These days it seems as though everyone is following some type of special diet: paleo, vegan, gluten free, no sugar, no dairy, fat-free… the list seems to get longer every year! This year I took a survey of what dietary trends my guests are following and started planning and laying down groundwork for the Big Turkey Day. Here is what I found works best when working with dietary restrictions both by experience and my research.
Many Diets Have the Same Over-All Theme
The more popular diets tend to have somewhat the same goals with different ways of getting around to it. For example, two more extreme diet followers, paleo and vegans each believe in whole organic foods and neither diet consumes dairy. The big difference is paleo followers eat, of course lots meat for protein and vegans find their protein in soy, beans, and more vegetables. Luckily, Thanksgiving is all about sides (vegan/vegetarian guests can skip the bird) and there are plenty that are rich with vegetables. If recipes call for dairy, they can often be modified. Which brings me to my next tip…
I have never been one to follow recipes to a T. I always like to put my own spin on dishes and make them more memorable when I can. When it comes to Thanksgiving cooking, adding something extra to sides could mean excluding some guests from eating dishes, like extra cream and butter to the mashed potatoes (not vegan friendly), sugaring nuts before toasting (there goes my sugar-free, and strict paleo followers), or using chicken stock to braise autumn vegetable sprouts (sorry veg-heads). With a little beforehand experimentation and research I found that there are enough substitutes to make any recipe – insert diet requirement here—friendly.
A few kitchen tricks and ideas to keep in mind when preparing your Thanksgiving dishes:
Silken Tofu is ideal for a savory recipe that calls for dairy like cream, milk, sour cream, or cream cheese. This vegan and vegetarian substitute can be used for mashed potatoes, a soup thickener, dips, sauces, and even sweets!
Stock up! Many recipes call for chicken stock for flavor. Instead try vegetarian, or mushroom broth–the change is so subtle no one will notice!
Arrange your flours properly. If you are having both gluten free and paleo guests, keep in mind that paleo eaters do not typically eat grains or complex starches so no using corn flour or rice flour. Instead, look for coconut, almond, or hazelnut flour to keep all-dieters happy.
Coconut Cream, not milk, is a great substitute for heavy cream for any sweet recipe. It makes luxurious mousse and puddings. Can even be beaten into a topping that rivals dairy-based whipped cream. (Paleo, vegan/vegetarian, sugar free, and GF friendly too!)
Some helpful links to help navigate your Thanksgiving:
Ask When You Need To!
Often this time of year I find myself overwhelmed with holiday planning, but the people-pleaser in me finds it difficult to ask for help. However when is comes to special meal requests and folks following a specific diet I may not understand, I take a step back and ask what is best– not fully understanding what my guests are can or cannot eat? Or, allowing them to bring a dish they are fully confortable eating so they can enjoy the party? In this case, I will go with the latter and relax a little about what I can comfortably make.