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How to Serve Someone with a Food Restriction at Thanksgiving

Photo: Chris Court

Hosting Thanksgiving can be stressful at best, but sometimes you're given the additional curve ball of a guest with special dietary needs. With a few simple changes, such as swapping out serving spoons to minor menu plan adjustments, you can include all your guests in an easy-breezy Thanksgiving affair. 

It's becoming more and more common: you invite a friend or family member to Thanksgiving dinner, but when they RSVP, you suddenly remember they have a food restriction. Whether it's a person who's vegan, gluten-free, or suffering from a food allergy, there are many reasons that someone attending your holiday get-together might have a food restriction. Here are some simple tips to keep your sanity while making a meal that your guests (of any dietary inclination) will enjoy:

1. Ask About Their Dietary Restrictions

Different labels mean different things to each person, so ask your guest exactly what they can and can't eat. You may have invited a vegetarian who eats fish occasionally, or a gluten-free eater who isn't bothered by trace amounts. Most people with dietary restrictions are just happy that you're accounting for their sensitivities, so many will be more than willing to explain their diet.

2. Gather Recipes

If you're unfamiliar with a certain diet, ask your guest for recipe or cookbook suggestions. Don't stress over making the entire meal allergen, meat, or gluten-free. Having three or four recipes will be enough for most guests. It's also a good idea to ask your guest which foods they actually dislike. You wouldn't want to make a Brussels sprouts salad as your vegan-friendly side, only to find out your guest's least favorite veggie is Brussels sprouts. You don't always have to try new recipes either. Sometimes meeting your guest's dietary restrictions can be as easy as opting for gluten-free breadcrumbs, leaving a certain salad topping on the side, or choosing vegetable broth instead of chicken.

For extra inspiration, check out these menus:

How to Make Brussels Sprouts with Prosciutto

3. Be Aware of Your Cooking Space

When cooking up the actual meal, take extra steps to ensure no cross-contamination happens in the kitchen. This is especially important if your guest has a food allergy. 

  • If reusing a pan that was previously cooked in that day, give it an extra scrub in the sink to make sure no allergens were accidentally left behind.
  • Try and keep your "special" (dietary-centered) dishes separate during the cooking process. This means avoiding setting pots and pans (when the contents have the opportunity to splatter) near each other, or baking some foods at the same time. 
  • No double dipping! Whether it's tasting each dish or when stirring the different pots on your stove top, make sure you have a designated set of cooking utensils for your diet-restricted dishes. 

4. Smart Serving

If you're having a sit-down dinner across the table, it's a good idea to point out which dishes are specifically cooked with certain guests in mind. If it's more of a buffet-style meal, try to group and label the dishes to notify guests what they can safely eat. Be sure that each dish has its own serving spoon. That way, nobody in the buffet line will be tempted to use the same utensil for two dishes.

Welcome your guests—even the ones with the funny food preferences or the life-threatening allergies—safely into your home and to the dinner table with these practical tips for serving someone with a specific diet at Thanksgiving. Remember, you may not need to change everything about your menu. A few little adjustments here and there may be all that's needed to satisfy your guest's dietary needs.