University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Planning an Allergy-Friendly Thanksgiving

Family eating Thanksgiving meal

For many families Thanksgiving has become more challenging as cooks find themselves scrambling to find tasty recipes suitable for guests with dietary restrictions such as nut allergies, lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity. In addition, many traditional dishes associated with the holiday contain ingredients that vegans and vegetarians won't eat.

If it's your turn to host the festivities, contact your guests in advance to ask if they have any dietary restrictions. While you should not feel obligated to purchase or make special foods for each person, you should be able to find a few healthy recipes that everyone can eat.

One tip when planning your menu is to "think green" as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce and other green vegetables usually are a good option for just about everyone. Or consider serving butternut, acorn or another variety of winter squash. Just be careful when preparing any of these vegetables as what they are cooked in and mixed with does make a difference.

For example, you will need to avoid butter if cooking for vegans although you could substitute vegan butter or canola oil. When preparing mashed sweet potatoes or yams as well as other potato dishes, instead of using milk or cream, try rice or soy milk or even orange juice.

The latter options also are good alternatives for lactose-intolerant guests, who will love your mashed potatoes if prepared with Greek yogurt instead of milk. Or skip the traditional green bean casserole that's made with cream of mushroom soup and milk and try sautéing the beans in a little olive oil and minced garlic instead. It's a healthier dish that everyone, including guests with dairy allergies, will love.

Did you know that you can thicken homemade gravy with brown rice flour rather than all-purpose flour, which contains wheat? This allows gluten-sensitive guests to enjoy gravy on their mashed potatoes, turkey and other dishes.

If you don't want to make your own, gluten-free gravies also are available at many supermarkets. Just be sure to check the label to make sure that the product does not contain any unwanted ingredients.

If you use almonds, sesame oil and any type of nuts, or even prepare any foods in the vicinity of these, this could mean a trip to the emergency room for family and friends with nut allergies. Omit the nuts or find a safe substitute such as soy nuts or cracker crumbs, depending on the dish.

Unless all your relatives and friends are vegetarians or vegans, you will probably serve turkey at the Thanksgiving table. However, many fresh and frozen turkeys contain hidden allergens such as dairy, soy, wheat and corn. Self-basted turkeys have been injected with butter, water and salt and sometimes contain gluten.

Two safe options are a natural turkey, which means that no artificial colors or flavor-enhancing ingredients have been added, and kosher, which is not injected with dairy and will not require brining as it has already been salted. Organic or free-range turkeys typically are a safe choice but be sure to check the label before you buy as certain allergens may be present.

When preparing any food, always follow basic food safety principles to prevent cross-contamination. Use a separate area with a separate set of cooking utensils and equipment. For a gluten-sensitive person, for example, even a single crumb of a gluten product can cause illness.

Are any of your guests particularly fussy or have difficult dietary needs to meet? Then you might want to ask them to bring something that they know is safe for them to eat.

With a little effort you can prepare a delicious Thanksgiving meal without sacrificing taste, nutrition or tradition.