6 Ways to Navigate Dietary Restrictions As a Thanksgiving Guest
Thanksgiving is coming — and with it seemingly endless food conversations. Are potatoes best served mashed or au gratin? Is pumpkin pie really the only dessert that you should indulge in on Turkey Day? Which part of the turkey is most delicious? Is cranberry sauce best when canned or homemade? Do you really have to eat greens on the third Thursday in November? This is one holiday that really is all about the food.
If you happen to be managing a set of dietary restrictions that your hosts don’t share, however, you’re likely tempted to avoid these conversations. After all, any feast is less fun when you have to say no to some of the best dishes or awkwardly ask what’s safe for you to eat. We sought expert advice on how to handle this particular sitch from dietitian nutritionist Taylor Wolfram and chef and nutritionist Patricia Greenberg. Scroll down for their suggestions, then prepare for a Turkey Day celebration that allows you to safely enjoy the meal without anyone getting uncomfortable!
1. Consider the root of your restriction. If eating a particular food puts your health at risk, violates a tenet of your religion, or is something you find unethical, then avoiding it is obviously totally valid. If, on the other hand, you tend to restrict your eating out of a temptation to constantly eat “clean” or count calories, you may want to think seriously before you share those restrictions with the host. “The holidays are a time of celebration, and it’s okay to enjoy tasty foods,” Wolfram reassures us. “If you’re on a restricted diet that prevents you from enjoying celebratory foods, I recommend working with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in intuitive eating. They can help you improve your relationship with food so you can eat in a confident way.”
2. Bring it up ASAP. Assuming you’re ready to give your host a heads-up about your food limitations, Greenberg suggests that you do so as close to the time that you’re invited as possible. This will ensure that they have plenty of information in advance, so you don’t have to swap a lot of frantic clarifying texts, calls, or emails in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. (Or, worse, only discover when you show up that there’s little or nothing you can eat.)
3. Be clear and honest. “If the host is not a close friend and you don’t feel comfortable asking for accommodations, tell them that you have a restriction on your diet, so please don’t be insulted if you don’t eat much,” Greenberg offers. As long as you don’t have expectations that there will be special food made available for you, it shouldn’t ever create drama for you to be up-front about your needs.
4. Offer to bring your own food. Your host may try to argue that you don’t need to bring anything, but Wolfram notes that it really might just be easier to provide a meal that you know is going to be safe and comfortable for you. “Let the host know [when you’re bringing food] ahead of time, and assure them it’s nothing personal,” she says. “You have dietary restrictions, and it will be easiest on everyone if you can bring your own food.” Ask if you can step into the kitchen before dinner starts so you can plate what you’ve brought and avoid feeling like the awkward one at the table with Tupperware.
5. Prepare how to politely deflect. Without realizing it, your well-meaning host may inadvertently put something on your plate that’s not going to work for you… and it’s probably best not to draw attention to it unless there’s a reason (like a serious allergy) that it can’t just stay there. Greenberg recommends that you simply pick up a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Avoid discussing the food as much as possible so that your resistance to eating it isn’t taken out of context later on. The hosts are likely doing the best they can!
6. Focus on other traditions. “While food is an important part of cultural celebrations, remember that the day is not just about food,” encourages Wolfram. “Even if you find yourself at an event where you can’t eat anything, you can always eat beforehand, bring a snack, or eat directly after. Focus on spending quality time with loved ones and having fun!” You’ll definitely regret it if you look back and realize that you were too busy worrying about or being frustrated by the food to enjoy yourself.
How have you managed dietary restrictions at holiday gatherings? Tweet us @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)