Hosting Is Not for the Faint of Heart: Accommodating Special Diets

bowl of riceMy post on whether vegetarians should notify hosts about their diet sparked an interesting discussion in the comments. And Miriam linked to a cartoon from the New Yorker, showing a Thanksgiving dinner where every guest follows a different diet.

I started to think about what I would serve were these my guests. Here are the diets:

  • Macrobiotic
  • Vegan
  • Vegetarian
  • Lactose Intolerant
  • Can’t have salt
  • Allergic to gluten
  • Ultra-picky gourmet
  • Strictly kosher
  • On a cleanse
  • Fanatic traditionalist

The first thing I would do is to find out how flexible they are about their diets. People who have high-blood pressure or are lactose-intolerant can usually handle a little salt or dairy, respectively. And as readers mentioned in the comments, not everyone who follows a particular diet sticks to it all the time.

Perhaps I’m used to food restrictions being kosher myself, but I wouldn’t find this group such a challenge.

The lactose intolerant, kosher, and vegetarian can eat anything strictly vegan. Macrobiotics are essentially vegans who also don’t eat potatoes, tomatoes, and a few other vegetables.  If you wanted to add turkey, you’d please the lactose intolerant, gluten-free and strict traditionalist—but kosher turkey would be a no-no for the salt-free since meat and poultry are salted in the process of making them kosher. And bread stuffing would be out for the gluten-free, although the traditionalist would especially enjoy it.

As for the ultra-picky gourmet, I wouldn’t try to accommodate him or her at all. People can be picky about all kinds of different things, and if they choose to criticize the cooking, they won’t be invited back. I have a soft spot for traditionalists, though.

I imagine that cleanse diets vary, but I’m going to assume that carrot juice is okay.

So my simple menu would include the following. I’ve noted who could eat each item.

Soup, a broth of root vegetables, herbs and quinoa. Everyone, I think, including perhaps the cleanser. But you’d have to remember not to add salt.

Turkey: Lactose intolerant, gluten-free, gourmet, kosher, traditionalist,

Carrot juice: Everyone!

Rice and beans, together or separately: Everyone but traditionalist, cleanser.

Whole-grain bread stuffing, if I were feeling daring. But I would keep it away from the turkey for the non-meat eaters: Everyone but the cleanser and possibly the gluten-free or macrobiotic guest, depending on the ingredients.

Roasted sweet potatoes with olive oil or another plain vegetable: Everyone except the cleanser

Macrobiotic salad (no tomatoes, peppers or avocados): Everyone except possibly the cleanser, as long as it had no wheat, barley or oats containing gluten.

Dessert: Choice of fruit salad and a tray of gluten-full brownies. Or I would ask a guest to bring something.

What did I tell you? Easy! As long as Thanksgiving doesn’t fall out on Passover next year.

You may also enjoy:

Egyptian Red Lentil Puree

Guide to Buying Gluten-Free Products on Passover

On Margarine, Macro-Biotics and More: Interview with Leora


  1. What about those on a restricted carbohydrate diet? Turkey is fine. Salad is fine. Cruciferous veggies are fine.

  2. Mark, you’re right! The New Yorker left out a lot.

  3. Please, what is a “fanatic traditionalist”?

  4. I-D, it’s someone who objects to being served rice and beans on Thanksgiving because it’s not in the spirit of the holiday.

  5. @Ilana-Davita–I think fanatic traditionalist refers to how some of us feel about Thanksgiving. As a kosher fanatic traditionalist, I think Hannah did a great job on her meal. It means having the foods we expect–turkey, yams, stuffing, pies.

    And what the NYer left out that I had to accommodate this year was low fat–a pretty common dietary restriction these days.

    And I agree that when you are used to cooking kosher, it’s not that hard to accommodate the vegans.
    And since I was the picky gourmet at the table, I could accommodate my needs 😉

  6. miriam, the menu is pretty low-fat too, I would say.

  7. Thank you ladies for the explanations.

  8. In my family, we have a vegetarian, so the general rule is that everything except the meat and fish is kept meat-free. (no real stuffing, soups generally aren’t chicken or meat based.) My dad is on a no-sugar diet, so I made a sugar-free pumpkin pie in addition to the regular one. I did something different with the pumpkin pie this year – instead of using rich whip or soy milk as a sub for condensed milk, I used coconut cream. The pie came out great. It might have changed the texture a little, but not enough to bother anyone.


  1. […] Whew! That sounds like a lot of work. What are you planning? How do youaccommodate special diets? […]