Stick to your alternative diet through the holidays


Holiday get-togethers, or rather the food associated with them, can be challenging to navigate when you’re on a specialized diet. Loading up your plate all willy-nilly with a little of every offering is no longer an option if you’re vegetarian, gluten-free, or diabetic.

Imagine walking through the door of a loved one’s home, immediately being tempted by the aroma of an assortment of delectable dishes, and then realizing that most of the food you’re smelling is off limits to you. Whether you’re new to your lifestyle diet, or you’re a seasoned professional, it can be tricky to explain to your hosts that you “can’t eat” what they’re serving.

There are more than just veggie platters

Steff Deschenes, author of “Eat the Year: 366 days of food holidays,” and a vegetarian from Portland, takes her lifestyle seriously. Her French-Canadian roots made the holidays a bit tough when she passed up eating dishes that contained meat.

“One of the things I noticed my first holiday season as a vegetarian was that people would get offended when they heard I was no longer eating meat,” Deschenes said. “As if my choice somehow affected them. I think some of my family felt as though I was turning my back on my heritage and family traditions, because I wouldn’t eat cretons or tourtiere anymore.”

Becoming a vegetarian meant that Deschenes would no longer be able to indulge in the traditional pork stuffing her mother made. She described the French-Canadian favorite, made with turkey drippings as “legendary.”

Her new lifestyle did not deter her mother from making the holidays just as special and delicious as, Deschenes said, her mother created a hearty, dense stuffing from “unseasoned bread cubes, onions, garlic, vegetable stock, and many, many different varieties of mushrooms and nuts.”

“Every year since, she goes out of her way to make it, and every year it tastes a little different as she’s constantly changing and adding which mushrooms and nuts she uses,” Deschenes explained.

No gorging on gluten

With all that the holidays bring, avoiding meat-based entrees and sides isn’t the only challenge facing potluck goers with specialized diets today.

New to the gluten-free eating world, Anna Hill of Turner, found out quickly that there’s more to passing up that pasta salad than just her own disappointment at not being able to have it.

“The hardest part about holiday potlucks for me is telling people, ‘I am sorry, I can’t eat your food,’” Hill explained. “I feel like I am hurting people’s feelings by not eating their food.”

Far from letting the unknowns overwhelm her, Hill has embraced preparing gluten-free food. As she learns what she can and can’t eat, her avid gardening skills have enabled her to really experiment and utilize fresh vegetables, making the adjustment more bearable.

“Since I am new to the gluten-free lifestyle, I am learning how to modify our favorite recipes,” Hill shared. “Our favorite food is chicken parmesan. We have successfully turned that gluten-free using homemade spaghetti sauce that we made from the tomatoes in our garden, chicken breast, whatever cheese we have on hand, and gluten-free pasta. We skip the breading on the chicken, as it truly isn’t necessary.”

Watch out for sugar

A number of popular potluck dishes are full of yet another common lifestyle no-no: carbohydrates. If you’re a diabetic, foods like like lasagna, starchy vegetables, and of course nearly every dessert can wreak havoc on your well being. Hadley Taylor of Auburn, said the hardest part of get togethers for her is misjudging how much insulin she should take.

“While counting carbs is a daily exercise in my world, it is downright tacky to use a measuring cup to scoop mashed potatoes out of the serving bowl,” Taylor said. “I would rather take too little than too much, as a bad hypoglycemic reaction will put a damper on my day, not to mention the party.”

Taylor opts for protein, though she said that holiday carbs are tough to resist. Indulging a little means she will take a walk, or engage in other fun activities like touch football, along with frequently checking her blood glucose levels.

Deschenes said that being vegetarian doesn’t mean you’re limited to salad and veggie platters.

“You don’t have to live off just sides, though there’s nothing wrong with that,” she explained. “There’s a company called Gardein that makes a large assortment of vegan meatless meats. ”

If you’ve got a Hannaford, or natural food store such as Axis near you, then Deschenes said you should be able to find these items.

Hill said her “go-to” dish for sharing at the holidays, has been caramel apple pie. She’s determined to try make it gluten-free this year. The key in trying to modify old favorites, as well as trying new recipes is having a sense of humor and patience. Her hope is that the pie turns out just as good as the original version she loves.

“If not, well we will still eat it, and be happy we tried,” Hill laughed.

Helpful tips for the holiday season to those with a new eating lifestyle

When in doubt, each of the women say eating a light meal before you head out to any holiday function is a safe way to avoid eating something you shouldn’t.

“To prepare for a get-together, I eat before I go, that way there are no awkward questions,” said Hill. “And the host or hostess won’t feel bad if there are no gluten-free food options, other than a veggie platter with please-let-it-be-gluten-free Ranch dip.”

“I think vegetarians will joke that the safest thing is to eat before or eat after,” Deschenes said. “In all seriousness, I don’t go to get-togethers with the sole intention of a feed anymore.

And, as a vegetarian I don’t expect people to cater to me; this is something I chose. So if there’s nothing to eat at a party for me, there’s nothing to eat.”

For those who are new to dealing with diabetes, particularly Type 1 as Taylor has, eating a full breakfast or lunch is essential to avoid having reactions that missing meals or eating late can bring about.

“Everyone thinks they shouldn’t eat, because they will be pigging out later on,” Taylor explained. “But to skip meals, and then blow out will send any type 1 diabetic into a bad, bad place.”

So eat as you normally would, know what you’re eating — ask what the dish is made with, and always make your potluck contribution something you can consume. Most importantly though, don’t let your new lifestyle diet keep you from enjoying the holidays.

Deschenes summed it up best, “Really, the most important thing about food-centered holidays isn’t the actual food, but the people you get to break bread with.”

For recipes and food holiday fun find “Eat the Year,” at a local bookstore or online at

Potluck Pleasers

Almond Butterscotch Cookies


6 tablespoons butter

1-1/2 cups brown sugar

1 egg

2 cups almond flour

1 cup soy flour


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cream the sugar and butter in a large bowl.

Add the egg and mix well.

Mix in the almond and soy flours until you have a uniform dough.

Press the dough onto a cookie sheet until it is about half an inch thick.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Let the cookies cool to room temperature and then cut them into bars with a serrated metal knife.

Cranberry Relish

From Hadley Taylor

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

Two 6 oz. pkgs of strawberry gelatin, SUGAR FREE

3 medium oranges

1 pound fresh cranberries

1 c chopped walnuts

Original calls for 1-1.5 cups sugar, but I add in a scant 1 cup only.

Add unflavored gelatin to two cups water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in the strawberry, stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and add in 3 cups cold water. Refrigerate for one hour, or until the gelatin is holding together.

While waiting, peel the oranges, removing the pith. Put in the food processor with the cranberries, and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add in the nuts, then fold into the gelatin. Put in the serving dish of choice, although a bundt pan looks lovely when unmolded. Cover and refrigerate for three hours.

Avocado Meatballs

By T. S. Chamberland

1 lb. ground beef

1 avocado, peeled and mashed

1/2 cup gluten-free bread crumbs

1 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. dried parsley

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. dried cilantro

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, break up ground beef so it is relatively loose. Add all ingredients and mix thoroughly (my preference is by hand). Roll spoonfuls of mixture between palms to form meatballs; they should be roughly an inch and a half in diameter. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve on pasta with sauce or as a side dish in a crockpot.