How To Adapt A Holiday Menu for Dietary Needs

November 3,2017 | Curiosity

With the chaos that comes in planning a holiday dinner, it can be hard to accommodate everyone’s needs. Whether it’s your niece’s latest veganism phase or Uncle Paul’s gluten allergy, there’s someone in every family who has a dietary preference, intolerance or special request. Whichever it may be, consider these five tips when creating your holiday menu, and all of your guests will thank you!

  1. Start with the RSVP
    A guest may feel uncomfortable reaching out about their dietary restrictions, as they don’t want to be an imposition on the host. If you are sending out invites, cut to the chase by including “RSVP with diet restrictions, please,” as a note on the invite. If you are speaking directly to your guests, let them know ahead of time that you’re still planning the menu and would like to know if they had any special requests or restrictions. That way, you can plan ahead to ensure there’s something for everyone!

  2. Be sure to avoid cross-contamination
    When preparing diet-specific dishes, especially for allergies, it is important to make sure that the kitchen tools and surfaces you use are properly cleaned from their last use. Using a plate to cut shrimp and then using that same plate to dice tomatoes for a salad, no longer makes that salad shellfish free. This should be kept in mind for all kitchen items from blenders, to food processors and serving utensils as well.

  3. Check labels for “hidden” ingredients
    Making dishes from packaged foods is an easy short cut for cooking a large holiday meal for your friends and family. Make sure to check the labels for ingredients that are not obvious, such as gluten, nuts and dairy. Keep this in mind for your recipes, too. With traditional dishes that you’ve made many times, it is easy to forget they contain ingredients that may be harmful to those with diet restrictions.

  4. Try these easy replacements in your holiday foods
    Rather than changing dishes you are accustomed to making, try switching out ingredients to make them friendlier to all diets. For vegetarian-friendly options, try a vegetable broth instead of chicken broth for cooking. Make your Thanksgiving turkey’s stuffing with a gluten-free stuffing mix or with a rice dish. Offer non-dairy options of favorite toppings such as sour cream and cheese, along with the dairy options so that your family and friends can serve themselves as they prefer. These easy changes can turn traditional favorites into foods the whole family can enjoy.

  5. Serve your holiday meal buffet-style
    This allows your guests to make their own food decisions and choose based on their preferences and restrictions. Add decorative place-setting cards that identify each dish, including a run-down of the ingredients used so that your guests are aware. Keeping the foods organized in separate serving dishes and pans also reduces the risk of cross-contamination.

Looking for extra grocery savings to help with your holiday menu? AARP members can take advantage a variety of grocery savings. Learn more here.


These articles present general information and are for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal, financial, medical, or other professional advice.

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