Over the River and Through the Woods

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Our determination to get together by any means available, through any weather, and on any date convenient to all remains the same. But many of the dishes atop our holiday tables have recently changed dramatically!

For example, Thanksgiving dinner was always served family style. Prepared for an annual feast, we took our seats and beheld a splendid array of several serving dishes, heaped full of familiar fare, waiting to be passed from diner to eager diner. The menu was basically the same every year with different family members in turn presenting specialities or performing carving, toasting, introductions, or blessing duties. As the children grew, they got a table of their own with a menu modified to their simpler tastes. It went on this way for generations.

Gradually, individual dietary restrictions and lifestyle choices have changed everyday life for the better.  Grocery stores and farmers markets sell an abundance of healthy choices everywhere you look. However, as an unexpected consequence, all this variety has completely transformed holiday dinner party preparations. Now we are dealing with situations where, for example, the guest list may include the following: Mom’s diet is plant-based and Dad is still a confirmed meat-eater, while half of the rest of the older adults are plant-based and many of the young adults are strictly vegan. Auntie’s diet is dairy-free; Uncle’s diet is gluten-free by doctor’s orders. Grandmother and other guests are pescatarians, and of course, many of the children whose diets are plant-based won’t eat anything that has a face!

What are this year’s host and hostess to do?

 1,) POTLUCK – Make Thanksgiving feast a sort of potluck dinner where each family, couple, or individual brings the dishes they prefer to eat, plus perhaps something to share.

2.) COLOR-CODING – Provide dishes of one color containing the foods meant for each particular diet. For example: The turkey platter, stuffing bowl, and gravy boat could all be red as they contain meat. The green bean salad, yams, cranberry, and mashed potato serving dishes would be green because they contain vegetables and fruits. With today’s discriminating guests, it would be wise to ask them to add salt and butter to taste.

3.) BUFFET STYLE – Provide a couple of extra tables to accommodate a plethora of alternative food options. Perhaps one side table for vegan and plant-based choices and one for fish (like shrimp cocktail appetizers), meat (perhaps cocktail sausages), and poultry (the carved turkey). If you really want to please, provide separate space for items made with dairy or wheat products and space for those which are dairy-free and gluten-free. It would be very thoughtful to provide a serving bowl of vegan stuffing and a vegan and gluten-free pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Label foods accordingly to prevent mix-ups. It would be helpful, for example, to have dishes or tubs of salted and unsalted vegan butter and dairy butter, along with dinner rolls that are made with and without dairy and wheat and of course a choice of whipped cream with and without dairy.

Here are a few tips to help the host and hostess with the mostest to accommodate guests who would be serving themselves from the side tables. Along with your beautiful place settings, flower centerpiece, and if you like, name cards, keep water glasses or goblets and pitchers of water as well as salt and pepper available on the main dining table. Adults would appreciate coffee cups as well to accompany dessert. Of course, lots of carbonated grape juice options are available for the children and for those who prefer it. Remember to provide non-dairy milk choices for those who drink cream in their coffee. Don’t forget to keep the family pets hydrated, fed, and exercised on their normal schedules. Be sure to provide water and extra food and treats for them and for the pets of your guests.

It is interesting to note that over the past two years since our last normal holiday season in 2019, some old customs have inevitably made way for the new. The dreadful pandemic we have endured has shown us our strengths as we replace what it takes away with love renewed. Old options have opened up to similar but more nuanced varieties of needs and choices. Yet some things never change. We still want to gather together with loved ones to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest. We want to share the warmth of our family circle as cooler breezes whisper of the season’s change. Hooray for the pumpkin pie!              

TK Reilly

Teresa Kathryn (TK) Reilly is an artist, writer, and instructional systems designer who resides in Florida. She is the owner of Etiquette Lessons Foundation, and her published works include such titles as Etiquette Lessons, Girls and Boys at the Table, Teens at the Table, and ORBIT Book One: Civility in Space. Her work can be found at:


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