At my work we frequently have events where lunch is provided, and that consists of finger food such as sandwiches, wraps and pastries. They are very keen on accommodating "proper" nutritional requirements such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and various religious requirements.

The diet I have chosen to control my weight is a fairly relaxed low carb diet, basically just avoiding processed carbohydrates such as bread. I have not had the confidence to ask for this to be considered as a dietary requirement as I understand it is hard to cater for. I have used one of the following measures:

  • Eat the lunch as usual. While a single meal will not ruin the diet, as my body craves such carbohydrates if I eat some of the finger food it just makes me more hungry unless I eat loads, and this is not good for me.
  • Skip lunch. This is doable, but my body does not like being deprived of lunch and I am less productive in the afternoon if I do so.
  • Eat a small lunch. This tends to leave me more hungry than skipping lunch because of the above craving. I am less productive in the afternoon than if I skip it completely.
  • Bring my own lunch and sneak off somewhere to eat alone. This misses the all important networking / discussion that occurs over lunch. My lunches tend to be a little unconventional and are not really finger food so I do not feel comfortable eating with everyone else while they eat sandwiches.

Is this the sort of thing most people would mention and try be accommodated? Or would most people try and handle it themselves?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Jan 7, 2022 at 9:10
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    Have you identified the caterer your employer uses for these meetings, and checked their menu offerings?
    – mjt
    Jan 7, 2022 at 12:05
  • Do you know how this works? Is it always the same people ordering that from a list of existing caterers, or is it each person setting up such a meeting doing the ordering themselves? If the former it may be a lot easier to approach those, especially if the caterer offers the option. In the second case it can be a bit more awkward to deal with each of those people... Also do they just order a variety of things so that they will meet most requirements, or do they actual ask each attendee their requirements/preferences?
    – jcaron
    Jan 7, 2022 at 15:19
  • I'm confused by the close votes on this question. OP is not asking whether or not their employer would accommodate this, they're asking whether it's reasonable of them to ask their employer to accommodate this.
    – BSMP
    Jan 7, 2022 at 18:05
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    Does your diet match a well-known diet? Eg, would you be able to ask about it in brief as "keto options", or would you have to specify a list of things you do and don't eat?
    – Milo P
    Jan 9, 2022 at 20:00

9 Answers 9


It is perfectly acceptable to ask your employer if they could include vegetables in the finger food. There are plenty of options, like snack tomatoes, mini carrots, party cucumbers, pickles, slices of bell pepper, etc.

A full alternative lunch is probably too much to ask though.

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    Worth pointing out that others might even appreciate the option of a healthier option.
    – Donald
    Jan 6, 2022 at 18:32
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    Crudités covers a wide range (though not all dips/sauces might be suitable).
    – gidds
    Jan 6, 2022 at 21:28
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    Also eating the contents of the sandwiches without the bread wouldn't be that bad either. You don't have to eat the whole sandwich if you don't want to, it comes apart :D
    – coblr
    Jan 7, 2022 at 6:43
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    Note that OP described their diet as low carb not necessarily vegetarian. So meat balls, chicken kebabs and similar things are also frequently offered as finger food and might be welcome by OP.
    – quarague
    Jan 7, 2022 at 7:11
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    @quarague good point, but a push for more salad/fruit in event catering is something that can be broadly supported as supporting and encouraging good healthy eating habits among staff. If they're keen to support a wide range of requirements, that's a good sign, and salad etc. is a good way to provide stuff for most people - aside from rare allergies it's suitable for everyone
    – Chris H
    Jan 7, 2022 at 9:33

Bringing your own lunch is the safest bet. It may be awkward the first time, but I really think that your co-workers would be understanding.

Utilizing your employer to clearly relay your dietary requirements to the caterer has a high chance for things to be more awkward than if you brought your own food. Imagine that your employer relays your low carb requirement to a restaurant where they really don't understand what that means, and then when lunch is served there's a salad with your name on it, and it's covered in pre-sweetened dressing. Now, you're looking like a jerk if you don't eat the food.

A different approach is one where the company picks a vendor with electronic capability to let people choose what they want for lunch either early in the morning or on the day before the meeting. This way, you're less likely to have an undesirable surprise from the caterer. It is not foolproof because some caterers are lax on sharing specific list of ingredients. In any case, if you do the legwork to find such a vendor, this might speed things along.

