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Overwhelmed by guests' dietary restrictions

DEAR AMY: We recently moved out of state and have an open-door policy, which means a steady flow of visitors. Many of them can barely afford the trip, so we usually pick up food and other costs. I try to save money (to pay for outings) by cooking the majority of the meals. With today's diet trends, I'm cooking four or five different dishes per meal (each with special ingredients) that are not only costly but not our normal usage. I generally accommodate 95 percent of their needs (vegetarian, vegan, lactose) but sometimes will slip with an ingredient. I don't mean a main ingredient, but for example: gluten/nongluten soy sauce; white/raw sugar, etc. With friends who stay for a week or longer, three meals a day is costly and a headache. I'm overwhelmed. The worst is when we take them out because I don't have a special ingredient and they order something not within dietary constraints (that I could have made) and say, "Today is a cheat day!" I should feel honored they want to spend their free time with us, but the gratitude is being overshadowed by my frustration. Should we forgo paying for outings to cover the extra cost of food? Is it OK to expect a little bit of wiggle room on their side?

-- Fed Up

DEAR FED UP: You are demonstrating the twin tiers of the overwhelmed host: overfunctioning followed by resentment.

If you do less, you will enjoy your guests more.

The first day of your guests' visit should be a trip to the organic market or "pick your own" farm. Say, "Can you pick up ingredients that work for your diet?" Be honest about your food budget. If they want raw sugar instead of the sugar at home, they should pay for it.

Ask your guests to purchase ingredients and prepare one home-cooked meal for the entire household during their stay, and involve them in food prep each day to pull together a salad or another favorite.

Also -- learn to say "no." Ultimately this will be the monosodium glutamate that preserves your friendships.

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