It’s not as hard as you think to make a meal that includes everyone ... and they’ll be grateful.
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Whether someone’s restricted their diet for personal reasons or the sake of their health, Thanksgiving is a hard holiday to navigate when it comes to pleasing everyone’s dietary needs.
For the guest, it feels like an imposition to ask for particular dishes, but it’s even more awkward not to say anything at all, especially when it’s not obvious at first glance whether the stuffing has nuts, dairy, or meat. For the host, it can be intimidating to cook for somebody with dietary restrictions, especially when you’ve always made the same Thanksgiving meal, and you have no idea what to substitute, let alone what your guest might like.
Don’t be tempted to just skip inviting that friend or relative with the particular diet. (Vegetarian, vegan, diabetic, gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free … am I missing anything?) It’s not as hard as you think to create a meal that includes everyone, and they’ll be grateful.
When you invite somebody, check if they have any food sensitivities or allergies that you might not be aware of. If they have them, take them seriously. Don’t assume that just a little bit is probably okay. In some cases, a little cross-contamination can make a person really sick. They’ll be happy to answer your questions, so you don’t run into problems later on.
Your guest doesn’t need to be able to eat everything
I promise you, they’re already used to having fewer options than the rest of the crowd. The great thing about Thanksgiving is how many different kinds of side dishes there are. If there’s one main source of protein they can eat, plus just a few side-dish options, and something for desert, your guest won’t feel excluded.
Lots of traditional dishes are easy to alter
Yes, people will notice if the turkey is made of tofu, but will anyone miss the bacon garnish left off the potatoes? Can you use olive oil instead of butter on the Brussels sprouts, or thicken the gravy with rice flour, instead? Search for similar versions of your traditional favorites, and you might be surprised how similar they turn out. Often, nobody will notice, and you’ve just made a dish that your guest won’t have to steer clear of.
Take initiative in letting your guest know what’s safe
I’ve been the one vegetarian at enough parties to be really tired of pulling my host aside and asking, “Sorry, but does this have meat in it?” It’s a real act of hospitality to be proactive in showing your guest what will work for him ahead of time, so he doesn’t have to take a risk or feel like a bother. If you’re serving anything buffet style, just label the dishes, and then neither of you have to worry.
Don’t be afraid to ask your friend to bring a dish …
… if you’re stumped. (Especially if your guest can’t eat the turkey, which is a hard thing to replace if you’re not used to vegan/vegetarian cooking.) They are definitely used to bringing their own food, and then you’ll both be sure that there’s at least one thing she’ll like. If you don’t want to impose, ask them to send you their favorite recipes, or to help you brainstorm.
Pre-packaged is fine
Really. Especially when somebody has a severe allergy, it’s nice to have the backing of the FDA’s rules to reassure them that the dish fits their diet. Or maybe you just don’t have a clue how to make stuffing by any other recipe than the one you grew up with. That’s okay. Pre-packaged, frozen, or from a mix doesn’t have to taste cheap, and there are usually nice brands to choose from.
Don’t make a big deal out of it!
Whether or not someone has restricted their diet by choice, they’re probably tired of talking about it. The vegetarian knows the turkey’s delicious, but that’s not going to convince him to just try it. Your guest with diabetes might not want to talk about how much pie he’s missing out on. Having a long list of what you can’t eat already makes you stand out, and it’s nice to not have to be in the spotlight about it all the time. Do your guest a favor, and act like it’s totally normal.
Prayer over a Thanksgiving meal
The first Thanksgiving in America was a Catholic Mass