When she’s not hosting NBC’s digital show, #Cooking with Samah Dada, the California native known ’round the internet as @dadaeats is probably still eating. Or thinking up a recipe. Or feeding someone. What we’re trying to say is she really loves food. 

Her words, for you:

This will probably come as no surprise but I love feeding people. In really any capacity, but I’ve found that cooking for friends is one of the most rewarding things you can do - there’s nothing better than seeing the people you love enjoy your food.

Much of what I do for @dadaeats involves developing recipes that fall underneath the vegan, gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free (you get the point) umbrellas; one of the catalysts behind this was actually because I saw a number of friends who were adhering to different dietary preferences. While I myself don’t have a dietary restriction (although pretty sure I’m lactose intolerant. But aren’t we all a little bit?) I became obsessed with the challenge of creating recipes with real ingredients that just happen to fall underneath those categories. My goal has always been to make even those sans dietary restrictions enjoy my real-ingredient recipes without thinking twice so that I can casually slip in an “oh, by the way, did you know this was gluten-free?” (A line I regularly use. They usually don’t know).

In cooking for friends with dietary preferences, and well, cooking for friends in general, I’ve found a few things that help me stay organized & stress-free throughout the process and on the day of hosting.

1. Devise and design a menu

It’s like your compass! Designing a menu (you can even use a free design app online) gets both you and your guests pumped for the party, while also keeping you accountable and organized for what you’re going to make. I referred to my menu every time I was at the grocery store, just to make sure I was hitting all the marks. Not to mention, it’s fun to make it look aesthetically pleasing!

2. Cook smart

When you’re cooking for guests with a variety of dietary restrictions, whip up delicious options that also just happen to be gluten-free and/or vegan - e.g. a vegetarian pasta with plant-based noodles, dips without dairy) so more people can enjoy regardless of their preferences! I decided on a completely plant-based menu that accidentally happened to be vegan and mostly-gluten-free. All of the dips were vegan, but you’d never know it! No one really calls hummus “vegan hummus.” But it is! I chose chickpea pasta instead of regular because it was an easy swap and I knew my gluten-free friends would be able to enjoy it just the same as my non-gluten-free friends. This all serves you well when you’re catering to friends with different preferences. Know that these types of options can taste good and appeal to everyone (the crux of my work!)

3. Break it up

Instead of saving your party shopping for a day or two before the dinner, pick up items you need throughout the course of the week. On Monday I wandered into a grocery store and picked up chips, nuts, and dried fruits for the platter. On Tuesday, I leisurely bought ingredients for the pasta. You get the picture. This way, you don’t feel stressed, and you have plenty of time (and also hands to carry your groceries because that’s important) before the party.

4. Prep labor-intensive food the day before

I knew that I wanted to cook three entrees the day of (Vegan Cacio e Pepe, Pasta all’ Arrabbiata, and Cauliflower Fried Rice), but I made three dips and two Chocolate Chip Tahini Cakes the night before. The dips required a blender which saved so much time and energy day of. Store the dips in the fridge, then you can plate before your party. Baking is another thing I like to get done the night before. Pop your cakes or cookies in the oven to warm them up and you’re good to go!

5. Variety matters

No matter how many entrees you’re preparing, snacks and starters are a great way to get people to mingle and eat as soon as they walk through the door (they probably came hungry...it is a dinner party after all). Having a cheeseboard (or in this case, a vegan one), crudités, and dips ready before everyone arrives also allows you some space and time to cook!