The holidays are blowing in fast, and we’re sure that lots of you–like us–are starting to think about your holiday meals.  Here’s another thing to think about when you make your menu: Do you need to take special dietary needs into consideration?

Oftentimes, those with gluten sensitivities, food allergies, dairy sensitivities and other dietary restrictions can be forgotten in the hustle and bustle, and sometimes even just the “tradition” of foods that are always served.  Sadly, the needs of these same well-loved friends and family members are sometimes just ignored. But here’s the thing: Meeting the dietary needs of people you love doesn’t have to be a chore.  It can be an adventure!  If you love to cook, like we do, exploring new ways to create old favorites to meet the needs of the people we feed is actually kind of fun.  For instance: We posted a recipe for “Almost 5-Ingredient Pizza Spaghetti Pie” last week, and what we found when we made it ourselves is that we like squash even more than we knew, and spaghetti squash actually does give the feeling of eating pasta that’s not actually pasta.  It’s gluten-free, guilt-free pasta, and what could be better than that?!  We wouldn’t have discovered this new squash secret had we not been open to trying some recipes that are gluten-free/dairy free.  So, open up!

When you’re faced with holidays where tradition demands old favorites like stuffing and pumpkin pie, what do you do for your gluten-free loved ones?  You consult Google!  You can take a recipe right from a site and give it a try, or do what we sometimes do and look at several recipes, weigh the pros and con, consider multiple options and create your own!

First, make a list of the needs of your guests.  Say you have a gluten-free guest, a dairy-free guest and a guest with a peanut allergy.  Put all three into the search engine and see what you get, but search each one individually, as well, then see what can be substituted in each recipe to meet the needs of your guests.  Got a substitution question in one recipe?  Keep looking at other recipes, and we bet you’ll answer it.  It’s really amazing how many options are available now for gluten-free and dairy-free diets–and they don’t sacrifice flavor, either!  Say, you want to make a pumpkin pie with no gluten and no dairy.  You can buy a gluten-free flour blend or create your own with combinations of all sorts of flours like rice flour, potato flour, potato starch flour, coconut flour, tapioca flour…the list is kind of endless, really.  You can add ground nuts to pie crusts, as well, or use gluten-free cookies to get a great cookie crust.  When it comes to the pie, you can substitute coconut milk or almond milk for your old-standby dairy.  Don’t forget about your friend with the peanut allergy, though!  Read labels for all of your ingredients (we think you’ll be surprised at the places peanuts hide that you never thought of), and consult your friend if you’re unsure.

Speaking of hidden triggers, gluten is hiding all over the place!  Did you know that LOTS of pre-made broths contain gluten?  Other common culprits: marinades, soy sauce, bouillon and gravy and spice mixtures.  Occasionally, even your beloved turkey will contain gluten!  Our best advice: read labels and ask questions.  Call your friend(s) or family member(s) if you’re unsure about something; they’d much rather answer a million questions (and know you care) than deal with the inevitable sickness that will ensue if they consume something they shouldn’t.

Also, don’t be afraid to include things on the table that your more sensitive guests can’t eat–they understand–but do make sure that you’ve included them in your overall meal preparation and planning.  They’ll be just as hungry as everyone else, and eating a plate full of turkey while everyone else feasts is frustrating and lonely.  As a food-sensitive friend once said, “I’ll have that salad with a side of resentment.”  Don’t serve resentment at your Thanksgiving dinner, just love.:)