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Thanksgiving is a holiday that revolves around food and family. Almost every family has its traditional dishes that everyone expects and looks forward to each November. So how do you handle it when you have to tell your family that your new diet won’t allow you to eat some or all of the meal?
The year I went vegan as a last ditch dietary effort to get my diabetes under control was also the first year in a long time that my siblings and I were all going to be able to be at Mom’s for Thanksgiving. She was so excited and so were we. Just the thought of Mom’s turkey, her candied yams, and her mashed potatoes and gravy cause my mouth to water.
I started my vegan diet three weeks before Thanksgiving. I don’t quite remember why I didn’t just wait until after the holidays, but I do know I was feeling desperate to find some way to get my diabetes under control, so that might be why I went ahead with it, regardless of timing.
When I called Mom to tell her of my new dietary restrictions (she already knew I was doing the low carb thing because of the diabetes), she got exasperated. I had expected her to be a little disappointed, but understanding. Then she explained.
“Your brother called this week, too, to tell me that he’s gluten-intolerant and can’t handle any bread. So no stuffing for him! And he asked me not to put croutons on the salad or to put a roll on his plate,” she said. She took a breath, then continued, “Your sister is also on a special diet, now that she’s decided to do some bodybuilding. Now you call to tell me you can’t do carbs OR meat?!?”
I suddenly understood Mom’s exasperation. “Yes, Mom, that’s right. No animal products at all. So I can’t have cheese or dairy, either.” I cringed as I said it.
“Well, what the HELL am I supposed to cook for Thanksgiving?!?” I could almost see her throwing her arms to the heavens in frustration. Poor Mom!
“I’m sorry, Mom, I didn’t do this to frustrate you,” I said, honestly feeling bad for her.
“I know, baby. It’s okay. I’ll think of something,” she sighed.
After I hung up the phone, I called both of my siblings. I told them what I’d told Mom and what her reaction had been. We all agreed on a plan and I called Mom back.
“Okay, I’ve talked to my sibs, Mama, and we want you to just make your traditional Thanksgiving meal. There are pieces of it that each of us can eat and we’ll take responsibility for our own issues. We will also each make and bring a dish that fits our dietary needs to contribute to the table. That way, we’re all sure to get enough to eat,” I explained. “Does that work?”
“I suppose…and I can make some adjustments, too. I’ve been thinking I probably shouldn’t stuff the bird, so your brother can eat the turkey. And I can do green beans almondine for you, instead of the green bean casserole with all that cream,” she mused aloud. She had a few other ideas, as well, and definitely sounded more positive about the challenge in this call. I felt relieved.
It is possible to entertain guests with a variety of food issues, and to do so successfully, so everyone feels satiated and happy. Mom’s Thanksgiving dinner that year was a success and we all learned about each other’s diets. We also enjoyed sharing and sampling each other’s special dishes.
3 Things You Can Do To Help Your Friends & Family Support You in your Dietary Needs
It’s important, when sharing your dietary restrictions with family or others you’ll be sharing meals with that you do these three things:
1. Take responsibility for yourself. This means it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to automatically remember and cater to your needs, especially if they don’t eat with you often. And don’t expect them to understand what you need, either. I’ve had so many people offer me gluten-free items when I ask for low carb, because most don’t understand the difference.
Always have a restaurant idea in mind you can suggest, or be prepared to bring your own food, even if it’s not a potluck situation.
Since part of my issue is not just preference, but medical, I make sure that I always, at the very least, have protein bars in my purse. This way, I can eat one or more of those to hold me over until I can get more suitable food.
2. Let people know what your dietary issues are when they invite you to join them for a meal. Just be matter of fact. You needn’t apologize, though I know that’s easier said than done if you’re like me and hate to be a bother. I have to practice revising my own self-talk sometimes, to remind myself that my food choices are just as valid as everyone else’s.
I’ve also found that the people who care about me would rather know what my limitations are in advance, instead of being surprised in the moment. Most people are going to genuinely want to try and find solutions that meet your needs. And even if they express frustration, it’s most likely just coming from a lack of knowledge or understanding about what could work for you.
3. Don’t expect or pressure others to change. No matter how fervently you believe in your diet or how certain you are that this diet could be what helps others achieve their health or weight goals, don’t lecture them. Everyone’s body is different and we’re all the experts on our own body. Allow others to make their own decisions.
This doesn’t mean you can’t share about your diet or your excitement about what it’s doing for you. Just be careful you’re not conveying judgment or criticism of others who choose not to eat the same way.
My Food List
Recently, my Dad asked me for a list of foods I can’t eat and he asked me to send it to him in an email. This was a great idea, because now I have something pretty comprehensive I can send others in the future. You might consider doing something similar if your needs or restrictions are extensive.
Here’s the email I sent back to my Dad, as an example:
As you know, I can’t handle spicy stuff. That now includes cilantro.
No meat, other than occasional seafood.
I DO eat dairy and eggs.
I don’t eat most potatoes (except I do eat sweet potatoes).
I try to avoid rice and noodles and white bread.
I can’t eat broccoli, I don’t like olives, and I’m not crazy about eggplant.
I will eat a little fresh fruit, but I’m not crazy about dried fruit.
I really dislike stewed tomatoes or tomato soup. I can do tomato-based soups, if they’re well seasoned and the tomato flavor isn’t overwhelming.
I think that’s it. 😀
Hopefully these suggestions help you to enjoy this food-centric holiday with your family and friends. Thanks for reading!
Please let me know in the comments if this article was helpful to you and if you’ve had success with any other ways to talk to your friends and family about your dietary needs and choices.