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How to make your Thanksgiving spread accommodating for all

Experts say don't be afraid to ask your family or friends if they have dietary restrictions before preparing your Thanksgiving meal. PHOTO: (KSL file)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Cooking for a Thanksgiving crowd isn’t as simple as it used to be.

Non-gluten, vegetarian, vegan, keto diet… More and more people are able to eat less and less of what’s on a traditional turkey day plate.

Experts say the key to making everyone feel welcome is communication. According to Cathy Merrill, Assistant Professor with Utah County USU Extension, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask family or friends if they have any dietary restrictions prior to preparing the spread.

“Have them communicate whether or not they have special food needs, so that they are aware that you are trying,” explains Merrill.

Many times someone with different nutritional needs will balk at having special dishes prepared just for them, but that doesn’t mean the conversation should end there.

“I think the easiest thing to do is to suggest that they bring something that you can then cook for them,” she says. “Because they know better what they can eat than you do.”

For example, a veggie burger could replace the traditional turkey for a vegetarian. By offering to grill the burgers that person can feel like any other guest at the gathering.

Merrill adds there are some easy dietary replacements to have on-hand.

“Lactose intolerant? Make sure you’ve got some non-dairy whipped toppings,” she says. “But make sure you know what it is that triggers their reaction.”

Some other easy options:

  •  Most stores have an array of non-gluten ingredients that can be used to prepare a pie or casserole.
  •  A wider selection of vegetables and larger salads can ensure vegetarians get their fill while skipping the turkey.
  • Replacing bread crumbs with cauliflower in stuffing will give those adhering to the keto diet more options.

In the end, Merrill says it’s less about the food and more about the people. If everyone feels welcome and appreciated, it’ll be a recipe for success.

“Make them part of the family,” she explains. “Have them wash their hands and put on an apron.”