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I have a friend with a complex set of dietary restrictions. We like to get together for Shabbat meals every once in a while, and she always offers to bring something that she can eat. Which is great! Which is helpful! The problem is, she’s not actually a very good cook. I’d be happier accommodating her needs with food I like, even if it means more preparation. I don’t want to be rude or discouraging, but I also don’t want to have to keep eating and serving her food to my other guests while pretending her contributions are delicious. What’s the best way to talk to her about this?
You have many possibilities of how to handle this, but telling your friend she’s not a good cook isn’t going to be on my menu of options. With that out of the way, your problem presents an opportunity to be creative not only about what you’re serving at these Shabbat meals but also about how you communicate with your friend and make sure everyone around your table feels welcome.
Next time you’re preparing for a meal and sending out your invitations, feel free to make a blanket statement to your guests that they don’t need to bring anything. Even if that’s not always the way you want to do things, you can start with a clean slate by having one meal that you provide completely. A variation on this approach is to say, “No need to bring any food to this meal (I’ve got it covered!), but please feel free to bring a beverage to share.” You should then send a separate message to your friend to let her know you’ll be sure to accommodate her dietary needs, making her feel taken care of and also pre-empting any questions.
Another option would be to direct her very specifically to something that can be purchased or minimally prepared and that she can eat. So you could ask directly, “Can you bring fresh fruit?” or “Can you bring crackers and hummus?” If there’s even one thing she makes that isn’t terrible, you could also request that by name. “I remember enjoying your pineapple upside down cake. Do you think you could bring that?” If she responds with, “But I just made a delicious roasted walnut loaf,” and you know her roasted walnut loaf is terrible, say, “Oh, thanks, but I’ve got the main dish covered.”
Your other option is to do nothing. Let her bring whatever she wants. Put it on the table along with the other food and make sure your guests know where it came from. Thank her profusely. Then don’t eat it. You just don’t have to eat something you don’t like, and you can trust your other guests to take care of themselves and make their own decisions. Maybe your friend will get the hint and stop bringing things that no one eats. Maybe she’s happy eating something that she’s sure meets her needs. Maybe – maybe! – she thinks that your food is terrible and she needs to bring something to supplement. As long as there’s food she can eat, let her culinary skills slide, and focus on enjoying each other’s company.