Unfortunately, my family isn’t the type that invites random friends over for Thanksgiving. I’ve always thought it was a kind of interesting and cool thing to do. You may even have relatives who have special dietary needs or requests. Here’s a list of guests who may have special diet considerations and what to think about when planning your Thanksgiving dinner, while still accommodating all of your guests.
Even though Thanksgiving dinner features turkey as its main course, many vegetarians, myself included, still look forward to this meal. We find the abundance of side dishes makes up for the lack of a vegetarian main course. I do caution you to resist the temptation to trick vegetarians like my uncle did one year to me; he waited until I finished eating some stuffing before telling me (with a huge smile on his face) that he made it with giblets (these would be the internal organs of the turkey). Not funny or appreciated (and since I’m remembering it 30 years later, emotionally scarring!).
If you make your gravy with the turkey drippings, like every other red-blooded American, you might want to consider offering a meat-free version. You can either make this yourself or get a mix for or carton of veggie gravy at the store. Haines makes a great version that you can find in the soup and sauce mix section of most supermarkets. Also, if you make your stuffing in the bird, you might want to provide an alternative stuffing for your veggie guests.
People who have diabetes and many who have had gastric bypass surgery can’t (or shouldn’t) eat sugar, but there are lots of sugar-free foods for them to choose from.
If your dinner consists of a lot of sweet dishes like marshmallow covered squash or Waldorf salad, try to present some other less-sugary options as well.
Nowadays, it’s not difficult to find no-sugar-added desserts in your supermarket. You can also make most desserts using sugar substitutes like Splenda. By the way, even people who do eat sugar might find that they enjoy the low- or no-sugar options.
This is tricky. According to Dani Klein at yeahthatskosher.com,* unless you are kosher observant, it is unlikely that a kosher-observant person will be eating Thanksgiving with you. If you do happen to have someone who keeps kosher coming to dinner, Klein says that you should ask your guests to choose a kosher caterer or restaurant and order their food there. You will need to serve them with paper plates and plastic cutlery, as they will not use tableware that has been used for non-kosher food.
Muslim food restrictions, known as “Halal,” can be complicated. There are variations between Sunni and Shia practices and even within those groups. The main requirement is that you would need to get your meat from a Halal butcher, but your best bet would be to ask your guests what their requirements are. Also, remember that for all Halal-observant Muslims, alcohol is strictly forbidden.
Hindu dietary requirements can be complex as well. While most Hindus are strictly vegetarian, some are not, and others will avoid only beef and pork. Again, the best idea would be to discuss specific dietary needs with your Hindu guests before planning your meal.
Nut and Other Allergies
Allergies to nuts (and other foods like wheat and dairy) have become increasing common, especially among young children, and they can be quite severe—even life-threatening. If any children whose allergy status you don’t know are attending your Thanksgiving, you should always check with their parents.
Special attention must be paid to all packaged foods such as stuffing mixes. The FDA now requires manufacturers to provide allergen information, making your task somewhat easier, but note that nuts and other allergens can be found in many surprising places, so be sure to read all ingredients thoroughly.
Communication Is the Key
As with a good marriage, the key to hosting a good Thanksgiving for friends and/or extended family is communication. If you’re not thoroughly familiar with your guests’ dietary needs, ask them, and be sure to get as much specific information as possible. They will very likely be quite grateful for your consideration.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving and the holidays that follow—and remember, in people and their dietary needs as in all else, variety is the spice of life!
*Yeahthatskosher.com is a blog for the kosher traveler. Its authors navigate the globe searching endlessly for kosher food, so you don’t have to. The posts are designed to help you see the world without worrying about your next kosher meal. This site serves as a mini kosher directory of locations around the world.
Photo of candied yams, copyright allergyfre, on stock.xchng
Photo of Ganesha, copyright Warisara Niemwongse, on stock.xchg.
Photo of pumpkins, copyright Andrea Kratzenberg, on stock.xchg.
Pumpkin pie photo, copyright Mike Johnson, on stock.xchg.
Thanksgiving veggies photo, copyright Benjamin Earwicker, on stock.xchg.
Greta is a slacker mom masquerading as a type-A mom, and she is the Style Manager for Type-A Mom. She is the ownerof Wooster Square Publishing Services in New Haven, Connecticut, whereshe lives with the coolest little boy and the most patient husband inthe world. Visit her blog: Obama’s First 100 Days.