December 4, 2021

How to Plan a Diet-Friendly Holiday Menu

Today I'm sharing my seven tips to successfully plan a diet-friendly holiday menu (without going crazy). Menu planning can be stressful enough during the holidays. Factoring in dietary restrictions seems impossible. But it doesn't have to be stressful, and it's definitely not impossible!

Over the years my family has planned many holiday dinners with various dietary restrictions from strict gluten-free to no-dairy, vegan, paleo, keto - you name it! And I haven't lost my mind (yet).

Here's my advice to help you plan your holiday menu without all the stress.

Christmas Charcuterie Board

Tip 1: Know what diets you are planning for.

It seems obvious, but you'll be sure to avoid a disaster on the day of the party if you ask each guest ahead of time if they have any restrictions, allergies, or preferences. Guests with restrictions will be happy you asked and guests without restrictions will get to share any preferences they have.

Once you know the different restrictions and preferences you can make a game plan for your event.

Tip 2: Understand the diets.

I'm not saying that you have to become an expert overnight, but if you're hosting, and you're cooking, you should know what the diet of your friend or family member consists of.

Your guest just told you what their diet is. If you don't fully understand, ask for a list of foods they can't have.

Or do a bit of research. Google is your friend here. "Is XXX gluten-free?" "What is gluten?"

Understanding each diet will help you when you start to search for recipes.

Roasted Cauliflower Salad

Tip 3: Use Pinterest.

I love Pinterest because it is a visual search engine. You aren't quite at the recipe planning stage yet, so you don't really need to know specific ingredients. Instead, you get a nice visual so you can start to build up some ideas in your mind about what you might make.

Pinterest is also full of diet-friendly recipes. So you can search things like "vegan mashed potatoes" or "non-dairy cheesecakes" and you'll get tons of results.

From there, you can start to take note of what looks and sounds good. No need to create the full menu all at once. You're just trying to understand what's possible.

Write down all your ideas. Nothing is off limits right now.

Tip 4: Multi-task.

No, not that kind of multi-tasking. I mean, start to think about what dishes might be able to fit multiple diets.

Are those vegan mashed potatoes you found also gluten-free? Probably. So you know that your vegan friend and your gluten-free friend will both be able to eat those.

There are some natural pairings across diets that can help you kill two birds with one stone (or even three or four birds!). Roasted vegetables can easily be gluten-free, vegan, paleo, keto-friendly, nut-free, etc.

Gather your list that you got from your Pinterest search and make a chart. List each recipe on one axis and each diet on the other axis. Make checkmarks for each diet that your recipe fits. Then, evaluate your chart and see which recipes check the most diet boxes.

Tip 5: Find recipes.

This is where you leverage your list that you made. Search "vegan mashed potatoes" and actually look at the recipe.

Evaluate the ingredients. Have you heard of them? Do you have them? Can you get them? Do they actually fit the diets from your chart?

Browse the method. Sure, you know how to make regular mashed potatoes. But with vegan mashed potatoes, you might need to make the cream ahead of time. Understanding how to make the dish will save you time on the day you cook AND prevent you from getting in over your head.

Compare recipes. This might be a little time consuming, but the first recipe you click on may not be the best one. Take a look at one or two similar recipes and make sure the one you choose fits with your knowledge, cooking skills, time available, etc.

Plant-Based Sweet Potato Mashed Potatoes

Tip 6: Share your menu ahead of time.

Once you have your final list, tell your guests what you'll be making. Do this at least a few days before the event, but preferably a week before.

When you send out the menu include a list of diets that the recipe falls under.

Ex. I'll be making mashed potatoes (vegan, gluten-free) roasted veggies (vegan, gluten-free, paleo-friendly) dinner rolls (vegan), steak (gluten-free, paleo-friendly), and cookies for dessert (gluten-free).

Your guests will feel at ease when they see something they can eat. Or they'll know that maybe they should eat something beforehand.

Tip 7: Ask your guests to bring a dish.

This not only eliminates some of the work for you, it also ensures that your guests have at least one thing they know they can eat. Your guest will feel less stressed about attending.

You could make this optional. If you've shared your menu with your guests, they'll know what you are making. If they want something else they can eat, they can bring it themselves.

You can also suggest a course to bring. Say something like: I'll cover dinner, but please bring an appetizer to share. This gives your guests a little guidance, so they don't come with something that clashes with the dishes you plan to make.

Plant-Based Cranberry Cheesecake Cups

Planning a diet-friendly holiday menu takes some work, but with a few of these strategies you'll end up with a delicious meal that everyone will enjoy!

Happy Holidays!

Tried these tips?

Let me know how it went! Please leave a note in the comments section below. You can also stay in touch with me on social media by following me on Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok or by subscribing to my newsletter.

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