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Navigating the Holiday Menu Maze

Hosting a holiday meal is not for the faint of heart. And as the guest list grows, so does the list of dietary restrictions.


There’s your vegetarian niece and your cousin with diabetes. Your brother with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is bringing his gluten-intolerant girlfriend, and your uncle with the nut allergy is flying in. Mom called to remind you that your dad’s cholesterol is through the roof. Your sisters kids are lactose-intolerant, and your cousin has a tree-nut allergy.


Hosting a successful and delicious holiday meal for a digestively diverse crowd doesn’t have to mean more work. It just takes smart strategies to make each dish meet the needs of most people at the table. Here are some tips to get started:


  • Keep side dishes vegetarian. By making most — or all — side dishes vegetarian-friendly, you avoid having to come up with a separate vegetarian entrée for the non-meat eaters, while providing a healthier alternative for the dieters at the table.

  • Use lactose-free products in recipes that call for dairy. Lactose-free versions of milk, plain yogurt, and sour cream are readily available nationwide. They won’t affect the taste or texture of your dishes at all, but they will make them much more comfortable to digest for guests with IBS and lactose intolerance. And since lactose-free is a lower-calorie, lower-cholesterol alternative to heavy cream, your weight-watching relatives can feel less guilty about the mashed potatoes.

  • Minimize the presence of wheat flour at the table, and consider whole-grain, gluten-free alternatives. Traditional bread-based stuffing is a non-starter for diabetics, the weight-conscious and gluten-intolerant guests. Consider wild rice or quinoa as the base for a healthier, more nutritious stuffing loaded with traditional flavors like chestnut, mushroom, sage and thyme. If you’re making gravy from scratch, swap all-purpose flour for sweet rice flour to make it gluten-free.

  • Offer at least one dessert that can be enjoyed by the gluten-free and nut-free crowd. Gluten-free baking mixes for cookies, cakes, and brownies — most of which are also nut-free — are easy to find and easy to prepare. Fresh fruit is always a safe option for ending an indulgent holiday meal, especially for guests with dietary restrictions, and those watching their weight or blood sugar levels.

Dr. James C. Strobel MD
Gastroenterology of Southern Indiana

Dr. Strobel joined GSI in July of 1997. He received his undergraduate degree from Indiana University in Bloomington, and his medical degree from Indiana University in Indianapolis. Following this, Dr. Strobel completed his residency in Internal Medicine, and after three years of additional training, completed his fellowship in Gastroenterology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Dr. Strobel is board certified in both Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology. He is married and the proud father of three children. In his free time, he enjoys basketball, baseball, reading, and spending time with his family.


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