As I make the first of several grocery lists to prepare for Thanksgiving Day dinner, I am mindful of some ways that our traditional fare has changed over the years.
We have learned to work around a variety of dietary adjustments in our family and as I was thinking about what that has meant for me as the mom, I thought perhaps it would be helpful to those of you who have had to learn to realign the way you cook for loved ones and offer some thoughts about how we can make this less uncomfortable for them as they gather around our tables.
These are not well researched tips.
They are just things I have learned through trial and error and talking to people about what they can and cannot eat and how we can make them feel less singled out in the process.
Asking ahead is one great way to determine if there are any special diet needs, particularly if you are having guests around the table who are first time visitors.
If one of your guests is bringing someone who has not been to your home for a meal, just ask them if his or her friend has any allergies or preferences.
For someone in your family who has developed food allergies, you can ask for a couple of their current favorite recipes and add those to the spread.
Our family has learned to add some new dishes that have become year round go-to’s through just asking this simple question.
Since gluten and dairy are high on the list of problem foods for many people, try to have multiple dishes that do not have either of these ingredients.
Often we throw in one thing that we know our guests can eat, but think of how limiting it is for them when your loved one has only a vegetable tray to snack on as you set out a variety of appetizers.
There are so many great websites with ideas for everything from hors d’oeuvres to desserts that are both gluten and dairy free.
Researching and providing a nice variety for all to select from is just a kind and thoughtful gesture that will make a world of difference to someone who has restrictions.
You can rethink dishes and sometimes choose to sacrifice tradition over making your guest feel left out.
For example, oven browned potatoes with olive oil can be substituted for the traditional mashed and I have yet to hear many complaints. Or offer a dairy/gluten free sweet potato dish alongside the usual mashed potatoes.
I also try to make several different vegetable dishes and salads, which is really healthier in the long run for all of us.
When I make desserts, I sometimes adapt if possible by substituting an alternative flour and lactose free products and we actually have two gluten/dairy free cookie recipes that are so popular with everyone I have to double the batch.
I also will have several selections, some that are gluten/dairy free and some not.
I have gaffed this next tip enough that I cringe thinking about the times I made a big announcement to the group at large about which dishes were peanut free or dairy free or whatever needed to be free for one or two people and this is just not cool.
There are a couple of ways around this.
One is to make cute signs for everything and identify the availability of items to those with restrictions…an example being “Mashed Potatoes with Almond Milk” and “Full on Mac and Cheese”…ok maybe not the fanciest way, but you get the idea.
Another simple way is to just quietly let any guests know that either all food is fine or to steer clear of this or that dish.
There is also a factor that we often forget about.
Even children who have dietary restrictions like to feel autonomous about their food choices.
Most people with issues will typically ask if they are in doubt and sometimes if the allergy is not life-threatening, they may actually want to risk the unpleasant side effects to just enjoy an old favorite.
So making a fuss if your dairy/gluten free adult child takes a nibble of the cheesy potatoes they loved in their youth is not what they need on that special day of family gathering.
Last of all, as the keeper of traditions in the kitchen area, I am particularly sensitive to those in our family who can no longer partake NOT being made to feel like they have interrupted customary dishes.
We still put out the Monkey Bread and Egg and Cheese Casserole on Christmas morning, but we have added a delicious crustless egg quiche with spinach and tomato and a sprinkling of goat cheese.
The important thing is not what is on the table, but who is gathered around it and making each person feel welcomed and prepared for.
By taking a little extra time to think of a menu that makes everyone sense that their being there was something you anticipated and planned for, food truly can be a love language for all your guests.
Be blessed with a sweet weekend…even if you are watching your intake of sugar….and I will see you on Monday <3