A Menu for All

Thanksgiving should be one of my favorite times to cook. Each year though, it seems guests have come to the table, not with a healthy appetite, but with a list of things they can’t eat. From the vegan to vegetarian to dairy-free, gluten-free, and the curious-sounding “paleo,” meeting so many limitations while creating a something the omnivores would also find appetizing is quite a challenge.

My best advice is to first find out if there are any dietary restrictions. After an embarrassing faux-pas a couple years ago when I had new friends over and served Spanish-style chorizo only to find out they were vegan, I now make it a habit to ask friends, old and new, if there’s anything they don’t eat. The responses are sometimes surprising, but always helpful.

In case you’re unsure of the ever-changing dietary trends, below is a list of general guidelines for some current types of diets. I’ll be honest, that some of these do induce a reflexive eye-roll, but I do at least, admire their discipline.

Vegan: No foods containing animal products. This means no dairy, meat, fish, eggs, but also excludes not-so-obvious products like honey and gelatin.

Vegetarian: No meat or fish.

Pescatarian: No meat.

Gluten-free: No foods containing gluten, a storage protein found in wheat, barley, rye and hybrids thereof. Be aware that many thickeners and flavoring agents also use some of these ingredients, and therefore packaged foods may  contain gluten. Check the package to be sure. Anything also processed in places that process wheat, such as oats, may also contain gluten.

Dairy-free: No dairy (cheese, butter, milk). Again, processed foods may include dairy by-products so be on the lookout.

Lactose-free: No products containing lactose, a sugar found in milk. Note that some dairy products may be naturally lactose-free, while other processed foods that do not appear to contain lactose, do. (Lookout for whey in the ingredient list.)

Macrobiotic:  No meat, dairy, animal fat, tropical fruits, hot spices, or any refined or processed food. There’s much more about cooking process in this diet, so if you have a die-hard macrobiotic, ask for a recipe!

Paleo: I am new to this one, but apparently it’s been trending allover the country. It’s a diet that supposedly mimics the diet of our caveman ancestors, that is to say a contemporary hunter-gatherer diet. It includes fresh meat, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, but no dairy, cereal grains or processed foods.

Locavore: Restricted to foods grown locally (generally less than 250 miles; some may be stricter in their radius).

These are only some of the many categories of eaters out there, so like I said it’s best to ask your guests directly.

And as you plan your Thanksgiving meal, keep in mind you don’t have to make a different dish for each person. Veggies are basically a staple for all (I haven’t met anyone yet who is on a vegetable-free diet, though those that only eat raw food pose a particular challenge). You can also divide and conquer, dividing a recipe in half before you add a particular ingredient (let’s say cream to those mashed potatoes). Finally, try making some dishes à la carte, so that your guests can add a dab of butter, a drizzle of gravy, or a slice of cheese, should their diet allow.