Family, Youth and Community Sciences News

Research-based information, resources, and tips for families, consumers, and educators; provided by the faculty of the University of Florida/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences.

Ten Tips for Helping Family Members with Special Dietary Needs during the Holidays

Linda B. Bobroff, Ph.D., RD, Professor, Foods and Nutrition

The holidays provide opportunities to enjoy foods that we may not eat the rest of the year. Many of us have holiday favorites that bring back memories of childhood, family and/or friends of long ago. When preparing foods for the holidays, it’s a good idea to keep in mind family members who have special dietary needs either by choice or due to a health condition such as diabetes. Here are some tips to help you meet the needs of family members (or friends) with special dietary needs. Many of them are just good sense recommendations that can apply to anyone coming to dinner!

For persons with diabetes:

Have wholesome snacks, such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat cheese, and whole grain crackers, available during the day so your guest can choose when to eat based on their medication schedule.

Allow your guest to eat as much or as little as they want to without “pushing” more food or larger servings. This is good advice for all of our guests! Understand that your guest with diabetes may be keeping track of their calorie and carbohydrate intake.

Include whole grains by using whole wheat or wheat bread in your bread stuffing/dressing, brown rice instead of white rice in a side dish, and at least part whole wheat in baked goods. This also is a healthy choice for most of your guests.

Do not pre-cut desserts. This will allow your guests to choose a portion that fits their meal plan. Portion control can allow even persons on special diets to enjoy a special treat.

For vegetarians:

Prepare a vegetarian entrée in addition to your other entrées so that your vegetarian guest does not have to build a meal from side dishes. Explore recipes in vegetarian cookbooks (get one from your public library if you don’t own one) and on line; the Vegetarian Resource Group Web site ( has many vegan recipes that meet the needs of strict vegetarians.

Remember that many strict vegetarians will not eat foods with even a “touch” of an ingredient that is animal-based, so leave out the lard or fat-back in the vegetables if you want your vegan guest to feel welcome. Try a little olive oil instead.

For vegetarians who consume foods with dairy and/or eggs, consider preparing vegetarian lasagna with spinach or a Mexican casserole with beans (not re-fried beans made with lard), corn and cheese.

Instead of a chicken or beef broth based soup, prepare a hearty vegetarian soup using winter vegetables like pumpkin or winter squash.   

For fussy eaters (often, but not always, toddlers):

If you can, find out what foods your fussy guests will eat and include one or two as part of the meal.

In general, including a few plain foods like steamed green beans, mashed potatoes (no lumps please!), turkey, and bread is a good idea.

We can’t always please everyone, but making an extra effort to meet the dietary needs of our guests will make for a more pleasant holiday for everyone.