How to cater to strict diets at Thanksgiving

As fun as it is to host guests for Thanksgiving, it can be challenging to cater to those with strict diets.

Guests who can’t eat something will say: “I’m allergic to eggs/nuts/wheat” or “I’m vegetarian/vegan.”

But, these days, there also are plenty of fad diets or food trends that people take on as a lifestyle choice and not necessarily for medical reasons.

Rice in its natural form is one type of grain that is gluten-free and is popular among those who can’t eat gluten. Check packaging though to make sure it’s not processed alongside wheat or other gluten-containing grains. (Courtesy of Pixabay)

Regardless of the why certain foods are off limits for some — offering an alternative for these guests to eat will make them feel welcomed and included.

Some people with food allergies or other food restrictions may choose to bring or make their own food for Thanksgiving or other family events because they didn’t want to be a burden.

That’s completely fine, if that’s their choice. Some may even prefer it that way.

But, someone traveling and staying at a hotel might not be able to make a dish in advance and bring it over.

So, to make it easier for you, when you are hosting the meal, make a dish that not only your strict-diet guests will like, but one that everyone else at the table will enjoy, too.

Sometimes it is as simple as swapping out a few ingredients.

For example, those following a vegan diet won’t eat any animal products.

So, if you’re making sweet potato casserole, use vegan butter, plant-based milk, and vegan marshmallows. (Regular marshmallows have gelatin, which is made up of various animal sources, like bones, ligaments, or pigs’ skin).

The sweet potato casserole will taste the same and the non-vegans probably won’t even notice.

Also, be sure to take precautions to prevent cross-contact if someone is allergic to a food. This is the same concept as cross-contamination, but in this case we are talking about an allergen and not a pathogen.

To avoid cross-contact, be sure to use separate cutting boards, knives, etc., or properly wash and sanitize them in between using the allergenic food and safe food.

Also, always wash your hands in between handling the different foods.

By Shari Bresin 

Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science Agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County.

Here are recipes that a gluten-free friend of mine shared for dishes she enjoys on Thanksgiving. 

These are both gluten-free and vegan-friendly.

Gluten and Dairy-Free Dirty Rice
Rice (typically, 1 cup of rice to 1 ½ cups liquid for four servings of cooked rice)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
2 stalks of celery, diced
8 ounces of fresh mushrooms, chopped
Water or Vegetable Stock

Chop onions, celery, and mushrooms.
Keep mushrooms separated from celery and onions.
In a large stock pot, sauté celery and onions until tender.
Add mushrooms and stir.
Add a dash of salt and pepper.
Measure your desired amount of rice.
Add uncooked rice and stir, lightly toasting the rice.
Add your desired liquid (water or vegetable stock) to the proportions on the rice. Stir and bring to a boil. Stay close to watch.
Once boiling, turn heat down to low, stir again, place lid on the pot.
Cook until rice is tender. Serve warm and enjoy.
You can use a gluten-free chicken broth instead of water or vegetable stock if you weren’t also trying to make it plant-based.

Gluten and Dairy-Free Fresh Tomato Salad
Your Favorite Fresh Red Tomatoes
Italian Seasoning Herbs Mixture
Fresh Basil
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper

Cut your fresh tomatoes into circles and place them on a serving tray.
Chop fresh basil (about 1/4 cup basil for three large tomatoes, such as beefsteak).
Sprinkle Italian Seasoning herb mixture on the tomatoes.
Sprinkle kosher salt and black pepper.
Add fresh basil.
Just before serving, lightly sprinkle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the tomatoes. Enjoy!

Published November 22, 2019


  1. Some families have the challenges of a family member or friend with Prader-Willi syndrome. This can really increase the challenges.

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