Adventures with Catered Dinners

This past week, I attended three separate catered dinners. Two were for awards (not for me) and one was a wedding. For all three, I simply gave my dietary restrictions – no dairy – and waited to see what would happen. Based on my prior experience at catered dinners, once you say no dairy, they tend to be similar, but healthier versions of the same main dish and a fruit plate for dessert. I figured this would be just fine and the food would likely be real.

My dining experiences over the past few days were different, so I’ll talk a moment to review each one.

Dinner # 1 – Awards Dinner

I was invited to accompany my friend to a dinner for a charity she has been involved with in the past. She was also receiving an award. I would write more except I’d rather keep the details anonymous since the dinner experience was the worst of the three, and I don’t care to drag any names in the mud, especially because my dinner was the exception. Others actually quite enjoyed their dinner. Me, not so much.

When the first course was being served, I politely notified the server I had a dairy restriction (which had been submitted well in advance). The server was completely thrown off by this and was not prepared. She found a supervisor, and I was told they would have something out shortly. I soon received a garden salad with grilled veggies, and it was actually pretty good.

When the main course came out, the server once again tried to serve me the usual meal. I let her know (again) that I have a dairy restriction, and she looked even more frazzled than the first time. While I found it amusing, I was also concerned about what this might mean.

What came next could only be described as a puck of starch with a side of dry quinoa and two sprigs of asparagus. I quickly realized I received the “catch-all” meal that would suffice for every dietary restriction. Even now, I still have no idea what I ate. I’m guessing it was from the potato family. It looked as though a starchy vegetable had been shaved into small pieces and formed into a round shape with the mildest spice available. It had no flavour whatsoever, much like the dry quinoa. The best part of the dish was the asparagus, but that was the first to go. I did inquire about the meal since I was genuinely curious what type of food I had ingested, but when one of the staff described the vegetarian option as a couscous dish, I knew he had no idea what the dish was.

The dessert was a plate of fruit, which was more than welcome but not quite enough to erase the memories of the main course.

Dinner #2 – Awards Dinner

The second dinner took place at Wilfrid Laurier University and was an alumni awards dinner as part of Homecoming weekend. Based on my willingness to print the name of the location, you can guess my dinner was just fine. Now, I have the advantage of having eaten many dinners catered by food services at Laurier, so I knew what to expect. As usual, I got a dairy-free version of what everyone else was eating except dessert, which is always a fruit plate. Now, I would be lying if I said I never coveted the desserts being served to others around me, but I will say that fruit plates are a nice way to end a meal without feeling like you might fall into a sugar coma. So every time I find myself eyeing the cheesecakes or pastries, I think about how much better I will feel once it’s all said and done.

Dinner #3 – Wedding

My third catered dinner of the week was at my friends’ wedding. It started off well as I received a nice tomato-based soup while others ate a creamy mushroom soup. Next, I received a garden salad while others ate a caesar salad, and I will admit their caesars looked really good. For the main course, I excitedly awaited a dairy-free version of what everyone else was having (tenderloin, chicken and veggies), but was soon caught by surprise when they placed a tofu stir-fry in front of me. The two vegetarians at the table got a delicious-looking veggie lasagna, and here I was staring at a very different dish. The disappointing part was that I could tell just from looking that the meat dish would have been perfectly fine by simply removing the cream sauce on the chicken. Despite my disappointment, I tried to remind myself that my dish had a lot of vegetables. Luckily, my other half was willing to split his tenderloin with me so I got some protein as the tofu tasted like grilled, salty rubber.

Dessert was a pie buffet, and only pie, so I didn’t receive my usual plate of fruit. I did find myself rationalizing the pie and thinking, “Pie is real food. My great-grandmother would not only recognize pie but also make it.” While this is true, I was reminded that a week ago I declined a cupcake at a birthday party, so why would pie be any different. So, I declined to go to the pie table. Later in the evening, there was a fruit platter, so I did actually have my fruit plate after all.

In all, the catered dinners did include “real food” but some were definitely more challenging than others. I would be lying if I didn’t say there were times this past week when it felt like I wished the challenge were shorter so I could enjoy pie and cupcakes, but I keep reminding myself that I’m doing this for a reason. Also, the desire to feel good inside can outweigh the desire for a baked good.

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