How to Label Food for a Party: Allergies, Diet Restrictions, + More Tips



Last Updated: Jan 3, 2023

Parties are often a source of good food, community bonding, and general entertainment. However, parties can also come with inherent risks that party hosts should consider thoroughly while planning the big event. One risk involves serving dishes that party-goers are allergic to or have dietary restrictions around.

Labeling the food served at your party or occasion can help guests decide which foods they consume and ensure that everyone can focus instead on the fun. The guide below offers helpful tips for correctly labeling food for a party.

Quick Answer

How to Label Party Food

Include small cards on or under serving plates to designate the name of the food and any allergens or restrictions that it may include. Common written abbreviations for allergens or restrictions include N (nuts), GF (Gluten-Free), V (Vegetarian), and D (Dairy)– although if there is space on the card, writing out the full name of the allergy may be more clear.

What to consider before labeling food at a party

Before getting started, there are a few considerations to take into account to help you plan your food labels. First, consider your guests’ needs. For small gatherings, it may be possible to check in with each guest to ask about potential food allergies or dietary restrictions. Keep a running list of your guests’ responses, and make sure to mark the dishes that use those ingredients. Some food allergies can be quite severe; simply cooking a dish in a space that contains the ingredient may cause an allergic reaction in a guest. Make sure to ask your guests whether simple contact with an ingredient is a risk for them and plan accordingly.

If you are expecting many guests, it may not be feasible to check in with everyone ahead of time. In this case, plan to serve some dishes that exclude common food allergies and some foods that adhere to common dietary lifestyles, like veganism or vegetarianism.

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3 Easy ways to label food for a party

There are many ways to label food for a party, and you may want to consider utilizing all of them to best serve your guests. The following represent three major categories that can help guide you when making your party food labels.

food on the table at a business lunch

1. Label by food allergies

Food allergy labels are probably the most important to include at your party, as allergic reactions can range from mild to severe. To help your guests choose the dishes that are safe to consume, write out the ingredients used in each dish on the dish label. Common food allergies include, but are not limited to:

  • Peanuts
  • Cow’s milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Crustacean shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Gluten
  • Sesame seed

2. Label by dietary restrictions

There are many dietary lifestyles out there that people adhere to for personal, religious, ethical, or health-related reasons. Including food labels with dietary restrictions in mind is a good way to help your guests navigate the dishes served at your party. The following list includes common dietary lifestyles and the kinds of ingredients they restrict:

  • Veganism: Veganism restricts foods that contain any form of animal product or byproduct. This means vegans do not eat items that include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, cheese, honey, whey and gelatin, among other things.
  • Vegetarianism: Vegetarianism can come in several varieties, but, as a general rule, vegetarians aim to be largely plant-based. Vegetarians typically avoid foods that contain meat, poultry, and fish but may incorporate cheese, dairy, and eggs into their diet.
  • Pescatarian: Similar to vegetarianism, pescatarians are largely plant-based. However, this diet typically does not impose restrictions on fish, milk, and eggs.
  • Keto: The keto diet emphasizes consuming foods that are high in fat but low in carbs. To accommodate the keto diet, include foods high in protein and fats but also low in starches and sugar.
  • Lactose intolerance: Lactose intolerance is a prevalent digestive disorder that can cause mild to severe bodily reactions in people who consume lactose. Lactose is typically found in cow’s milk, dairy products, and cheese, among other things.
  • Gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity: Gluten intolerance can come in the form of Celiac disease, while non-Celiac gluten sensitivity presents similar, less severe bodily reactions to gluten consumption. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye which are commonly found in baked goods, bread, and some kinds of liquor.
  • Kosher diet: Some party guests may follow a Kosher diet for religious reasons. This kind of diet has many intricate requirements. While ingredients like meat, fish, poultry, and dairy are all permitted by the Kosher diet, how these items are prepared, and the kinds of animals they come from can influence whether or not they are permissible.
  • Diabetes: There are different kinds of diabetes that influence peoples’ ability to metabolize carbs, often leading to high blood sugar levels. As a result, people with diabetes typically try to eat a moderate amount of different food groups while avoiding items that are high in sugar or refined grains.
  • Paleo Diet: The Paleolithic diet, Paleo diet, caveman diet, or stone-age diet is a modern diet made up of the basic foods thought to mimic those eaten by humans during the Paleolithic era. These foods include fruits, vegetables, fish, eggs, nuts, lean meats, and seeds.
Gluten-free bread freshly made in oven

3. Label by serving time

Another way to label the food served at your party involves marking each dish’s serving time or expiration time. The USDA recommends leaving food out at room temperature for no longer than two hours. Around the two-hour mark is when bacteria begin to form on food that is left out. To ensure the food remains fresh at your party, consider labeling your dishes with the time they are first presented to guests or the time that they should be tossed to prevent spoilage.

How to make food labels

Once you’ve considered the different ways to label the dishes at your party, it’s time to learn how to make your own food labels. Follow these simple steps:

  1. This step is relatively simple; first, decide on the labels themselves. Stickers, folded cards, mini-stands, and chalkboard picks are all great options that are easy to set up.
  2. Next, write out the food categories or ingredients on the labels of your choice, aiming for clear language and handwriting.
  3. Finally, display them in front of the dish or on the dish itself. Just make sure the labels are visible to guests, and you’re good to go!

Final thoughts on labeling food

If you found this guide helpful and you’re looking for additional resources, make sure to check out our in-depth guide on how to read and understand food labels.

Serve the best food at your party with fresh ingredients from Instacart

Get the fresh food and party supplies you need to make your event a hit by shopping Instacart’s wide selection of retailers. Browse retailers near you, select the items you need, and checkout with the click of a button. Choose between a scheduled in-person pickup or have your groceries delivered right to your door for added convenience.



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