5 Important Thanksgiving Tips to Help Welcome Guests with Special Diets

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

These days it’s practically a given that you’ll have guests with vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, and other special diets at your holiday table. A little forethought goes a long way in making your day less stressful and their day more delicious so that everyone can celebrate together.

• Ask in advance. Rather than trying to guess exactly what people can and can’t eat, communicate with them about their needs. Your guest can tell you whether they are flexible about butter, or whether they are severely allergic to wheat. They will likely be touched that you’re even considering them. If it makes sense, ask your guest to collaborate on a dish or two.

• Do some research. Depending on how familiar you are with the particular diet, you may need to do a little research to learn that canned soup may include flour, or that vegetarians don’t eat gelatin. Read packaged food labels, ask your guests if you need help, and look at this as a positive opportunity to expand your knowledge as a cook.

• Make simple swaps or set portions aside. Consider using gluten-free flour in the gravy, vegetable stock instead of chicken, or pumpkin seeds instead of nuts. If your salad dressing contains sugar, you might set aside some undressed salad for the sugar-free guest. If you’re making mashed potatoes with butter and cream, set aside some plain potatoes for the lactose-intolerant guest.

• Avoid cross-contamination. Although guests will understand that your kitchen is not a Certified Gluten-Free and Nut-Free Facility, you can still minimize cross-contamination. Use separate spoons for stirring and tasting, wipe down counters, etc.

• Communicate on the day. Many people with dietary restrictions will simply avoid eating food they’re unsure about. Let them know which dishes are safe for them to eat, while trying not to make a big deal of anyone’s diet at the table. You may wish to take them aside individually, or to make a general announcement at the table about which dishes are vegan, gluten-free, etc. Remember, your goal as a host is to make your guests comfortable.

What tips would you add?