Thanksgiving Special Diet Cheat Sheet
This Thanksgiving, you may find a newly vegan nephew rubbing elbows with a last-minute gluten-free guest at the dinner table. Whether you've done your homework, or it's a surprise, here's a guide for problem-solving on the big day.
Vegan (V): While some are stricter than others, all vegans eat a plant-based diet without animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs. Avoiding these three is pretty straightforward, if tricky during the butter-and-meat fest that is Thanksgiving. To be on the super-safe side, watch out for honey and sugar labeled 100 percent pure cane sugar (animal bone char is widely used in refining sugar). Gelatin is an animal byproduct that can sneak into innocent-seeming holiday food like the marshmallows on your sweet potato casserole, so be sure to read ingredient labels carefully. In addition to these, there are a lot of sneaky animal-based ingredients that aren't vegan friendly. As a host, the best way to prepare is to stay away from heavily processed foods and go wild with the vegetables, legumes and whole grains (made with oil and not butter, of course!). Try fruit for dessert, and use maple syrup as a sweetener.
Plan Ahead: Pick a menu strong in vegetable and whole-grain sides. Try to include beans if you can; your vegan dinner guest can eat them alongside grains for a complete protein pairing. Make a simple fall-inspired fruit salad so they can enjoy dessert with the rest of your company.
Last Minute: Most vegans are good about alerting their host ahead of time, but just in case you've got a last-minute addition, here are some quick fixes. Hopefully there's a salad and one vegetable dish you made without any animal products! Search your cabinets and perhaps there's a can of beans somewhere in the back. Drain and toss with chopped fresh herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper for a super-quick bean salad. If the bread or rolls you're serving are vegan friendly, make a quick dipping oil for bread sopping by mixing oil, vinegar, salt and dried herbs. Do you have an apple? Chop it up and toss with maple syrup, dried fruit, nuts and vanilla for the quickest dessert fruit salad ever.
Gluten-Free (GF): This is one of the fastest-growing diets, so there's a good chance that one or more of your guests will follow a gluten-free lifestyle. Gluten, which is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a wheat and rye hybrid), can hide in lots of unsuspecting foods like soy sauce, salad dressing and — gasp — even the turkey! Look out for anything heavily processed, like bread, pasta, cake mixes, pie dough, cookies, crackers, croutons, seasoned snacks and anything battered. Check out ingredient labels; if you see "malt" (on its own or even part of another word) or "modified food starch," the item is not gluten-free. Do research to find a turkey that doesn't have added gluten-containing ingredients. This may seem overwhelming, but don't fret: Your guests can enjoy plenty of meat main courses, vegetable sides and gluten-free rice stuffing. And if you buy any processed products, like bread, make sure the labels say they're certified gluten-free.
Plan Ahead: Research and buy a turkey that's gluten-free. Make a gluten-free stuffing option, like rice stuffing, or use a gluten-free bread product. Have plenty of vegetable sides free and clear of gluten-containing grains. Try a new side made with buckwheat, which is naturally gluten-free! Make a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. If your gluten-free dinner guests are beer drinkers, find a gluten-free option.
Last Minute: Everything will be OK! Even though those who are gluten-free are good about letting you know (and sometime even bring their own food), you may get stuck in a pickle. Here's how to make sure there's enough from them: Load them up on any vegetable sides made without gluten, like green beans, Brussels sprouts or mashed potatoes. Mix together applesauce, Dijon mustard and a little sour cream for a gluten-free alternative to gravy for their turkey. Gently fold cranberry sauce or fruit preserves into whipped cream to make a quick dessert.
Paleo (P): You have probably heard of vegan and gluten-free diets and may even be somewhat familiar with them, but a guest who follows a Paleo diet may be a newbie at your table this year. Regardless of whether it's a lifestyle choice or for health reasons, the list of do's and don'ts is rather specific, and like vegans, some Paleo guests may have customized diets. So here are a few key guidelines to get you through the meal. Make sure you have some of the following offerings: grass-fed meats, wild fish or seafood, fruits, non-starchy vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds. And try to cook with olive oil. A Paleo eater will avoid grains, legumes (especially peanuts — sorry, they aren't actually nuts), dairy, sugar, any processed foods and foods cooked in vegetable oil.
Plan Ahead: Buy a heritage turkey or small free-range chicken that you roast the day before. You can cut it up and reheat it the day of. Or roast a small hunk of wild salmon to serve hot or at room temperature with dill and lemon. Plan on serving plenty of vegetable sides that are free of dairy and grains. Dip fruit (strawberries, pineapple, kiwi) in bittersweet chocolate for dessert.
Last Minute: A Paleo pal will most likely let you know about his or her diet restrictions (and may even offer to help cook). But in case you're in a bind, here are a couple of tips to get you through dinner: Chop up all the extra toasted nuts and toss them with any seeds you have on hand so your new Paleo friends can sprinkle them all over their vegetable sides. Poach a few eggs: Fill a large skillet with water, then add a generous splash of vinegar. Bring the water to a gentle simmer, then crack each egg into a coffee cup and slide into the water. Cook until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny.