How to Accommodate Guests with Special Diets and Stay Sane

November 21, 2014

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?

Vegan Shepard's Pie

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. 
  • Anita Shepard has multiple 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 custardy pie, she uses chestnut flour and full-fat coconut milk instead of egg and milk, and kabocha squash in place of pumpkin. 

Andouille Sausage Stuffing

Shop the Story

Gluten-Free Stuffing

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Satisfying Paleo and Vegan Guests

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

Vegan and Gluten-Free Gravy

How to Make Dairy-Free Gravy 

  • Gena Hamshaw makes a vegan and gluten-free gravy using brown rice flour or chickpea flour along with nutritional yeast flakes.
  • 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 of 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:

Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Michelle
  • mikeylikesit
  • ChefJune
  • vvvanessa
  • Debbie
Lactose intolerant cheese lover, who will walk blocks for a good cup of coffee. Recently escaped the corporate world, after discovering her favorite part of the job was ordering catering.


Michelle November 6, 2015
I am lactose intolerant " extreme " and allergic to all sugars , however can tolerate small amounts of sugars from fresh fruits and honey . I love the smell of fresh baked dessert , yet haven't had any since I was 9 years old . Please any suggestions , I am 56 years young currently , you know ...part of my " Bucket List " ! ?
mikeylikesit November 27, 2014
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.
ChefJune November 21, 2014
Debbie, the only cornbreads I make are always gluten free with no substitutes. The only grain in them is corn - which is gluten free.
vvvanessa November 25, 2013
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.
Rhonda35 November 23, 2016
Yes! I agree with you 100%. :-)
Debbie November 24, 2013
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.
Lindsay-Jean H. November 24, 2013
The linked cornbread recipe by carbonarasuz is in fact gluten-free, no substitutions necessary!
Debbie November 24, 2013
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.
Lindsay-Jean H. November 24, 2013
Thanks for sharing your concerns, the language has been updated to help clarify.
Debbie November 24, 2013
Thank you.
soupcon November 24, 2013
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.
AntoniaJames November 24, 2013
Alas, I would note that the flax seed used to replace an egg absolutely must be ground first to achieve the desired effect. ;o)