of course, being a member of the Miss Manners Fan Club.

I actually agree with this somewhat. I don’t see why the hostess should make a special meal for a vegetarian either. Unless the guest is staying for an extended period of time, there is usually something he or she can make do with. Basically, if you accept the invite, eat what is offered or don’t eat what is offered but don’t make the host into your personal chef.

BTW, I am a vegetarian and am perfectly content with sides. It’s nice when the host asks me what I’d like to eat but it’s totally unnecessary and I dislike being “fussed” over. I’d rather just quietly eat what I can and then eat when I get home if I’m still hungry.

Many people don’t eat meat because they think it’s morally wrong. I’m not one of those people, and I personally would not make an entire menu meatless if I found out a friend who was coming to a dinner party at my house was vegetarian; after all, if I’m providing the food for a large number of people (I think there were 30 at my friend’s house), I see no reason to go to every single one of them and ask “are you low-carb, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc., etc.” They should tell the host/hostess stuff like that and bring something to contribute if they can’t eat something. While the host/hostess is providing the food and beverages, her house is hardly a restaurant.

Correct. The vegetarian should simply refrain from eating any meat that happens to be served, without making a fuss over it or complaining about the menu.

Once again, it is nice for a host or hostess to inquire about guests’ dietary needs or preferences beforehand, but it is not required. It is rude for any guest to show up and then make a big scene or complain about the menu, whether their diet happens to be Atkins, low-fat, vegetarian, Vegan, South Beach, fruit-only, or whatever. If you want to select exactly what will be on your menu for the evening, go to a restaurant instead of a dinner party thrown by friends.

Nonvegetarians seem to have a very difficult time understanding viscerally what it means to be a vegetarian for ethical reasons. It’s not like deciding you don’t like the color pink, and so you refuse to eat pink foods; it’s more like deciding that you don’t like Nestle’s terrible practices in third-world countries* and so refusing to eat Nestle products. Although you may disagree with the underlying premises of the ethical decision, it is an ethical decision, and carries ethical weight. That’s very different from a low-carb diet. IMO, we tend to treat people’s ethical decisions like any other consumer decision, and that’s a mistake.

That said, I know that strategically it won’t get me (or cows) anywhere to complain about food served at a dinner party. Strategy, not etiquette, keeps me quiet.


  • I haven’t followed Nestle’s activities in years and am not sure if this analogy holds still.

Vegetarians I would try to accomodate as a host… Atkins followers can fend for themselves. Unless you have a major food allergy, which you should tell me about. I respect vegetarians, even though I am a happy carnivore, and have no problem making a dish that meets (no pun) their needs. Atkins devotees need not apply. In other words, I agree with LHoD. Ethical/religious/medical outweighs trendy dieting any day.

I don’t recall saying anything about trendy. I said that some people are on the diet to restore their health. I don’t see why a medical need is second fiddle to a moral objection. Suppose someone had a moral compulsion that the group say a blessing before the meal. Should hosts accomodate that?

You have absolutely nailed it.

No. When you attend someone else’s home for a dinner party, you play by their rules. If that means you don’t get to say the prayer you would normally say, and you don’t get to eat the food you would normally eat (even if that means you don’t get to eat any food at all), well, that’s part and parcel of attending a dinner party. Again, if you want to have dinner exactly the way you would have it, have it in your own home, or maybe go to a restaurant.

I do find the attitude that “I will accommodate some diets but not others” to be pretty obnoxious. It’s none of anyone else’s business why someone is following a particular diet. You either decide you’re going to accommodate people’s particular dietary requests, or you decide you’re not. Maybe someone is limiting their carbohydrate intake on the advice of their doctor; conversely, maybe someone is a vegetarian because they decided that green food is icky. It’s not your business as a host to find out why people aren’t eating whatever foods they choose not to eat. You can either choose to find out what their preferences are, and then build a menu around those preferences, or you can decide just to come up with your own menu and hope that everyone finds at least one thing they can eat. Whether or not someone is following a diet for medical reasons, ethical reasons, or because they woke up that day and the Great Gazoo hovered over their bed and told them not to eat carbs, is, again, none of anybody’s business except that person’s.

Well, that’s pretty unlikely, isn’t it? That should read non-green food. Buh.

I do atkins for health purposes, being diabetic i want to keep assorted body parts attatched, my vision intact and by blood glucose levels under control. the side benefit that i am also losing weight is besides the point…

on that note, i will graze for what i can eat, artfully rearrange portions to look like i have eaten or if it is a party/buffet situation i wil volunteer to make and bring something to pass. i love to cook=) and i love to show that atkins even on induction isnt just fat and meat=)

Yes, they should. If someone feels an obligation to lead a group prayer, let them. Allowing someone to practice what they beleive does not mean you need to accept it, support it, etc. Just tolerate it.

Some of us are following Atkins not because it’s “trendy” and not because we’re “crazy people” as twickster said, but for actual medical reasons. I started on it under the care of my neurologist. I cannot eat soy, peanuts, root veggies, veggies like squash and pumpkin, and have to carefully limit the amount of wheat products I eat (which usually means pasta). All these things will trigger excrutiating migraines for me.
I’m nearly 40 years old, and have finally figured out a way to eat that doesn’t cause me to be curled up in bed 3 or 4 days a week.

Of course, in a dinner party situation, I would do my best Eve impersonation, say, “My goodness, everything smells divine!” and just eat what I could. If I were asked by a hostess, I would be honest and say that I’m allergic to root veggies and can’t eat a lot of wheat products, but that as long as there’s green salad, I’m fine.

BiblioCat - my interpretation of what you describe is that you’ve got a whole series of nasty intolerances and allergies, and the simplest way to catagorise them is to describe it as the Atkins diet.

If I was told by somebody that they were expecting me to prepare them an Atkins meal, I’d be pissed off. However, if they said that the best way to avoid their intolerances was to follow Atkins, it’d seem a lot more reasonable.

And I make little effort for veggies, either. If I can bias the meal towards non-meat, then fine. I’m not about to cook something separate.

I’ve been brought up under the guidelines of “If it’s nearly impossible for the host to feed you properly, offer to bring your own dish.” After years of my parents doing this, I now follow suit when others are cooking. ( Without a lot of practice, it’s not easy to produce really good meals without onion or garlic, and I would not expect anyone to try.)

If someone is on Atkins, this might be a wonderful alternative. There has to be some tasty low-carb dish out there that they can share with the other guests, just as the vegetarian can share their delicious casseroles. The first thing one learns on a special-needs diet is never to rely on others for a properly prepared meal. It all comes down to personal responsibility.

If you are a host and wish to cover your bets, standard vegetable platters/ cheese platters will do for either Atkins or vegetarian( maybe not the cheese, but you get my gist) munchies. There are a good deal of cookbooks now that deal with either that can be checked out of a library. You can find some pretty good entree/dessert options that way. For desserts where the great majority of carbs are from sugar, Splenda works wonders and there are dairy-free dessert options.