By guest author Ann Martin
As most of you are getting ready for turkey day, you may get surprised with guests that have different dietary requirements. Part of being a great hostess is making everyone at the table feel welcome. This includes your son's new vegan girlfriend, as well as your best friend who just got diagnosed as dairy intolerant.
If you can, ask your guests if they have any special dietary needs ahead of time. A gracious guest may even offer to bring a dish that satisfies their needs, and expose you to a new kind of food. You could be proactive and make sure that the veggies are meat free, just in case you have last minute guests.
Lactose intolerant people may need to look at ingredient lists from packaged good you bought. This includes bread, cereal, and even pre-marinated meat because they all can have dairy hidden in it. My friend Dawn has a 3 year old daughter who gets very sick if she eats anything with milk in it. Since lactose and other chemical sounding names are often used in place of cow's milk or dairy, it makes Dawn feel better to check the labels herself. An easy substitute is to buy dairy free 'milk' like almond, soy, or rice and use it in soups, mashed potatoes - really anything else that you would cook with milk. Chances are your family won't even notice the switch. You can still have dairy in other dishes, just make sure to let the dairy-free people know that they should not eat those.
Vegetarians often get a bad rap, but they are really an easy bunch to feed. I've been a vegetarian for over 25 years, and I promise I get invited back to dinner all the time. I'm happy if there are a few side dishes that I can eat, and a soup or salad is a bonus addition. The trick is to avoid cooking with chicken broth, lard, gelatin, and hidden bacon. Being a vegetarian is more than not eating a piece of meat, so you should avoid all meat products in all the dishes you plan on serving a vegetarian. Don't make the mistake of serving fish or poultry to a vegetarian, those count as meat as well in this case.
While vegetarians eat eggs and dairy, vegans don't. They exclude all meat like a plain vegetarian, but also include eggs, dairy, and honey. You may be wondering if they have anything left to eat. Let me assure you that they are not as hard to feed as you may be thinking. Go back to the dairy-free idea and use a soy, rice, or almond milk in place of regular milk. Mashed potatoes, stuffing made without chicken broth, and green beans sans the pork seasoning creates a great meal for all. You may want to grab some Earth Balance to use as a butter substitute when you go get the dairy free milk.
Don't feel like you can't have your favorites. If you always have turkey, don't skip it because you have one guest who doesn't eat meat. If you want to add a veggie main dish try a veggie pot pie, or even a pasta dish. But most people will simply be glad there are dishes they can eat with everyone else. Most important is that you aren't offended by questions on ingredients.
Remember that it's not polite to try to get a guest eat something they don't want to eat. This includes meat, desserts, or other items someone might skip for any reason. Some people will have limited their diet for religious reasons, such as excluding pork or even all meat. Others may decide on this lifestyle based on their doctor's recommendations, health reasons, or just because it doesn't taste good to them. Do your best to not be offended when some guests don't try your famous stuffed potatoes. I am sure they are great, but if they have bacon in them, a vegetarian can't eat them.
Make sure to set a table for everyone to admire. Use your best Noritake dinnerware and good linens. Polish the silver and get out the wine glasses. After all, Thanksgiving is about sitting down to a nice dinner and enjoying the day. You can be thankful for your beautiful table, tasty food and new found friends.