The most joyful time of year, the holidays, can also be the most stressful. Especially for those hosting a dinner party or lodging out-of-town guests. With the array of food sensitivities and restrictive diets, home cooks can become overwhelmed when planning a menu. You want guests’ time at your table to be memorable and not filled with anxiety about navigating their food intolerances or allergies.
The list of potential food sensitivities is endless, but the most prevalent intolerances are associated with gluten, dairy, and nuts. Plus, there is a large percentage of holiday guests who avoid animal products for various reasons. Often, hosts are aware of family members or close friends who have special dietary needs, but it’s the unexpected guest that can cause a menu meltdown. The good news is simple changes to your traditional spread can help please most everyone on your guest list.
Cheese platters, festive dips, spreads, party nuts, and puff pastries typically kick off holiday parties. Add a few allergy-friendly options by opting for rice crackers, offering hummus or a corn and black bean salsa, which both are naturally gluten and dairy-free, a bowl of olives and roasted red bell peppers, and sunflower seed butter for a spread. The addition of fresh and dried fruits, figs, and toasted pumpkin seeds to your trays will provide safe nibbles for most guests.
Veggies are naturally allergy-free for the majority when not baked as a casserole, topped on pasta, or cooked in butter, bacon, or hammock. Roast, steam, smash, and sauté an array of fall vegetables, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with holiday herbs like rosemary or sage. For allergy-friendly casseroles, mashed potatoes, or chowders, switch to lactose-free milk, which is real dairy milk providing the same flavor and nutrients but without lactose. Opt for brown rice or quinoa over stuffing for a gluten-free side. Choose vegetable stock to instantly make recipes vegetarian and always offer gravies on the side.
The Main Course
Most holiday main courses are fairly allergy-friendly. To be extra careful select poultry, ham, lamb, fish, pork, and even tofu, without marinades that could contain allergens. Season meats with homemade rubs to reduce the risk of allergens and excessive salt. If serving seafood, consider a poultry or pork option, too. If there are several hearty vegetable side dishes made without milk, butter, bacon, or animal stock, your vegetarian guest will have plenty to make a happy holiday plate.
Some allergies can be more sensitive than others. When hosting a gathering like a wedding, family reunion, or multi-family meal, consider asking about food restrictions. Provide a variety of foods so everyone can feel included. Remember, even if you craft a menu with the best intentions, your guest may still decline your invitation or to partake in your meal and choose to just socialize. Please don’t be offended. Food allergies don’t have to stop you from hosting a holiday party where everyone can gobble up the meal.
Winter Fruit Salad
Vegan, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Nut Free
- 1/2 cup sugar (can use a sugar substitute, but it’s the holidays!)
- 1 1 -inch piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out (or 2-3 tsp vanilla extract)
- 1 lemon
- 5 large navel or blood oranges
- 2 mangoes, peeled and diced
- 2 firm bananas, peeled and diced
- 5 kiwis, peeled and diced
- 12 kumquats, very thinly sliced crosswise, seeds removed
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds (from 1 pomegranate)
Combine the sugar, 2 cups water, ginger, vanilla seeds and pod in a saucepan.
Use a vegetable peeler to remove wide strips of zest from the lemon and 1 orange, add to the saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Refrigerate until cold.
Peel oranges and add the mangoes, bananas, kiwis, kumquats, and pomegranate seeds and gently toss.
Pour some of the syrup over the fruit and chill overnight – you don’t want soggy fruit!
Before serving, remove the citrus zest, ginger, and vanilla pod from the remaining syrup – and either finish pouring it over the fruit salad OR leave it in a smaller (pretty) bowl and allow guests to add more syrup if desired.
Creamy Avocado Hummus
Vegetarian Friendly, Gluten Free, Nut Free
- 1 large avocado, peeled and seeded
- 1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt (get full fat for most flavor)
- 1/3 cup cilantro leaves
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1 large jalapeño, seeded, deveined and roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth (yield: 2 1/2 cups). Serve with crudité to keep it gluten and nut-free or add crackers of choice but check the packaging.
Chocolate Mint Cheesecake Bites
Recipe from The Dairy Alliance – Oreos has a gluten-free option!
- 1 1/2 cups chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs (the cookie part of an Oreo)
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
- 2 large eggs
- 1 fresh mint sprig (optional)
Preheat oven to 325°.
Combine cookie crumbs and melted butter in a medium bowl until the mixture resembles sand. Press firmly into the bottom of 36 paper-lined mini-muffin pans or 36 mini-muffin cups coated with cooking spray.
Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract, peppermint extract, and chopped mint until smooth in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after additions.
Spoon 1 tablespoon of filling into prepared muffin cups and bake for 15-18 minutes or until centers are almost set.
Cool completely. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs just before serving, if desired.