Is your holiday dinner table filled with picky eaters who have their own specific diets that need to be followed? Don’t fret, to make everyone happy, follow these easy tips from our ShopRite dietitian and your holiday meal is sure to be enjoyed by one and all.
We’ve all been there. A big holiday dinner party is on the horizon and everyone is looking forward to one of your famously delicious home cooked meals. However, there are a few glitches you have to work out first.
One guest, you’ve just found out, is a vegan. Another is on a strictly low sodium, gluten-free diet. Plus, two of your best friend’s kids have serious food allergies, and the third refuses to eat anything green. What’s a gracious host to do?
“This is a predicament that’s becoming more and more common these days,” says Stephanie Perez, RD, Retail Dietitian supervisor at ShopRite Supermarkets. “Increasingly, people are following a specific diet, so finding meals that ‘please’ everyone, especially during the holidays, can be very challenging.”
Perez says that finding ways to accommodate different eating styles isn’t difficult but takes some advance planning.
“My first suggestion is that if you are sending out an invite, ask people with special dietary needs to let you know ahead of time. It’s always easier to have one or two ‘special’ dishes on hand than to be surprised once dinner has started and you discover that your guests have nothing to eat.”
Perez says that rather than feel constrained by the dietary limitations of others, use their food preferences to experiment with different cuisines, ingredients and menus.
“In my experience, there’s almost always an interesting swap or alternative to whatever kind of food you need to replace. Some of the most creative dinners are born out of necessity and then go on to become family favorites,” says Perez. “However, you should always check with your guests to make sure that their diet allows for whatever swaps you intend to use.”
And if all else fails? “Why not host a potluck dinner ?” suggests Perez, who explains that this way everyone can bring a dish that meets their needs, and everyone attending can try something new. “When I host a potluck dinner, I always ask my friends to bring a copy of the recipe, just in case anyone wants to recreate that dish at home. It ends up being a fun time and best of all, it’s less work for the host, too!”
With a little creativity and ingenuity stirred into the pot, holiday dinners can be a source of many happy memories and new meal traditions to come.
Below, Perez has outlined some simple swaps for at-home chefs looking to create meals, side dishes and desserts that will enable everyone’s dietary needs to be satisfied.
VEGETARIANS: Try using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. For appetizers that traditionally use beef, like meatballs, use a combinations of grains, like quinoa, with chopped fresh mushrooms. You’ll be surprised how delicious, and similar to ‘meat’ they are in texture and taste.
VEGANS: Vegans eat a plant-based diet, which means they don’t consume anything derived from an animal, such as meat, dairy or eggs. “Some easy vegan swaps include using olive oil instead of butter, and in place of milk consider milk alternatives, like soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk or rice milk – there are so many different types!”
DAIRY ALLERGY: Depending on the recipe, you can use dairy-free milk, like soy, rice, or almond milk, as a replacement. “For dessert, look for non-dairy whipped creams, sorbets or dairy-free ice creams.”
GLUTEN FREE GUESTS: “Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and any foods made with these grains, so consider all the ingredient in recipes you create if you are trying to go gluten-free.” If your guests are gluten-free because of celiac disease, it’s extra important to be careful about cross contamination. Be sure to use separate pans and utensils — basically everything that touches the food — when making a gluten-free dish. Or to be on the safe side, you can go to your closest ShopRite to get items that are pre-packaged (rolls, breads, stuffing mixes, cookies, cakes, bread crumbs, pie crusts, etc…).
LOW SODIUM WATCHERS: Check labels to find lower sodium products, such as no salt added canned beans. Rinsing canned items reduces sodium as well. “Remember, cooking from scratch always allows you to have more control of the amount of salt you add to dishes. Start with a mixture of spices and herbs for flavor and add salt at the end if it’s necessary.”
DIABETES: To take this dietary need into consideration, offer lower sugar, whole grain options. “For instance, instead of making ‘traditional’ yams with brown sugar, canned pineapples and marshmallows, roast whole sweet potatoes in the oven (or slow cooker), add cinnamon if desired – and you’ll have a naturally sweet, better-for your version of this holiday favorite.