  • Other advantage of bring-your-lunch-and-eat-what-you-like: It's an option that's completely under your control (for OP, even if making himself comfortable with it instead of uncomfortable is difficult - it's still under his control).
    – davidbak
    Jan 6, 2022 at 23:46
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    I do this all the time and no one ever seems to even notice, or care. Bring the food that works for you, and eat it.
    – nuggethead
    Jan 7, 2022 at 0:02
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    If a catering company didn't understand the concept of low carb, I don't see them lasting long in the industry. And to say the OP would look like a jerk for not eating food that's put on incorrectly? Sure, if the religious types and vegies are jerks for not eating bacon sandwiches with their names on... Jan 7, 2022 at 9:54
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    People did this at my workplace all the time and clearly explained why. Sit with everyone as normal. If someone asks why you are eating your own, explain that you are trying to limit carbs. Don't act superior about it. If someone says something negative, just say that it works for you and you want to continue giving it a try. Potentially compliment the catered food - "Those sandwiches look great!", etc. This doesn't need to be "weird" or "offensive". IF the person ordering asks, you can suggest that it's no big deal, but if, say, the company offers lettuce wraps, you would love that.
    – VSO
    Jan 7, 2022 at 14:38
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    There's a difference between "eat your own food with the others" for all that networking and social goodness and "eat your own food elsewhere" The former is ideal.
    – Criggie
    Jan 8, 2022 at 20:31

Is this the sort of thing most people would mention and try be accommodated? Or would most people try and handle it themselves?

Honestly from what you describe as being suitable - I think this would be a bit much to ask. Particularly since this (and I'm not trying to be offensive here) distinctly a dietary "preference" rather than a dietary "requirement". Adding a small quantity of a "niche" item to a catering order can be disproportionately costly too.

So it sounds as though you might be stuck with the "bring your own lunch" options - I can understand the reluctance to be so visibly "other" by eating veg from a bowl - not only is it kind of awkward for what is (presumably) a stand-up buffet type of affair, and if you're wanting to use these events to network and talk about work matters I'm sure it would irritating to spend a large amount of time having the same conversation over and over again explaining your diet and your reasons for it to people each time they notice it.

Depending on your work environment it might be possible to eat your "normal" lunch at your desk either immediately preceding or following the lunch "event" then you can supplement with some carrot sticks, nuts or similar to munch on at the event so as to be less obviously "not eating" - and if anything I would say that asking if something like that could be included in the buffet wouldn't be a big deal.

As to what to do about it I think the best approach is to think of some finger-food suitable equivalents you can bring instead, use something like rice paper wraps or cloud bread as your bread substitute and then most people won't even notice that you're eating anything different from anyone else, if you're concerned about quantity (you do mention having quite large lunches) then see the carrot sticks etc suggestion above.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please move any comments and discussions related to dietary preferences/requirements there and of course remember to keep our Be Nice policy in mind
    – Lilienthal
    Jan 7, 2022 at 14:49

One option I don't see mentioned here is trying to eat what's offered your own way. For instance, if it's sub sandwiches, take two and just eat the meat, cheese & veggies out of them. Or eat the chicken/tuna salad out of a sandwich/wrap with a fork.

Yes, people will look at you strangely, but be open to that. You just say "I'm on a low-carb diet" and carry on as though what you're doing is perfectly normal (because it is). Most will understand, and then you can launch into networking / collaboration with the person you've already broken the ice with.

  • To the point about it being "perfectly normal," I feel like the idea of self-imposing a restricted diet for health or weight-loss is much more accepted these days anyway. Jan 8, 2022 at 1:52

There is a spectrum of what dietary options someone (be it a company or person) is willing to cater for, and that line will be drawn subjectively. My current employer would likely be more than happy to cater to any and all dietary requests; my previous employer not so much (they just catered to the standard vegetarian/vegan options and severe allergies, but balked at any further requests).

Unless you have proof to the contrary, or you personally feel like your request is too nitpicky to ask your employer to account for it; I would default to simply asking them.
Paraphrasing a saying where I'm from: you've already got a no, but you might get a yes. Or more US centric: you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

If you feel like your request is likely to be denied or not appreciated, or it already has been; you can always resort to asking what food will be provided (as opposed to asking to provide a certain food), so that you can prepare accordingly (e.g. bringing something of your own, or changing your meal plan to cover for the extra carbs during lunch).

It is always acceptable to ask what food will be provided so you can plan accordingly. If you don't get a clear answer (which shouldn't happen, but you know...) it is always reasonable to pre-emptively bring some of your own food in case the provided food doesn't fit with your regimen.

Bring my own lunch and sneak off somewhere to eat alone. This misses the all important networking / discussion that occurs over lunch. My lunches tend to be a little unconventional and are not really finger food so I do not feel comfortable eating with everyone else while they eat sandwiches.

I'm struggling to think of cases where your own meal wouldn't be acceptable to eat. Someone might pick up a conversation about your lunch; but if that conversation topic is in any way unkind or negative; then there's most likely a toxic colleague (or atmosphere) at your workplace that has nothing to do with your particular diet.


Where I live, it is customary for the employer to provide food and for lunches to be communal. We had a coworker who was on an elimination diet for some health issues and she brought yogurt with her to work every day for lunch. My boss was somewhat offended that what they were providing wasn't sufficient and it became a point of friction.

