Considerate Office Catering for Special Diets: How to Accommodate Employees’ Needs

Posted by on Friday, January 10th, 2014 with 3 Comments

Over 25 million Americans have diabetes — that’s more than 8 percent (and the number’s rising). 15 million have a food allergy of some kind. 1 percent of the population suffers from the severe gluten intolerance known as celiac disease, while nearly a third of all Americans report that a gluten-free diet appeals to them.

Especially in January, during the height of diet season, it may seem like no one in the office is going to be up for a cheesy slice of pepperoni pizza!

allergy sign at work

Food allergies and sensitivities are on the rise.
Image source: flickr user Transguyjay

With the numbers of food sensitivities and diabetes on the rise, along with costly chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease, every workplace has to determine for themselves the lengths they will go to in order to accommodate special diets (although certain requirements under the Americans With Disabilities Act must be met by all employers). It may be well worth the extra effort, as employees with restricted diets will feel more involved and engaged in company culture when they are able to fully participate in office parties and business lunches.

As an added bonus, providing more wholesome, health-conscious options (and saving pizza for a special occasion rather than a weekly routine) will also help improve the diet of the entire office, which can directly lead to a happier, more productive workforce. Employers should be a cheerleader for employee wellness and support healthy diets, and avoid living up to the typical office’s more common reputation as a threat to weight loss goals.

In many cases, the office manager or admin in charge of catering and meal planning will need to become well-educated and creative in order to accommodate special diets in the workplace. Here are a few tips on how to approach different dietary needs that may arise:

gluten free soy sauce

Keep gluten-free soy sauce on hand for Chinese takeout meals.
Image source: flickr user Gluten Free Allergen Free Expo


One of the fastest-growing food trends is gluten-free food. While there’s a significant difference between suffering from potentially deadly celiac disease and simply following Miley Cyrus’s gluten-free example, the reality is that many Americans are finding that avoiding gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) helps them lose weight and generally feel better. One easy way to accommodate gluten-free diets? Rather than ordering special gluten-free pizza crusts or a few sandwiches with gluten-free bread, add a few hearty entree salads (free of croutons) to the pizza or deli order. All vegetables, fruits, meats, and seafood are gluten-free (unless they’re breaded and fried), as well as rice, corn, and quinoa. Make a few key swaps like corn tortillas instead of flour from the Mexican place, and ask for gluten-free soy sauce from your favorite Chinese restaurant (or just keep a bottle on hand in the office fridge for those who prefer it).

Food Allergies

When it comes to employees with food allergies, communication is usually the key. Employees with food allergies have likely been making special requests and alternate arrangements their entire lives, and will appreciate feeling that their coworker in charge of catering is their ally! Ask the employee privately if they have trusted restaurants with dishes they know are safe, and make a point to order from those establishments frequently. When you can’t (for instance, the boss wants his favorite pizza to celebrate a special project’s completion or the staff’s requested Mexican food on Cinco de Mayo), share the menu with the employee ahead of time so you can plan together.

diabetes infographic

Diabetes is on the rise.
Image source: flickr user GDS Infographics


As diabetes has become increasingly common (with nearly one in ten Americans suffering from the disease), so has diabetes stigma — many may view diabetes as a consequence of poor lifestyle choices rather than an illness. Diabetics may not feel comfortable discussing their situation openly in the office or want it spread around the break room, but luckily, there are easy ways to adjust an office catering menu to include diabetic-friendly foods. The chief concern is usually carbohydrates: many people with diabetes carefully count and manage their carb intake, which can quickly break down into glucose during digestion, causing a spike in insulin levels. Order plenty of non-starchy vegetables (like spinach or broccoli instead of potatoes), lean proteins like chicken or fish, and nutrient-dense carbohydrates like whole grains rather than the processed or refined carbs found in sweets and white bread. When there’s a birthday party or other dessert-focused occasion, portion out some smaller serving sizes so diabetic coworkers can participate without exceeding their daily dietary limits of sugar and simple carbohydrates.

With a few adjustments to the office catering routine, the entire workplace can benefit from the healthy, often vegetable-focused foods that many special diets require. With customized online ordering and a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, can help ensure every member of your team has a safe, healthy, wholesome meal to enjoy in the workplace!

When it comes to feeding employees and coworkers, make your company's food program really count! If your workplace dining plan needs to take it up a notch — or if you don't have one at all — is here to help. From Virtual Cafeteria Service to diverse menus to local takeout & offers customizable dining solutions for every business and budget. Contact us today to get started!

3 responses to “Considerate Office Catering for Special Diets: How to Accommodate Employees’ Needs”

  1. […] more than another, or you can ask more specific questions related to ingredients, spices, and special dietary options like gluten-free or vegan choices. Market research can help steer your menu in the right direction to ensure that your options are […]

  2. Joanne McDaniel says:

    Thank you for sharing this information. You are right when you say food allergies are on the rise. Accommodating those in the office that need to adjust their daily eating habits because of a food intolerance or allergy is a great way to show co-workers you care. Moreover, consider doing the same if you are catering an event for your office. This way everyone, regardless of their dietary needs, can enjoy the event. Mediterranean food is one great food option that caters to food allergies in an easy and delicious way. There is plenty of variety and tastes for everyone to enjoy. Thanks again for sharing!