Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. While some people cringe at the idea of spending four straight days in close quarters with their family, I find myself counting down the days until I get to head to the ‘burbs to reunite with the family for the long weekend. Wednesday night finds me and my mother feverishly cooking and baking (and sipping wine) into the wee hours of the morning. Thursday I awake (not too early) to the smell of boiling potatoes and the sound of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. We continue the cooking marathon until it comes time to gather with close friends for the big event. Food and laugher abounds. We eat and drink and eat and drink some more, pausing only for our customary viewing of The Grinch (to welcome the holiday season, of course) and a few rounds of salad bowl. I’m in heaven.
This year, our Thanksgiving table will probably be the most accommodating diet-wise that it ever has been, as we’ll have die-hard carnivores alongside vegans, vegetarians, oil-free guests, and eco-friendly eaters. With more and more families facing similar challenges, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to provide some insight and inspiration aimed at satisfying every type of guest at your Thanksgiving feast.
If you’re going to have a meaty main on your Thanksgiving table, it better darn well be turkey. Below is a tried-and-true recipe that is guaranteed to be a hit. To console the environmentalist in the crowd, make sure to opt for a free-range, local heirloom turkey (it will taste better, too!). And for those who aren’t crazy about turkey (or have enough of a crowd coming that they want an additional protein), here is a beautiful glazed ham recipe. Note that both of these recipes are also gluten- and dairy-free.
I myself have been pescatarian for the better portion of my life and find that, with a veg-based entree option and plenty of side dishes (which there always are), Thanksgiving is easy and satisfying. I recently came across this hilariously brilliant “Vegducken” recipe that I will be including in this year’s feast in place of (or maybe in addition to) the classic Tofurkey. Pair with a satisfying vegetarian stuffing and you’re sure to please any meat-free guest. Also, be aware of recipes that have “hidden” carnivorous ingredients (chicken stock, bacon bits, etc) and, when possible, alter the recipe or make a portion of it veg so everyone can enjoy it.
The Gluten-Free Guest
With a staggering 29% of the adult population currently avoiding gluten, this is one potential accommodation worth paying attention to. Luckily, gluten-free products are everywhere today. For classic gluten-bearing dishes like stuffing, I recommend preparing a small portion with gluten-free bread, which can be found at many major grocery chains. You can also easily replace all-purpose flour with gluten-free flour in baked goods and gravies, and replace traditional dinner rolls with homemade gluten-free cornbread. It’s also courteous (and easy) to keep your protein free of gluten (see section 1: The Carnivore) and offer a variety of accommodating side dishes.
Don’t freak out if you have a vegan joining you for Thanksgiving–it will be ok. I’ve been test-driving veganism myself recently, and I’m feeling amazingly calm headed into the holidays. My biggest challenge has been replicating my mother’s dairy-laden mashed potatoes, but I’ve landed on a recipe that’s fantastic. I will be contributing a beautiful cashew milk cheese to the appetizer platter, subbing vegan butter into my favorite appetizers and desserts, and preparing a protein-rich quinoa dish loaded with squash, cranberries, and pumpkin seeds. Doesn’t sound half bad, right? Just like I mentioned in the Vegetarian section, beware of unsuspecting non-vegan products like gelatin, non-organic cane sugar, and even wine.
The Low-Fat Foodie
Those who are watching their fat intake have every right to a fabulous Thanksgiving, and it’s easier than you may think to offer heart-healthy versions of some of our favorite holiday dishes. Serving a salad? Serve the dressing on the side and whip up an easy oil-free alternative. Roasting veggies with olive oil? Steam some instead for a fat-free option. Mashing potatoes? Reserve a portion and mash with fat-free sour cream and roasted garlic. You get the idea. It’s even possible to roast turkey without oil or butter. I’m not saying you have to do it all, but making a few changes here and there can really make a difference to the low-fat guests at the table.
The Eco-Friendly Eater
Greening up your Thanksgiving dinner is easier than it sounds. Shopping organic and using fresh veggies over canned ones is a great place to start, as commercial canning of vegetables uses the same amount of energy as 8.5 million refrigerators running for an entire year. Being mindful of disposable kitchen supplies is another easy way to stay eco-friendly. Break out the real china and glassware to cut back on waste, and consider using cloth napkins instead of paper. Encourage guests to bring reusable tupperware for leftovers, and use towels rather than paper towels to clean up (inevitable) messes in the kitchen.
Thanksgiving is all about being grateful, and cooking for people can be a pretty incredible way of showing gratitude and giving back. So think of the extra effort here as a gift to those you love, and serve a meal that everyone can enjoy equally. Cheers!
Sources: http://life.gaiam.com/article/6-ways-green-your-thanksgiving-dinner, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/03/09/173840841/gluten-goodbye-one-third-of-americans-say-theyre-trying-to-shun-it, http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/Pages/overweight-obesity-statistics.aspx