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How to Accommodate Guests with Special Diets and Stay Sane

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There are so many great conversations on the Hotline -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it every day leading up to Thanksgiving to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge -- and to help you host the least stressful Thanksgiving yet. No promises on the crazy relatives.

Today: We'll arm you with simple solutions so your guests with special diets will enjoy post-Thanksgiving food comas too. Tomorrow we'll tackle all of your stuffing situations.

Accommodating guests with special diets on Food52

Thanksgiving is a day where everyone you love comes together, the uniting factor being food. So what happens when you have guests who have special diets? How do you serve a satisfying menu without straying too far from traditional Thanksgiving fare? Every year concerned hosts who want to make sure their vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or gluten-free guests don't leave hungry come to the Hotline for help. We have a summary of the best solutions -- substitution is the name of the game.

The Pros Propose

  • If you like the idea of serving a meat alternative that doesn't come out of a box, try Andrea Nguyen's homemade tofurkey, complete with a vegetarian version of her family's sticky rice dressing. 
  • Mollie Katzen suggests serving a large platter of olive oil-roasted vegetables. She says: "Most food restrictions fall under vegan, gluten-free, or nut-allergy categories. Almost all restricted eaters can eat vegetables and olive oil -- it's pretty safe territory." She also notes that it can be hard for non-dairy eaters to enjoy many traditional Thanksgiving preparations of potatoes and sweet potatoes, so be sure to include them in your roasted vegetable medley. 
  • Amanda Hesser suggests serving Crispy Delicata Rings with Currant, Fennel and Apple Relish -- it works for a number of different dietary requirements. 
  • Associate Editor Marian Bull recommends Shauna Ahern's Gluten-Free iPad app for stuffing tips. 
  • Anita Shepard has a number of suggestions for vegan desserts. For pie crusts, try subbing 3 parts non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening and one part coconut, safflower, or olive oil in place of the butter. To replace an egg, she uses 1 tablespoon flax blended with 3 tablespoons warm water until gooey. And for a custard-y pie, she uses chestnut flour and full fat coconut milk instead of egg and milk, and kabocha squash in place of pumpkin. 

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Gluten-Free Stuffing

  • With the right recipe, cornbread can be a great option -- carbonarasuz makes this gluten-free cornbread and adds it to her Adouille Sausage Stuffing
  • One bonus to using cornbread is that it allows you to add more sage (as opposed to stuffing made with white bread) says lorigoldsby.
  • Try grains like wild rice, or a millet pilaf with vegetables, dried cranberries, and pecans like susan g dreamed up. 
  • SeaJambon reminds us that you can always use any gluten-free bread in a regular stuffing recipe. 

Satisfying Paleo and Vegan Guests

More: Psst -- we're full of ideas for veganizing Thanksgiving.

How to Make Dairy-Free Gravy 

  • Monita and megandrob both make a roux from pan drippings, cooking with flour or cornstarch and substituting chicken broth, wine or a combination of the two, simmering until the roux thickens. 
  • SeaJambon reminds us to first stir the cornstarch in a few drops water, instead of putting it directly in the pan, as it will develop lumps. 

Tell us: How do you modify your favorite Thanksgiving dishes for your guests' diets? 

Have you missed any of our Thanksgiving roundup of Burning Questions? Catch up now:

First two photos by James Ransom, final photo by Eric Moran

Tags: special diets, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, thanksgiving, holiday, hotline

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Comments (10)


9 months ago mikeylikesit

I don't know about the rest of the country, but here in the Midwest, delicata squash disappears completely by Halloween, often even earlier. This year, most grocery stores in my area (a foodie city) were sold out by the end of September. Since I love it so much, and it gets snapped up immediately when available, I am growing my own next year in hopes of extending the season.


10 months ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Debbie, the only cornbreads I make are always gluten free with no substitutes. The only grain in them is corn - which is gluten free.


almost 2 years ago vvvanessa

I work both ends of the guests-with-special-diets issue, and here's what I've learned over many years of dealing with this:

Good hosts don't have to make every dish edible for every person but will make sure everyone has something delicious to eat; good guests with dietary restrictions don't arrive with the expectation of being catered to and offer to aid the host ahead of time by suggesting recipes or arranging to bring a dish (with the host's agreement) or, if necessary, will eat beforehand.


almost 2 years ago Debbie

Cornbread is not gluten-free. You can easily make gluten-free cornbread by substituting the flour in any recipe with gluten-free flour. Try the ones made by companies like Cup4Cup or Bob's Red Mill. It will taste just like the real deal.


almost 2 years ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

The linked cornbread recipe by carbonarasuz is in fact gluten-free, no substitutions necessary!


almost 2 years ago Debbie

Yes, I did see that but the article is a bit misleading. It doesn't make it clear that most cornbread is not gluten-free and that they must/should use the recipe you provide a link for. I bet many people didn't click on the link for the recipe and just read that cornbread was a good ingredient to use in gluten-free stuffing. I have thoughtful friends who have served me store bought cornbread thinking it was safe to eat. "Isn't it bread made out of corn?" I've had others suggest I try potato or rye bread. GF folks aren't picky. We're just allergic and will get sick.


almost 2 years ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

Thanks for sharing your concerns, the language has been updated to help clarify.


almost 2 years ago Debbie

Thank you.


almost 2 years ago soupcon

I don't modify my menu for vegan, vegetarian or paleo diets. These diets are a lifestyle choice as is mine and practitioners of these diets need to respect my food choices. I do however respect allergies (but not food dislikes) and will accommodate these the best of my ability but not at all cost.


almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Alas, I would note that the flax seed used to replace an egg absolutely must be ground first to achieve the desired effect. ;o)