This holiday season, don’t get caught off guard with guests who have food allergies, sensitivities or any number of special dietary needs that are so prevalent these days. Whether dairy-free, nut-free, gluten or wheat-free, vegetarian or vegan, people have a variety of needs when it comes to food – some that are personal choices and others that are medically necessary. Whatever the reason, you’ll want to make sure all your guests are happy, healthy, well-fed and satisfied. To that end, I have some advice and tips to make this fun and easy, not to mention delicious.First and foremost, talk directly to your guests. Inquire about their special dietary needs or restrictions. If you plan to send out invitations, include a note requesting an “RSVP with dietary restrictions, please.” If talking to your guests directly, be sure to let them know ahead of time that you haven’t set your menu and would like to know if they have any special requests or restrictions. This simple step can save you and your guests a lot of embarrassment. It’s quite a relief for a guest to fully enjoy a meal without feeling like a burden and without leaving hungry. Once you know what to expect, it’s time to plan your menu, bearing in mind a few helpful tips:
For simple vegetarian changes, use vegetable broth in place of chicken or turkey broth when cooking.
For gluten-free cooking, choose from a variety of stuffing mixes or recipes that rely on gluten-free grains such as corn and/or rice.
For non-dairy menu changes, baking and cooking with one of the many popular non-dairy beverages, available sweetened or unsweetened, can work well. Be sure to have a non-dairy option for sour cream or whipped cream if need be. A quick check of our dairy and freezer cases will turn up a slew of alternate options.
For more elaborate gluten-free menu changes and options, check out our Gluten-Free Recipe Pages and Shopping Tips and my post on Gluten-Free Flours for More Than Baking. Our Gluten-Free Fall Recipes offer a wonderful array of gluten-free baked goods perfect for the holidays.
A few words of caution:
Remember, some allergic reactions can be life-threatening. If you have a guest with a serious allergy, it’s critical to think through all aspects of your cooking. Ask them to help you! They will appreciate it.
Cross contamination can pose a serious problem for highly allergic people, especially when it comes to foods such as peanuts, gluten, shellfish and tree nuts. This means if you chop nuts on your cutting board for one recipe and then use the same cutting board to chop celery for another recipe without washing it, your celery recipe is not truly nut-free and can present a serious problem. The same goes for stirring spoons, serving utensils, blenders, food processors, etc.
Be conscious and vigilant in looking for hidden ingredients. Thickening gravy with flour may be so automatic that you don’t stop to think that your flour contains gluten. Don’t worry! Here are some really great substitutions.
Always check the labels on packaged foods. There may be “hidden” ingredients such as nuts, dairy products or gluten.
Consider serving your holiday meal buffet style. This will keep each food item separate and please all of your guests as well as introduce new food choices. Buffet-style meals are ideal for setting out small cards, like place-card settings that include the name of the dish and the ingredient listing. Even if your meal is not buffet-style, your guests will surely appreciate a quick, private rundown on the dishes that meet their specific needs and those that don’t. Remember, not all of your dishes need to meet everyone’s requirements. Serving at least one protein choice with a couple of side options is fine. Here’s what I mean:
If serving turkey or ham, add a legume, lentil or tofu dish for vegetarians.
If you are serving traditional bread stuffing, offer rice or wild rice stuffing for gluten-free guests.
If whipped cream is on the dessert menu, have a second option of a non-dairy whipped topping as well.
Here are some delicious “alternative” holiday dishes you may want to add to your menu:
Wild Rice and Cranberry Stuffing with Walnuts (make this gluten free by shopping specifically for gluten-free items).
Foolproof Turkey Gravy (can also serve as a gluten-free recipe)
Are you planning a holiday feast for folks with special dietary needs? What’s on your menu? I’d love to know.