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How to Pull Together a Holiday Feast Fit for Everyone

In years past, I would have been seriously rattled if someone coming to my holiday table announced that they were Vegan, Paleo or Gluten-free. I can just see myself scrambling around like a crazy person, trying to figure out what exactly to feed them.

This year at Thanksgiving, I’m going to be that odd person out. As I’m thinking through my holiday plans, I wanted to share with you some tips on how to accommodate your friends and family members with dietary restrictions.

  1. Get the details. If someone goes out of their way to tell you their needs, take advantage of it and get all the information that you can. Are they expecting you to make every dish to their specifications, or can you include other dishes that they can’t eat? Are they willing to bring along dishes to suit their own needs or do you need to provide some options for them? It’s okay to ask a lot of questions- what’s important is that you both understand what the expectations are for the meal.
  2. Do your research. If you offer to accommodate your guest’s dietary needs, find out what ingredients need to be avoided. There are tons of resources on the web. Here are a few for Thanksgiving in particular- vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, dairy-free, GAPS, SCD.
  3. Know your ingredients. If you are cooking the meal entirely from scratch, this one will be easier on you. You’ll be able to tell your guest which dishes include the off-limits ingredients. If you plan on using any pre-made items or processed ingredients (many American holiday favorites include these) make sure you read the labels carefully before you buy and keep them so your guest can look them over. Salad dressings, pre-made baked goods, gravy or seasoning mixes and canned soups are a few examples of items to look out for.
  4. Keep it separated. People with food allergies or diet restrictions are usually only worried about a few offending ingredients, so setting up buffet-style or family-style may be better than serving individual entrees where foods are touching. Try leaving salad dressings, gravies and toppings on the side.
  5. Relax! This is hard to do during the holidays regardless of your guest list, but try to do it anyways. The meal may not go perfectly, but just roll with the punches. Maybe it ends up that your gluten-free guest can’t eat a thing on the table- try making him an omelette. Maybe you forgot that your vegan guest doesn’t eat dairy- saute some vegetables and serve with warm bread. If you prepare ahead of time, chances are things will run smoothly and you won’t run into any major problems. Your guest will feel loved and cared for knowing that you put in the extra effort.
Are you guys hosting the holidays this year?  Or maybe dealing with some new diet restrictions yourself? What are some of your favorite alternative holiday meals?

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Natalie is lover of all things edible and mom to two sweet babies under 3 years old. She shares her favorite from-scratch recipes, techniques and tips for entertaining on her blog, Oven Love.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Georgine November 15, 2012 at 8:39 am

As someone with lots of different food issues (dairy gluten corn sulfites) I truly think it is my problem, not the hosts. I will bring something I can eat (you know besides turkey). It is a lot to expect someone to short order cook around my issues. Especially if you are deathly allergic to something. Don’t stress your host out. Bring you lt own peanut free dessert for your kid people!


Robin November 15, 2012 at 6:25 pm

I have 2 kids with food allergies and I always take stuff they can eat whether we go to a restaurant (I explain to the waiter/waitress that they have allergies but we still order them something to drink from there) or if we’ve been invited to dinner at a friend’s. I don’t expect people to know what to fix for them, including family members when we have Thanksgiving or other holiday meals together. We’ve had several invitations to friends’ homes where they have specifically asked what my kiddos can have and I am super appreciative of that. I give suggestions since they have gone out of their way to ask but always follow it up with telling them that we don’t expect them to do that and how grateful we are that they care enough to ask. Truthfully, most people don’t think to ask because they don’t have to deal with it in their own families. If we have guests in our home, I always try to remember to ask if there are special dietary needs and if I don’t know what to fix, I ask for suggestions and recipes from them and if it’s a big holiday meal then I ask them to bring a dish to share and still try to make something in addition to that.


Mrs. Trim November 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

I really don’t handle dairy very well and tend to dread Thanksgiving meals. Everything has dairy in it! Corn casserole with added cream, mashed potatoes with milk and butter, green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup as the base, etc. I often end up just eating turkey and salad, assuming the salad isn’t dressed in a cream based dressing. Especially with family, I regularly mention that I have this sensitivity, but people who don’t have it just don’t seem to really get it. Sure I can put the food in my mouth and swallow, but my stomach will be in the knots the rest of the day, not a great Thanksgiving experience.

I am always happy to bring a side or two to share because I like being a good guest and so that I know there’s a side I can eat. The problem I’ve had several years in a row though is that my host refuses to let me bring something, they want to be in charge of the whole meal and want the table to look a certain way, etc. So this year I just insisted on bringing sweet potatoes, no questions asked.

I have a few suggestions about how to prepare sweet potatoes without sugar or dairy on my blog today http://www.tipsfromtrimpeople.com/sweet-potatoes-2-ways-no-sugar-added/

Thanks for a great post!


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