Though families struggle to avoid the traditionally taboo conversation topics of religion, politics, money, and sex, the Thanksgiving table is an infamous place for heated debate. But let us not argue about the food! No matter how you describe your eating style – vegan, paleo, ovo-lacto, dairy-free, gluten-free – the Thanksgiving table should be a place of gratitude and coming together. As we think about dinner next week, we consider Thanksgiving menu planning for all eating styles.
One of the first rules of hosting this great feast is knowing your audience. If Jimmy is bringing his new girlfriend, get to know her dietary restrictions. Perhaps a group email (text? how you communicate depends upon your style and family) saying something like “I’m so excited to see you all. Please arrive at this time. Dinner will be at that time. If any of you have any dietary restrictions, please contact me individually and we’ll make a plan to satisfy…” Done. If one of your guests has an eating style you don’t understand or cannot accommodate, ask him or her to bring a dish to pass. Those who do not respond, but have restrictions are at the mercy of the host.
Those who have no label for their eating styles will be content with traditional fare. Let’s look at those other eating styles:
Paleo – The Paleo diet is based on lean proteins and vegetables. It avoids grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, processed foods, and refined oils. Paleo eaters eat the foods they presume were consumed by our ancestors during the Paleolithic era. Much of Thanksgiving dinner will qualify – less the sweet treats and mashed potatoes.
Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian – An Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian does not eat meat (that means no fish or chicken – you’d be surprised how many people think that chicken or fish are not meat) but does eat some animal products such as dairy and eggs.
Vegan – Vegans do not eat any animal products. No eggs, no dairy, no chicken broth, no fish…you get the picture. An easy way to please your vegans is to leave off the butter and cream in your veggie dishes. It’s easy and delicious. For mashed potatoes, simply use some of the water from boiling the potatoes as the liquid, use vegan margarine instead of butter.
Tip: Stay away from the Tofurkey, serve your vegetarians real food. Expecting your vegetarian guests to just eat the veggies at Thanksgiving is like inviting someone to an ice cream social and expecting them to simply socialize. Make a veggie entree, like baked acorn squashed stuff with walnuts and cranberries, or vegan shepherd’s pie. Here are some great vegetarian options. Wicked Healthy also offers excellent vegan recipes. Choose the simplest, make it ahead of time.
Gluten-Free – A gluten-free diet excludes the grains wheat, barley, rye, or hybrids of these grains. Not that hard to avoid. Find out if your guest has celiac disease. This is a much more serious reaction to gluten than a simple preference or intolerance. A person who has celiac disease cannot eat turkey that has been stuffed with bread stuffing – even if that part of the turkey did not touch the stuffing. Talk to your guest ahead of time and make a plan. And make the stuffing in a separate pan.
Dairy-Free – See the vegan note about leaving off the butter. Offer a butter dish at table for your butter sticklers.
And of course, Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to share some Blossom Water. (Which works with any of the above eating styles!) You can use Blossom Water bottles as place cards by draping them with neck charms. Or use them as part of a centerpiece with real flowers. Or best of all, if you are serving wine with dinner, serve plenty of Blossom Water between glasses of wine to keep the alcohol-fueled conversation and Thanksgiving table manners on the sweeter side.
Good luck. Take care. And if all else fails, Emily Post’s kids make a good etiquette podcast.