4 distinct and delicious holiday menus for different diets
Fish, vegan, veggie, meat — and how to make them work for all your guests
Whether or not you're the kind of person who likes to please everyone on a regular basis, you are one if you are preparing a feast for guests at the holidays. This is the time of year when quite a varied group (neighbours, in-laws, the in-laws' in-laws...) gather, bringing with them their different dietary preferences which you, the host, must satisfy.
Coming up with a menu your whole crowd can eat is no small feat. People's preferences can change from week to week, so even if you're not hosting distant relatives but simply good friends, it's considerate to get a tally on allergies and avoidances right off the top. Whether someone's gone vegan, sworn off gluten, or is working to curb menopausal symptoms with their diet, your job as host is to have your finger on the pulse of dinner guests needs.
From there you can make informed — and safe — decisions, like whether to thicken the gravy with flour (which contains gluten) or something else (try arrowroot!). I was once at an intimate holiday party attended by a few vegetarians. The thoughtful host prepared a lovely, meat-free meal, but used gelatin in the dessert, not realizing it was an animal by-product. How awkward the end of the meal was as half of us enjoyed the closer while the rest looked on. Both the host and guests were disappointed; so much work, no dessert!
To keep up the convivial holiday vibe you're striving for, I've put together four holiday menus, centering on mains of fish and roast meat, a fully vegetarian and fully vegan menu, along with how to tweak each of them so they'll work for other diets around the table. Preparedness means no awkward surprises, so you can relax over your White Chocolate and Candy Cane Eggnog even if someone in your crowd is dairy-free.
Not everyone likes, or eats, fish. When you're building a menu around fish, you'll want to be mindful of guests avoiding animal products completely, so add a vegetarian meatloaf if you have meat-free guests coming for dinner. Buy extra Castelvetrano olives and serve those in separate bowl so whether or not guests are eating fish they won't miss out on a taste of those.
To satisfy people who just aren't happy without a little meat at a meal like this, consider adding a simple charcuterie plate to the table.
Start with Holiday Soup Shots, and you can make them vegan by replacing the whipping cream in the spinach soup with vegan sour cream. You could round out the meal with this squash salad, or serve it as a second course; make it dairy-free by swapping out the yogurt for just enough olive oil and lemon juice to thin the dressing out. Serve the optional feta on the side if you plan to use it.
The dessert here has eggs and butter, which may bother some, so you could always opt for this Chocolate Tahini Peanut Butter Cup Pie instead.
Many of the vegan celebration roasts like the Vegan Beef Wellington below contain gluten which some of your guests may be avoiding. So serve a celebration-worthy Vegan Biryani for any guests who are gluten-free. To keep the appetizer board gluten-free, serve the bread products on a separate plate and fill up the holes with more veggies, olives and nuts.
Vegetarianism has some related categories, like pescatarian and lacto-ovo vegetarian to name two. As a host you have to clarify what your guests prefer. If the guests you are serving do not eat eggs, you'll want to make sure the bread you're using in the tomato soup is free of them.
For gluten-free guests, replace the bread in the soup with (uncooked) rice, letting it simmer and thicken up from the starch in the rice until the grains are cooked (brown rice will take more time). In the Lentil Shepherd's Pie, thicken the gravy with with arrowroot or tapioca flour instead of wheat. Last, simply serve the pita croutons on the side for the Kale Salad. And double the apple filling for the Tartes Tatin and cook a crustless version separately for a gluten-free baked apple dessert. Add a crunchy gluten-free oat streusel topping for texture if you've got the time.
Roast meat menu
I've included a show-stopping Rustic Mushroom & Kale Galette in the menu below to feed any vegetarians in the crowd — just count on the meateaters enjoying it too. The galette is make-ahead and freezable, and also vegan adaptable if you skip the cream and cheese, add a few more mushrooms to make up for it, and wrap it all in a vegan crust which you can buy or make yourself.
Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.