Don’t Let Dietary Restrictions Spoil Your Thanksgiving: Simple Tips to Satisfy Everyone

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year, chances are you’ve got at least one or two guests with dietary restrictions – sugar free, gluten free, paleo, vegan – the list goes on. At first glance, it may seem like a real hassle to adhere to multiple dietary restrictions when trying to host a holiday dinner like Thanksgiving. But there’s a silver lining to this culinary cloud: One of the best ways to meet the needs of different restrictions is to cook as close to the natural source as possible. And that can make the job of the cook a lot easier.

For instance, keep the turkey simple – just a plain roast with a few fresh or dried herbs. Instead of adding salt, serve the bird with plenty of lemon wedges for squeezing. You’ll get the “zing” of saltiness without the sodium. Cook any stuffing on the side, and consider making it simple as well, with whole grains, celery and onions and a little vegetable broth to keep it moist.

For vegetarians and vegans, yes, Tofurkey is certainly one option. But if you only one or two vegans at your table, you’re going to have a lot of leftover soy to deal with. Instead, consider making a dish or two that combines whole grains or and beans, like a Southwest-style quinoa salad with a balsamic drizzle on the side for more flavor.

Taking a fresh approach with sides can also help: Instead of making mashed potatoes filled with cream and butter, roast some small red or gold potatoes alongside the turkey and some in their own pan with a little olive oil and rosemary. You can roast cauliflower and brussels sprouts too, for a little added flavor that’s a lot more festive than the usual steamed versions.

For desserts, search the internet for options or stick to simple fresh fruit and cheese. Some fruits like pears and even apples can be sprinkled with lemon juice, cinnamon, ginger and a little oil, then baked or grilled for a delicious gluten free option. Serve vanilla ice cream and maple syrup on the side for those who want to indulge.

Of course, if doing a lot of cooking is something that makes Thanksgiving special for you, you don’t have to go “simple” – there are plenty of paleo, gluten free, low-carb,  low-sodium recipes that taste great, and recipe sites like, and even just waiting to share them. You can also search for recipes based on the specific restrictions – for instance, “gluten-free side dishes” or “paleo desserts.”

One more option: Go potluck. Let everyone bring a dish or two that suits their specific needs – something festive and special with plenty to share. Of course, not every dish is going to suit all the other diners’ needs, but you can fill in “around the edges” with a few special salads or whole-grain dishes.

Most of all, consider making and serving different foods an adventure – a chance to learn and explore new dishes and get to understand your loved ones a little better. And who knows? You might just turn up a new family favorite or two!

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