The chill is in the air. The leaves gently float from the trees into piles on the sidewalks. And it’s unbelievably dark by 5 p.m. Try as I might, there is no stopping the coming of winter. Is it any wonder that we celebrate all that we are thankful for as we plunge into the darkness? For me, this gathering of people sharing warmth, good food, and community is one of the highlights of the cold days that I know are coming.
In my home, as many of you already know, we deal with wheat, dairy, egg, and soy allergies. As a hostess, I am rarely unnerved by special dietary concerns (it could happen though!) On the flip side, though, I know that my mother-in-law was more than a little distraught over how to feed us the first year we had Thanksgiving dinner at her house, after the food allergies were diagnosed.
Now, imagine if you will that you are hosting this year’s gathering. You’re all atwitter with the anticipation until you discover that one of your guests has (fill in the blank) dietary restrictions. Holy moly: What do I feed a vegan at Thanksgiving dinner? Or, what the heck do I feed the gluten/dairy free/nut free guest? First, don’t freak out. It isn’t as insurmountable as it might seem. (Oh no! How do I make my famous mashed potatoes without milk and BUTTER?) There are a couple of simple ways to work with these issues.
My first piece of advice is to talk to the guest who has the dietary restrictions. (As opposed to believing that it’s “all in their head” and forging ahead with the usual recipes. I kid you not. This happened to a good friend who’d recently been diagnosed with Celiac and spent a good part of the day quite ill after eating foods that she’d been told were modified to meet her dietary restrictions. Who does that?) So, talk to the guest and ask them how they work around the issues. Sometimes it is as simple as removing a portion of the food before you finalize it, for instance, put some of the mashed potatoes aside before adding milk and butter—or simply bake a potato or sweet potato for this guest that they may top however they like.
While you’re talking to the guest, you might ask him/her to bring a dish that meets the dietary restrictions. I often volunteer to do this when invited to other people’s homes for two reasons: 1) to take some of the burden off of the host/hostess, and 2) so that I know for certain that there will be a dish that I can eat, which I also know I will like. I’m just being honest here. My typical dish for these types of gatherings is a roasted root vegetable dish. It always gets rave reviews, even from those who do not have any dietary restrictions. It’s as simple as cubing up several different kinds of root vegetables (I usually use sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, & beets—then for added interest I throw in onions, sliced apple, and a handful of fresh cranberries), tossing them with coconut oil and some seasoning and then baking for about 45 minutes in a 425 degree oven.
In my experience, dessert seems to be the most difficult to modify for people who are not used to dealing with restrictions. (Maybe consider asking your guest to bring a dessert!) When children are involved, this is particularly difficult. Have you even been at a table with a child with dietary restrictions while everyone else has dessert but there isn’t anything that he/she can eat? Yeah, you don’t want to see that.
If you’re still feeling a little bit overwhelmed, I invite you to explore some of these resources. Here is a link for recipes accounting for several different types of dietary restrictions. Many of the recipes on the Nourishing Meals blog are not only gluten/dairy free, but also vegan. Or check out this vegan holiday menu. In a pinch, refer back to my older post on food allergies, where I linked to many sites that made my transition to a gluten/dairy/egg free life much more bearable. And, if you need assistance, feel free to stop in the store and ask for me. I am most happy to help!