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Making Everyone Happy: Cooking During the Holiday Season

It’s officially the holiday season – do you know what dishes you’re going to make? If you’re in charge of preparing a special holiday feast, this question may leave you with a pit in your stomach. What will you cook for the holidays that will please everyone? People have such particular food needs, you may be thinking. The following scenario, for example, is not farfetched: your sister-in-law is gluten-free, your nephew is vegan, your uncle has diabetes, and your brother avoids all grains, legumes, and dairy - version of the Paleo diet. If this is you – stop. Take a few deep breaths. Rest assured, there is a solution.

You are not alone in dealing with this type of situation. There are a myriad of different diets out there (diet, as in “a way of eating”, not as in “going on a diet to lose weight.”) For example, someone with type two diabetes may be on a low carb diet, someone with high blood pressure may be eating low sodium, a vegan will avoid all animal products, a person who is lactose intolerant will avoid dairy, and someone with Celiac disease will avoid gluten. And then there are food allergies, which can be fatal. The list goes on and on. For every illness, for every condition, and for every ethical stance and conviction, there is a way of eating to match. Before you jump to the conclusion that this is incredibly annoying and will make your work preparing food less enjoyable, think about it this way. It is actually wonderful. It is amazing that food and nutrition can have such a powerful impact on our health. Food truly is medicine. And for those choosing to eat a certain way for ethical reasons, doing so has much meaning for them. Keeping this in mind may help you see it in a different light.

Another pitfall would be to label these persons as “picky eaters.” When you think about it, most of us have a particular way of eating. While there are some out there who will eat anything, most people have preferences. We have our likes, dislikes, the foods that we will never touch, and the foods that we simply cannot go without. Let’s explore some ways that we can all enjoy a holiday feast together, with respect for everyone’s needs in mind.

1.) Think vegetables. Most people, no matter how they eat, still eat vegetables. The Paleos, the vegans, the omnivores. They all have vegetables in common. From a nutrition standpoint, we should all be eating more vegetables. Brussels sprouts are a nutritional powerhouse and a delicious addition to any feast. They are a good source of Vitamin C, K, folate, B vitamins, manganese, and fiber. They are packed with antioxidants and are a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, well known for their anti-cancer properties.

Brussels Sprouts Stir-fry (adapted from recipe by LeeAnn S. Weintraub, MPH, RD)

4 T olive oil 2-4 shallots, chopped 2 T balsamic vinegar 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced lengthwise

1 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and shallots to a skillet over medium heat. Sauté until soft, about 5-10 minutes. Add vinegar. Stir until brown and glazed, about 3 minutes, and transfer to a bowl. Heat remaining oil and sprouts in the skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté until brown at edges, about 6 minutes. Add 1 cup water. Sauté until most of water evaporates and sprouts are tender but still bright green, about 3 minutes. Do not overcook. Mix in shallots. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy immediately.

2.) Substitutions can be made. Some of them do not require a lot of extra work. For example: To make a dish dairy-free, you can substitute olive oil for butter, dairy-free milks for regular milk, and there are plenty of dairy-free frozen desserts available, including sorbet or coconut milk ice cream. There are plenty of foods that are naturally gluten-free that can substitute for grain dishes, such as potatoes, yams, pumpkins, and winter squashes. Gluten-free flours and baking mixes are available, too, for those in a rush. Salt can easily be reduced in a recipe, and those eating lower-carb can be satisfied with non-starchy vegetables, meat/fish/poultry recipes, and desserts that focus more on fruits like berries with no to little added sugars.

3.) Be true to you. If you are the host or hostess, don’t ignore your own food wants. If that includes a meat dish, or a dairy dish, or a crust that has wheat in it, go for it. Every dish does not have to be acceptable to every diner. People on restricted diets will not assume that they will be able to eat everything on the table. This will ensure that you yourself have some of your favorite dishes at hand, too.

4.) If all else fails, call it a potluck. Ask each guest to bring a dish to share with a menu card with all of the ingredients listed. Your guests may even feel more included this way and happy to be able to participate and share of themselves. It will also be a way for you to try new things and broaden your horizons. You never know – you might even prefer the gluten-free version, or that dairy-free soup!

This is different and exciting way to use pumpkin: a dairy-free, vegan pumpkin soup sure to spice up dinner.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup (Adapted from Spicy Pumpkin Soup on

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons minced, peeled fresh ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Small pinch of cinnamon

salt and hot pepper flakes to taste

4 cups vegetable broth

2 bay leaves

2 (15 oz.) cans pumpkin or 3 1/2 cups fresh pumpkin purée*

1 cup applesauce or pear sauce

1 cup water

dash maple syrup (to taste)

Optional yogurt (for garnish). Vegans may enjoy coconut cream.

Optional toasted pumpkin seeds (for garnish)

*To make pumpkin purée from scratch, cut up a cooking pumpkin (make sure it is meant for cooking), scoop out the seeds and steam until soft. Cool, scoop out the flesh, and mash with a potato masher. Freeze the leftovers for future use.

Add onions to skillet with the oil on medium heat and cook until soft. Add garlic and ginger and cook another minute. Add all spices and cook another two minutes. Add all other ingredients. Bring to boil, then bring heat down to low, cover, and simmer for at least fifteen minutes. If soup becomes too thick, add more water or broth. When done cooking to taste, pull out bay leaves and puree with immersion blender, if desired. Serve with toasted pumpkin seeds and a dollop of yogurt, for those who enjoy it.

The information provided in this article is intended for general use only and is not to be used in place of medical advice from a licensed health professional.

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