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Something for Everyone at the Holiday Table: What to Serve Guests with Food Allergies and Diet Restrictions by Lynn Dugan

Your family will be together in a few short weeks and you are already stressing about the holiday meal you are hosting.  Aunt Susie is newly gluten free.  You also think your brother’s girlfriend is a vegan.  What should you do to accommodate these dietary restrictions? Most importantly, how can you be a good host while managing the menu and keeping your sanity?

I can help!  As a Registered Dietitian, I know about meal restrictions and accommodations. I also love to entertain and know the challenges in meal planning and food preparation when dealing with different diet demands.  And, my oldest son has a life threatening nut allergy.  Every holiday, I work with the host to understand the menu and determine what I need to make to supplement the meal for his benefit.

So, here is your game plan in three simple steps:

  1. Understand your guest’s dietary restrictions. 2. Work out the base menu. 3. Communicate the menu and recruit help with preparation.
  1. Don’t begin meal planning until you understand the dietary restrictions. After making it clear to your guests that you look forward to being together, ask the questions necessary to best understand the restrictions. Vegan is a diet free of animal products (including meats, fish, dairy, butter, eggs) but does your vegan guest avoid honey, too? How sensitive is the gluten restriction? I have gluten-free friends who eat bread on occasion but none of my celiac friends can tolerate even cross contamination from cutting boards, knives, toasters, measuring cups, frying oil and baking sheets. The conversations you have with step one are a good place to begin as it shows your concern for your guests, that their well-being is your priority. You can also gauge how open they will be to making and bringing a dish to supplement your meal. That takes us to step #2.
  1. Plan the menu. Your guiding principle for menu planning is to have something for everyone at the Holiday table but not everything has to be for everyone. Consider what I call the ‘red light’ foods for each dietary restriction and pick a menu item that suits everyone.  Red lights for gluten free are always anything made with wheat flour: regular bread, stuffing, crackers, pasta, and rolls.  You’ll be able to offer a gluten-free side dish when using rice, wild rice, potatoes, corn or quinoa to replace wheat.

As already mentioned, the red light for vegans are any animal products – meats and poultry, fish, dairy products, honey. Make sure you offer a menu item that contains a significant protein source like adding beans or legumes to a wild rice casserole, or offering a quinoa-based dish or any dish featuring legumes or lentils. A bowl of mixed nuts on the table can also offer an additional source of protein for the vegan diet.

Side dishes that can work for everyone are typically potatoes, vegetables, salads, fruits and nuts when prepared without the red-light ingredients and prepared with dairy substitutes like soymilk and vegetable oil spreads.

  1. Share the menu with your guests and recruit help. Most people like to bring something. And they are best able to adapt to their own dietary restrictions. While sharing the menu, it is important to communicate any diet restrictions that they might not be familiar with (like telling the gluten-free aunt you have a vegan guest coming). Let your guest know you’ll need them to keep track of any ‘red light’ ingredients in their dishes so you can communicate those during the holiday meal. If your party is small, you can easily point out acceptable dishes. If your party is large, it may be helpful to mark foods as GF or Vegan using a tented name card/place card. Remember, your goal is to have something for everyone but not everything has to be for everyone! 

By following these three steps and making some easy adaptations to the traditional Holiday dinner, your guests will feel welcomed, special and included.

I have highlighted my Warm Sweet Potato Lentil and Apple Salad Bowl.  It is vegan and gluten-free.  Each step of the recipe can be made in advance and assembled warm just before mealtime.  Happy Holidays!

Warm Sweet Potato, Lentil and Apple Salad Bowl
Serves 4
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 2 pounds sweet potatoes peel and dice
  3. 1 small red onion, large dice
  4. 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  5. Salt and pepper
  6. 8 ounces mushrooms (button or cremini), sliced
  7. 2 cloves minced garlic
  8. 2 stalks celery, sliced
  9. 4 small tart apples (Jonathon or Cortland), dice
  10. 1 cup cooked lentils
  11. 1 cup balsamic vinegar
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven 425 degrees.
  2. Make balsamic glaze: place balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and gently simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the glaze is reduced by half, is thick and coats the back of a spoon (consistency of chocolate syrup). Set aside.
  3. Place potatoes and onions on baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper. Roast high in oven for 20 minutes, until tender.
  4. Meanwhile, sauté mushrooms, garlic and celery in 1/2 tablespoon oil until mushrooms and celery are softened. Salt and pepper, to taste. Add apples and cook until just warm.
  5. Pour contents of sauté pan into a large bowl. Add roasted potatoes and lentils; stir to combine. Garnish with balsamic glaze.
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