No Turkey on Turkey Day?

Thanksgiving options for every dietary restriction


No wheat. No meat. No milk. No sugar. Low sugar. With 1 in every 7 Americans following some sort of specialty diet, it can be difficult to plan a holiday meal that pleases everyone. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But when you’re playing host to a whole bunch of hungry people, how can you ensure that everyone leaves happy—and full?

Communication Is Key

Email, text, call or create a shared online document—whatever it takes to open the lines of communication and let your guests know what you plan on bringing to the table. Ask about dietary restrictions ahead of time. Your guests will be happy to share their preferences.

Not sure how to accommodate a request? Ask for help. Chances are they know more about their diet than you do, so don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions.

Give Them a Sign

Use signage to inform guests of ingredients. This will help avoid any confusion and cut down on constant questioning.

Serve it up buffet style so no one has to worry about “food-touching,” and clearly label which items adhere to certain restrictions. You can use almost any restaurant menu as a guide.

Allergies

When it comes to prepping any meal, here’s an area where you’ll want to be extra careful. Food allergies can cause severe reactions if ignored, so be sure to ask everyone on your guest list if they have any known allergies at all. If someone does, ask about the severity. Is the allergy activated only upon consumption, or is it a contact allergy? Can nuts even be in the room? Keep the atmosphere comfortable by letting guests know ahead of time that you’re aware of their allergy and have taken every precaution necessary to ensure their safety. You’ll both be happier for it.

Dr. Meg Haworth is a nutritional chef, cookbook author and wellness coach who has also suffered from food allergies for over 20 years. She highly advises that you talk to your guests no matter how close you are. “You may think you know, but someone may have just received a diagnosis and is unsure how to handle it,” she says. Reaching out isn’t limited to only the host. If you’re a guest, don’t be afraid to ask. Call the host and talk with them. Opening the lines of communication is the first and most important step.

Make Your Own

A super-safe way to accommodate for most dishes is to let guests add their own toppings, dressings, butters, sugar, etc. Many recipes can be created without adding these items. Your guests can take it from there with as much or as little as they feel comfortable with.

And if you have any concerns about whether a store-bought food contains an allergen, make it from scratch. Jeanette Kimszal, a registered dietitian nutritionist, agrees. “The best way to know your dishes do not contain [allergens] is to make them fresh,” she says.

Gluten-Free

Anyone with a gluten allergy or gluten intolerance like celiac disease can confirm that it takes some work to keep meals flavorful and safe. And Thanksgiving should be no exception. The good news is that turkey isn’t an issue. Your side dishes could pose a potential problem, but with a little extra love and some minor modifications, you can keep your Turkey Day favorites.

Classic sides like green bean casserole and cornbread stuffing are a cinch with some simple replacements. Favorites like mashed potatoes can come to the party with almost no adjustments at all. And don’t worry about dessert. There are tons of gluten-free piecrust recipes out there.

Vegetarian

Plenty of people opt out of meat when it comes to meals for a variety of reasons. If someone on your guest list isn’t a carnivore, make sure to ask exactly which type of vegetarian diet they adhere to.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians will take a hard pass on meats, but they will consume eggs and dairy products like cheese and milk. So, basically anything with vegetables is up for grabs. Other types of vegetarian diets include fish or exclude eggs while some are so flexible that the occasional meat item isn’t completely out of the question. Define the exact parameters of their diet to avoid any surprises at dinner time.

Remember to check your recipes before committing to a dish. Common ingredients like chicken stock could quickly eliminate a dish as an option. And ask before you buy when it comes to main courses. Don’t assume you have to sub tofurkey for a main course. Vegetarian guests might be perfectly happy with the vegetarian options you provide and might even be willing to bring their own dish.

Vegan

Following a slightly more exclusive form of vegetarianism, vegans will not consume any food item containing anything made from or by an animal, such as meat, eggs and dairy.

Not to worry. There are many delicious options and creative recipes available for vegans. Look for filling foods so no vegan leaves hungry. Cauliflower comes in pretty handy for sides, and even mashed potatoes can be tasty without adding cow’s milk or butter. Use extra-virgin olive oil or a vegan-friendly butter substitute instead.

Kylene Bogden is a holistically trained dietitian who currently works as a registered dietitian for the NBA. Her best advice for a vegan-friendly meal? “Try your best not to neglect the protein,” she says. “They key is balance no matter what diet you are following.”

Remember your yummy appetizers like crispy falafel, roasted brussel sprouts and creamy hummus. And as long as your stuffing is prepared on the side, it can easily be made to satisfy everyone.

When it comes to dessert, many recipes that call for eggs and butter can still be made with aquafaba or applesauce as a substitute.

Nondairy

Lactose intolerance can lead to an unforgiving experience. But that doesn’t mean the whole menu has to change. Look for recipes with loopholes for sides like biscuits and dinner rolls.

Chances are you’re in the clear when it comes to the main course, but when you start serving dessert, have a nondairy alternative to whipped cream.   

Embrace the Diversity

Don’t think of these as restrictions. Look at dietary limits as an opportunity to expand your culinary abilities and bring everyone even closer. The last thing you want is someone sitting at the table and unable to enjoy the meal. Dr. Haworth agrees. “It is so difficult to not be able to eat what everyone is eating. Food is such a bonding experience, and Thanksgiving is the quintessential food-bonding day of the year.”

Starting the dialogue and showing interest in someone else’s dietary lifestyle is a win-win for everyone. You get to learn something new in the kitchen, and everyone feels included at the table.


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