Special Diets, Special Dishes: Cooking for Restricted Diets

Cooking for special diets can be challenging, but with a few specific strategies and a little creativity, it can be a fun and satisfying experience. Whether you’re following a specific dietary restriction, or you’re cooking for someone else who is, by learning what ingredients to avoid and what substitute ingredients to use, you can create delicious meals that meet the unique needs of restricted diets. Below are some tips and recipes to help you get started.

Common Restrictive Diets

When cooking for restricted diets, it’s important to become familiar with the most common types of dietary restrictions, which include:

Gluten-Free Diet

A gluten-free diet eliminates all forms of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is recommended for people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine.

Paleo Diet

The paleo diet consists of foods that were eaten by early humans, including lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods are not allowed.

Vegan Diet

A vegan diet eliminates all animal products, including meat, eggs, dairy, and honey. Vegans rely on plant-based sources of protein, such as beans, tofu, and tempeh.

Vegetarian Diet

A vegetarian diet eliminates meat, but may include dairy, eggs, and honey, depending on individual preferences.

Keto Diet

The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that puts the body into ketosis, a metabolic state in which the body burns fat for fuel. On this diet, individuals consume foods high in healthy fats, such as avocado, nuts, and seeds, and eliminate or limit carbohydrates.

Tips for Cooking for Restricted Diets

Read Labels Thoroughly

When shopping for ingredients, it’s important to read labels thoroughly to avoid any restricted ingredients. For example, gluten can be found in many unexpected products, such as salad dressings, sauces, and soups.

Focus on Whole Foods

Focusing on whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins, can help meet the dietary restrictions while providing essential nutrients.

Don’t be Afraid to Experiment

Cooking for restricted diets often requires experimentation with new ingredients and flavors. Don’t hesitate to try new recipes and ingredients to build a diverse, and flavorful menu.

Recipes for Restricted Diets

Gluten-Free Banana Bread

  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

  • In a mixing bowl, combine gluten-free flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the mashed bananas, melted butter, sugar, beaten egg, and vanilla extract.
  • Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and stir until well combined.
  • Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

Vegan Lentil Curry

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 cup diced sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup diced zucchini
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

  • Heat the coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat.

  • Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant.
  • Add the sweet potatoes and zucchini and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the red lentils, diced tomatoes, vegetable broth, red curry paste, cumin, salt, and pepper to the pot.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the lentils and vegetables are tender.
  • Garnish with fresh cilantro before serving.

Keto Grilled Salmon

  • 2 (6 oz.) salmon fillets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika

  • Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

  • Brush the salmon fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • In a small bowl, mix together garlic powder, dried oregano, dried thyme, and paprika.
  • Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over both sides of the salmon fillets.
  • Grill the salmon for 4-5 minutes per side, or until cooked through.


Cooking for restricted diets requires a little bit of extra effort, but it can be a fulfilling and satisfying experience. Becoming familiar with dietary restrictions and incorporating whole, nutrient-dense foods will help create delicious meals that meet the unique needs of individuals with different dietary restrictions. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ingredients and flavors, and have fun creating tasty dishes that can be enjoyed by everyone.

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