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Customize your Thanksgiving dinner

No meat? No gluten? No problem! We have all your guests covered.

By Stacey Stein

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, chances are a one-size-fits all meal won’t cut it for all your guests. Whether you have a vegetarian cousin, a gluten-intolerant aunt, or a sibling who’s cut out carbs on the Keto diet, it’s a good bet you’ll need to accommodate some special diets.

Not to worry: with some planning and creativity, you can pull off a Thanksgiving meal that all your guests will enjoy, while catering to different guests’ needs. Read on for tips on how to adapt some Thanksgiving staples, along with some innovative recipe ideas, so that all your guests will feel included at your holiday meal.

Guest profile: Vegetarian

These days, it seems more people are ditching meat in favour of meatless alternatives. “I think because more people are health-conscious, they’re looking for different choices,” says registered dietitian Shannon Crocker. “More people are interested in trying vegetarian food choices.” Here are some options for vegetarian guests.

Apps: Think of vegetarian-friendly appetizers that feature some of fall’s bounty, like this pear and dried cherry mascarpone dip. Warming appetizers are also popular at this time of year, as the mercury starts to drop. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian guests will enjoy this hearty and wholesome lentil and cumin soup, perfect for fall.

Mains: You’ll need to replace turkey with a plant-based protein alternative for your vegetarian guests, and tofurkey (faux turkey) might not work for everyone. Crocker suggests trying a protein-rich vegetarian-friendly dish like a lentil casserole, lentil patties or roasted tofu (marinate tofu cubes in olive oil, garlic, thyme and sage before roasting to infuse the tofu with fall flavours). Pair your main with roasted mushroom gravy for a vegetarian take on this popular accompaniment.

Sides: The fall harvest gifts us with an abundance of fresh vegetables, like brussel sprouts, the star ingredient in this brussel sprout gratin (Crocker recommends boosting the protein content by tossing in some toasted walnuts or almonds). Mashed sweet potatoes, a Thanksgiving favourite, get an interesting twist in this recipe thanks to the addition of coconut whipped cream. These cheesy quinoa stuffed peppers make for a more substantive side – up the protein by adding in some chickpeas and serve as a main for your vegetarian guests.

Dessert: Although pumpkin pie is pretty much synonymous with Thanksgiving dessert, shake things up this year by making this tasty vegan coconut cream pie or this custard cream tart, which features apples and cranberries, two delicious fall harvest fruits.

Guest profile: Gluten-free

If you’ll be hosting celiac or gluten sensitive guests, you’ll need to steer clear of dishes that use certain grains (wheat, rye and barley are the main ones to avoid). Accommodating a gluten-free diet is easier than it may seem as many whole, nutrient-rich foods are naturally gluten-free (think veggies, fruits, dairy, meat, nuts and legumes). This leaves several options for interesting, flavourful dishes. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Apps: Featuring butternut squash, bocconcini cheese, dried cranberries and baby arugula, this salad incorporates diverse fall flavours and can be enjoyed by all your guests. Another great app idea is a cheese platter – kick yours up a notch by pairing the cheese and fruit with these savoury gluten-free corn and jalapeno cookies, sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Mains: While turkey is naturally gluten-free (just avoid buying a pre-seasoned turkey as the spices may contain gluten), you’ll need to get creative when it comes to the stuffing. You can either make stuffing using gluten-free bread or you can make an alternative version, like a wild rice stuffing. For the gravy, Crocker says to stay away from pre-made (it likely has gluten) – instead, make your own using cornstarch instead of flour.

Sides: Replacing grain-based side dishes is relatively easy. Opt for sides that use quinoa or rice (both are gluten-free) or go heavy on veggie-based sides, like this cauliflower rice dish (bonus: this also works for guests following vegetarian and Keto diets) or this simple but flavourful green bean dish. Both mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes also work for gluten intolerant guests.

Dessert: There are plenty of delicious gluten-free dessert options, including these fudgy gluten-free pecan cottage cheese cookies that use almond flour, and this elegant goat cheese mousse, which you can make ahead. Or you can make a fruit platter, an old standby that works well too.

Guest profile: Keto

The Keto diet emphasizes drastically reducing carbs while consuming high amounts of fat and protein (the reduction in carbs is said to put the body in a metabolic state called ketosis). Typically followed by people who are interested in weight loss, the Keto diet has become increasingly popular over the past few years, if headlines and social media are anything to go by. If you have Thanksgiving guests eating Keto, the focus will be on low-carb dishes (fat and protein are fair game). Here’s how to pull it off.

Apps: It can be difficult to find low-carb apps, which makes this warm bacon cheese dip with roasted brussel sprouts perfect for guests adhering to a Keto diet. Serve with endive leaves for Keto guests and warmed pita crisps for guests who aren’t watching their carb intake. These tomato bites are another great low-carb app option – they’re easy to whip up and can be made ahead of time.

Mains: This part is simple: high-protein turkey fits perfectly within the Keto diet, and gravy works too.

Sides: You’ll need to avoid carb-heavy side dishes like rice, potatoes and stuffing for your Keto guests. Some veggies, like sweet potatoes and carrots, tend to be higher in carbs, so these are also out. Not to worry – there are plenty of low-carb veggies that lend themselves to an array of tasty side dishes. Cauliflower is one option that fits the bill – it’s the main ingredient in this cauliflower risotto, which can also double as an entrée for any vegetarian guests. Another idea is to sauté some greens (kale, spinach and broccoli are all nutrient-rich, low-carb choices) with some butter and garlic. Want to try something different? Pair your sautéed greens with this olive butter, which you can prepare in a few short minutes.

Dessert: Sugar is a no-go on the Keto diet, making dessert a little bit trickier. Crocker suggests putting out a platter with soft cheeses, strawberries and dark chocolate. Or try making these brie canapés, a tasty low-sugar alternative to a traditional cheese platter.

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