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A Welcoming Table: Making a Meal for Special Diets

It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of turkey, stuffing, pie, rolls, and more pie. If you don’t have to worry about what you eat, planning the Thanksgiving meal is a breeze. But if you have food allergies, sensitivities or follow a special diet, or have guests who do, it can be a challenge finding foods that are suitable, yet still deliciously festive.

I don’t have any particular food preferences, but I have friends who are gluten free, others who are vegetarian, and some who are vegan. It’s important to me to make those friends feel as comfortable eating in my home as anyone else. Here are some tips I’ve learned for taking care of your friends and family:

Communication is Key

Talk with your guests before the big day and find out more about their needs. Some who eat gluten free can do just fine with foods made in any kitchen, yet others need to follow strict rules to avoid cross-contamination.  

If you’re feeding vegetarians or vegans, see what their expectations are. Even if you have plenty of meat-free options on the table, some might not appreciate a giant turkey being carved in front of them for the carnivores.

Make some new traditions with Thanksgiving “Risotto” or Mixed Mushroom Soup:

Thanksgiving “Risotto”Mixed Mushroom Soup

Read Carefully

Recipes and boxed ingredients can sometimes hide ingredients that won’t sit well with your guests’ tummies. Or can unwittingly add an animal product to an otherwise meatless dish. Usually a switch is as easy as grabbing the vegetable stock for your stuffing rather than chicken!

Try new sides with Wild Rice and Cranberry Stuffing with Walnuts or Roasted Spiced Sweet Potatoes and Pears:

Wild Rice and Cranberry Stuffing with WalnutsRoasted Spiced Sweet Potatoes and Pears

Double Duty

Rather than making gluten-free and regular versions of a dish, just go with the gluten free! You’ll save time as well as make your guests feel more at home without making them search for the “special” plate. Foods appropriate for someone following a special diet can be just as tasty to folks who are not.

Pour gravy everyone can love with Roasted Garlic and Parsnip Vegan Gravy, and Bake up delicious with gluten- and dairy-free Butternut Custard Pecan Pie.

Roasted Garlic and Parsnip Vegan GravyButternut Custard Pecan Pie

Ask For Help

There’s no shame in asking your friends what they can eat, or even if they could bring a side dish with them. They know their diet better than you, and chances are they’ll be happy to prepare something that everyone can enjoy. Who knows, they might even change a few minds about special diets!

For more recipe inspiration and holiday tips, check out our Holiday Cheat Sheet!

What special diet recipes do you love to prepare for the holidays? Share in the comments!

From carving with confidence to pouring with pride, our online Holiday Cheat Sheet means more of your best for less stress. Order holiday meals online too; we'll do the work, you'll take the credit.

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Debbie Craig says …

I make renal friendly recipes for family member on dialysis. I leach potatoes before mashing to reduce potassium, and servereduce phosphorus by not adding cheese to everything, reducing use of baking powder and milk chocolate.

Denise says …

I like this web-site!

Michael Ozechov says …


Kathryn says …

These are excellent suggestions and the article is very well written. I'm on a gluten- and lactose-free diet. When I shop at Whole Foods, I always find items just right for me. I've been shopping at this store since the 1980's and could not do without them. They really know what they're doing! I'm going to bring a gluten- and dairy-free Butternut Custard Pecan Pie for Thanksgiving dessert. The hostess will appreciate it because she is also gluen- and dairy-free. (I will also bring desserts for those that are not on a restrictive diet.) Happy Holidays Everyone!!

Ginger says …

My Mom is 90 and the dr. Just put her on a low sodium diet. Help what can I fix?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@GINGER - If you're looking for recipes, we have an advanced search option on our website were you can look for low sodium recipes. Just click on the + sign to the right of the search bar on the recipes page.

Sharon Bibro says …

I hope this is a good place to post my issue. I buy RP's gluten free pasta for $3.79 in another store. So, yo can guess my dismay that Whole Foods sells the same gluten free pasta for $7.99. WOW - talk about gouging the consumer. I hope Whole foods reads this and is ashamed. I don't think I will shop there any more. What other products are out of sync with the rest of the world. I am still saying WOIW for such blatant misuse of the consumer/and people who must eat gluten free..

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SHARON - I'm very sorry to hear this and I would be more than happy to investigate this further for you. Our pricing is determined at each store location. If you can let me know which location this was I would be happy to get you in touch with their store leadership team.