The holidays bring together people who don’t often eat together and often are following different dining traditions. Here’s how to get along without working yourself to a frazzle or swallowing your ethics. I’m thinking about Thanksgiving today, but these tips work for other holidays too. See my favorite Thanksgiving recipes here.
7 steps to a welcoming holiday meal
- Relax. You probably eat more like they do than you imagine. I can’t count how many people have told me they can’t imaging doing without meat while they eat a spaghetti with tomato sauce, a bean burrito, corn on the cob, three-bean salad, or a PB&J sandwich.
- Focus on what they can eat, then use Pure Power to keep it that way. The traditional Thanksgiving meal has something for nearly everyone. “Cavemen” will eat the turkey, heavy cream, butter, and other carb-free fair. Plant-powered folks will eat everything else. The trick is to use Pure Power: make food delicious with few ingredients. Complex recipes mean more work and more ingredients. The less pure the food, the more likely it is that someone can’t eat it. For example, my old gravy recipe adds meat, dairy, and gluten to whatever it is poured over. My new mushroom gravy recipe uses mushrooms (surprise!), which some people abhor. Serve pure sliced turkey, pure baked potatoes, pure whatever with gravy on the side. More people can eat more dishes and you get a chance to show off your gravy boat.
- Go buffet style or pass platters. Label or identify what’s what so people make their choices without making a fuss. Let people choose what they want rather than arranging dishes restaurant style. It’s easier on you, makes people happier, and wastes less food. Uncle Jim may want two servings of Brussels sprouts and Aunt Jane may prefer dishes without onions.
- For vegetarians and vegans, turn the side dishes into main dishes. A plate full of sweet potatoes, green-bean casserole, mashed potatoes, rolls, applesauce, and cranberry sauce is a beautiful thing. Extra mile: make a center-piece dish like Stuffed Kabocha Squash or Kale and Cashew Strata (recipe for supporting members).
- For vegans, lighten up and separate. Replace the dairy or make it optional. Sauté green beans with mushrooms and garlic in a little olive oil instead of making green-bean casserole. Roast sweet potatoes and sprinkle with cinnamon, then pass the butter and the dairy-free buttery spread. Extra mile: make Vegan Pumpkin Pie with Gluten-Free Crust.
- For gluten-sensitive folks, offer grain alternatives. Your table will probably already be loaded with gluten-free options: corn, rice, wild rice, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Skip gluten where you don’t need it, for example by thickening gravy with cornstarch instead of flour. Extra mile: make cornbread without wheat flour, make a stuffing from that cornbread.
- Praise the food but don’t talk about who’s eating what why at the table. Talk about what you are thankful for, not about why Cousin Jean didn’t take any turkey or casserole. Avoid thinking about the ethical or physical reasons that people eat the way they do. Save the discussion about industrial farming or digestion problems until after dinner.
How do you cope with (or delight) special diets? Do you have a tale of especially gracious hospitality? Share in the comments below.