I would probably chat with the person who arranges the lunches and just ask what they would prefer you do. One thing that we have at work are salads with a protein, greens and other vegetables, and a bit of pasta. That might work, if you pick out the pasta. (I pick it out.) And other coworkers might appreciate it.

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    Your boss's reaction is unusual. I could understand getting offended if she personally was making the lunch or had gone our of her way to accommodate them, but neither seems to be the case. Jan 10, 2022 at 7:52
  • I kind of get her reaction. It is similar to if a host finds out that they haven't fully accommodated their guests. It is a bit weird but not the weirdest thing at my workplace.
    – Emmy
    Jan 10, 2022 at 8:45

I follow a similar diet to keep my weight & type 2 diabetes under control. I understand what you mean about these things typically being very carb-heavy. Even the 'healthy' fruit platter that is offered for dessert is often tropical fruit - pineapple, mango, etc. - that I'd love to eat but really shouldn't, or the 'plain' protein is chicken in a sticky glaze or something, while any salad that I might normally eat by the bucket-load is limited to a bit of garnish round the sides. One of the difficulties is that as soon as you describe a low-carb diet to people it sounds a lot like Atkins and gets dismissed as faddy nonsense by many, or you get swept up by the Keto-police and accused of being a fraud if you don't count and fret over every last scrap of carbohydrate.

For me, this typically comes up at external events (hiring, training, conferences, education outreach, etc.) which happen maybe once a quarter. If it's just a day, I'll usually try to have a substantial breakfast, make sure I've got some low-carb snacks in my bag (e.g. nuts) to eat thorough the day so I don't starve and eat a minimal amount of the least 'bad' things at the buffet to join in with the social element. For a longer event, I would at least try to request a low-carb option if dietary requirements were solicited in advance, but go prepared with the backup nuts in case it didn't work out, and - if away from home - find a supermarket/convenience store to pick up a pre-packaged salad or similar to take along on day 2 if day 1 didn't work.

For a regular team event, I don't think it's unreasonable that you would raise with your boss/whoever orders the catering that the default isn't meeting your needs, and asking what scope there is to change the menu. They might be accommodating and have the caterers include some options that work for you in the overall menu and might be welcomed by others who don't relish the afternoon doze brought on by a lunch of refined carbs. They might have the caterers supply a big bowl of salad with 'reserved for User65535' written on it, to which you might say "thanks but no thanks" (or might cause others to ask for there to be enough salad for everyone in future), or they might tell you there's nothing they can do (which might be a brush-off or genuine - at some point, catering for lots of different diets becomes unmanageable for a voluntary event) - you won't know without asking. If it doesn't work out, there are low-carb options that you can prepare ahead to eat with fingers, or just a fork at most, and you should take these along and join the social event if that's what you'd otherwise do. If your food occasions some comment, you've got something non work-related to chat about if people are genuinely interested (if you make something more interesting than a basic salad, take a bit extra to offer a taste to interested people - perhaps this evolves into a pooled/"pot luck" lunch instead of a catered one) , or can bat away ill-informed/prying comments with "it's just the food I prefer to eat. Did anyone else get caught out in the crazy rain last weekend?" or similar - either way is better than being the person who appears to be isolating him/herself when the rest of the company are socialising.


Aim for a casual conversation and see how they feel about the situation.

You could tell them you are happy to bring your own party-style finger food (no reason you cannot adjust your home made lunches to suit) but it might seem a little strange to other people if you are eating different food. See if they would be happy with that.

You are indirectly telling them the food they provide is not to your liking and you are also offering a solution to the problem so they don't have to come up with something themselves.

I would avoid email for this as it may make the request feel too formal.

Even if it's not a dietary requirement, I think most would agree it is unfair to expect people to eat food they are not comfortable with.

  • A causal conversation or a casual one? Jan 8, 2022 at 15:20
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    @leftaroundabout Reading Is Hard. Auto spell checkers has it's frustrations
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 9, 2022 at 19:06

It may be an inconvenience, but only for the caterer. It should not be much of a problem for employer. I don't think dietary concerns should be unreasonable for an employer that is willing to buy employees food. I'm not even sure you have to discuss it with the employer. You can maybe just have a quiet word with the caterer when you can.

  • I broadly agree with Neil Meyer but who cares what might be an inconvenience, for the caterer or what? I don't think dietary concerns should be unreasonable for any employer I don't think you should have to discuss it with an employer: Just have a quiet word with the caterer when you can. Jan 7, 2022 at 23:49
  • I'm employed by a large telco, and daily cooked lunches were the thing before C19. We had Vegans, Vegetarians, a peanut intolerant, Gluten free, Keto/low-carbs, and a couple of religious-specific meals. Employer didn't care about details, just that everyone was catered for as well as possible. The caterer has a budget per-person and was able to feed everyone for less than that, so the "excess" was used for fancy treats like salmon steaks once a year.
    – Criggie
    Jan 8, 2022 at 20:36

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