How to Cook a Delicious Thanksgiving Dinner With Dietary Restrictions

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thanksgiving dinner foods

This cooking challenge may sound like the premise for a network reality show: Devise a kid-friendly Thanksgiving dinner that accommodates dietary restrictions such as gluten-free, nut-free and dairy-free guests. (Oh, and make sure it meets Thanksgiving dinner expectations for flair and flavor!)

If you’re already a Paleo Pro, please comment on my post below. I’m a mediocre cook, but I’m learning how to translate recipes for my guests. If I can give it a go, any mama can, too.

Here’s the good news: like me, mamas unfamiliar with these diets can tweak most of the classic Thanksgiving menu to feed all of their dinner guests. The keys are 1.) substitute ingredients 2.) try out bold recipes. Don’t forget to keep it kid-friendly.

Call Your Guests Before Making the Grocery List

For the sensitive cook, stress kicks in when they don’t know what is and what is not safe for the guest with a food allergy. My daughter is allergic to tree nuts, as in rush-her-to-the-ER allergic. My friends are conscientious about it, too; they always call and ask me if they have concerns about her dietary restrictions. My daughter is free to eat more than others realize. The confusion is usually about peanuts. Peanuts are legumes, not tree nuts. Bring on the peanut-butter pie, baby.

Then there are the wordy food labels. Her grandparents pull their hair out, worrying that “may contain tree nuts” is the same as “made in a facility that also processes tree nuts.” When in doubt, call the guest. They will feel the gobble-gobble love!

Keep Dinner Simple By Crushing the Classic Dishes

Now is not the holiday for Ina Garten’s Jeffrey-worthy vegetable side dishes. (Although, if you’re up for it, go for it!) Don’t think about being elaborate. For example, a fruit tart is simple, and it is a delicious alternative to pumpkin pie. But even pumpkin pie is doable, it just might require some expensive, hard-to-find ingredients.

I like ingredients like the ones Bob’s Red Mill brand produces. I can make a gluten-free pie crust without a meltdown on my end. I’m not afraid of picking up allergen-free frozen rolls from specialty grocery stores, either.

Don’t Screw Up the Stuffing

While in a specialty store, I splurge on ingredients for stuffing but for selfish reasons: stuffing is my favorite. I go big on stuffing. I might even make two versions of it—but both will triumph over dietary challenges.

Stuffing is full of gluten and dairy, so translating this recipe requires more effort.  Some recipes only require one ingredient that isn’t already a pantry staple: soy or rice milk. The Paleo eating style suits many guests; this recipe leans on eggs and nut flours.

Tip: Your guests with dietary restrictions won’t mind donating those extraordinary ingredients such as almond flour. Hit them up before you cook Thanksgiving dinner!

No Shame in a Thanksgiving Dinner Dress Rehearsal

Practicing the whole shebang is impractical but giving one unfamiliar recipe a stab is not. Kids love to taste test. Give them a cute set of cutlery for a fun and fancy taste test.

Exchange masHed potatoes for masKed potatoes; it is a done-and-done recipe. Replace the milk and butter with chicken broth and coconut oil. Add garlic for extra flavor. Gratins can trump the mashed potatoes, too. Sliced red potatoes drizzled with EVOO and spices? Yes, please.

Thanksgiving dinner, with or without dietary restrictions, is manageable and festive. Don’t let the challenge to cook it all defeat you. Remember: You will survive Thanksgiving dinner!

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