Thanksgiving is coming up, which means you’re probably already starting to think ahead to your menu and the delicious food you’re going to make. However, finding out that your son’s new girlfriend is vegetarian or the neighbors have a gluten-free diet can send you into a panic, frantically redoing the whole menu and cursing the diet Gods for sending these people to your dinner table.
Take a deep breath. It’s not as scary as you think.
As a vegetarian, I can say that most people with special dietary needs understand that it’s not all about them, but do appreciate being thought of. Even though you may have encountered one or two cranky ones on a dinner where there was nothing for them to eat (Can you really blame someone who’s really hungry and can’t eat anything?), the average person understands that you wouldn’t go to a dinner expecting the whole thing to be catered just to him or her. The secret is in the sides.
You don’t have to throw out a turkey just because a vegetarian is coming. Even though I’ve encountered those fabled “preachy vegetarians” who may make a comment or two, most understand that a turkey is part of the tradition. You don’t have to exchange a turkey for a tofurkey, though if you pick up some Hickory Smoked Tofurkey sandwich meat (available at most chain grocery stores, pictured above draped on a paper turkey to give an authentic effect) or some Morning Star Farms products (just heat and serve), it could be very appreciated. On the whole, most Thanksgiving sides are vegetarian or could be vegetarian with a few tweaks. Vegetables like string beans are easy, and you can moisten mashed potatoes with milk instead of chicken stock (if that’s how you usually do it). On the note of beef or chicken stock, simply substitute vegetable stock if applicable. If you want to score points though, you could make (or buy) a vegetarian “main dish.” Quiche or an egg puff is good because it includes protein (eggs, cheese), or a vegetable pot pie could work too.
There is a difference between vegetarians and vegans. Vegetarians don’t eat meat (though some eat fish, that’s a personal choice that you can clarify by simply asking your vegetarian guest before the meal) and vegans don’t eat any meat or animal bi-products. This means no eggs, no milk, no cheese, no butter. Stock up on vegetable sides and prepare them mindfully. It’s especially good to make something that contains beans or peanut butter because that will be the main protein. Vegan desserts are sometimes hard because they often require substitutions, but here’s a fun trick: Soda cake. Simply pick up a package of cake mix (read the ingredients to make sure, but most are vegan, Duncan Hines recommended) and a can of soda (take one or two sips for 10 oz.). The soda replaces the eggs and oil in the recipe! Just mix and bake according to the instructions. Warning: Cake can come out sticky!
I’m not very familiar with the gluten free diet, but this article from Mayo Clinic breaks it down nicely. On the whole, meat is gluten free, though it may vary depending on what you add to it. A traditional turkey should be fine, but if you want to do anything fancy or just want to play it safe, simply take a cut and cook it separately for your gluten free friend’s needs. Vegetables are usually good to count on. From what I understand, the toughest part of a gluten-free diet is bread and dessert. Huffington Post has a great article that lists the best gluten-free breads that you can order or get from a specialty store, and this recipe for a twist on a flourless chocolate cake looks so good, people who can eat gluten may even want to try it!
As a final note, adding some “vegetarian” or “gluten free” place cards in front of special dishes will also be a good idea so there are no surprises. Also, be sure that the guests with special diets get the first chance at the dishes meant especially for them. Keep in mind, and note to your party, that where there may be eight dishes total, there may only be three or four that guests with certain diets can eat. I’ve been to a lot of parties where there was a vegetarian dish, but other people had eaten it all! Just be considerate, and your guests will be thankful for the effort.
Use SteerList as your grocery list app so you don’t forget to pick something up from the grocery store. You can also use it to remember notes (like that list of things not gluten free) or save tips to it.
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- Tofurky, anyone? If your Thanksgiving guest has special dietary needs, there are options (timescolonist.com)
- Gluten free recipes, What is Celiac Disease? (glutenfreerecipessimple.wordpress.com)