Dinner How-To Seasonal

How to Host the Ultimate Thanksgiving (Even If Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Cousin is Coming)

vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo

It’s officially November and we are totally going for it. Halloween is over and this month begins the countdown to Thanksgiving (which may or may not be my favorite holiday). But just do me a quick favor and take a deep breath, okay? Because you so got this. Don’t let daytime TV scare you into thinking you can’t pull off a Martha-worthy Thanksgiving – The turkey! The timing! The sides! How will I do it?! Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a complicated mess. The secret is all in the prepping and planning (if that’s your kind of thing). Can you tell why I like this holiday so much? Food + Organization = YES. So make no mistake. If you are hosting, you DO need a plan.

Now here’s the wrench. What happens when you’re trying to host this beautiful, classic, Norman Rockwell meets Ina Garten Thanksgiving feast and everyone, EVERYONE, in your family is on some kind of special diet? Ugh. Why? Believe me, I get it. My freshman year of college I decided that right before Thanksgiving break was the perfect time to go vegan. Yes. I totally did this. We (like the collective “our society” we) no longer sit around a table where everyone eats turkey and stuffing. As modern hosts and hostesses we have everyone’s needs to meet. So if Aunt Carol decides that she is going low-carb this holiday season, and Cousin Joey is now doing the gluten-free thing, and then there’s Marla going vegan at the most convenient time, worry not. I have got you covered.

So can you actually host the perfect Thanksgiving and meet everyone’s special dietary requests at the same time? The good news is, you totally can!

Here’s exactly how to do it, step-by-step:

5 Days Before: Go Food Shopping. If you’re trying to meet different needs, your best bet is probably to shop at Whole Foods (or some place similar), where they are likely to have everything you’re looking for. The reason I like to go shopping the weekend before Thanksgiving is so I can get the best produce and I don’t have to fight off some hipster for my free-range turkey.

2-3 Days Before: Prep Your Turkey. Depending on what recipe you use, you may need to season the bird, or brine it, a few days beforehand. I’m making Ina’s Make-Ahead Turkey (which was a HUGE success last year) from her Make it Ahead Cookbook

1 Day Before: Sides & Pies. You never want to try and make everything the day of. That’s crazy. I always prepare and refrigerate my sides and pies the day before Thanksgiving. Whether it’s prepping veggies for roasting, making mashed potatoes (store in casserole dish and bake day of), or making cranberry sauce, I always do it the day before.

Day Of: Count Backwards. Depending on what time you plan to serve dinner, you’ll want to count backwards to ensure you give yourself enough time to roast the turkey and let it rest. Chances are you’ll be playing musical chairs with your oven/stovetop/toaster, in order to get everything cooked at the same time. Remember that everything doesn’t need to be cooked in the oven. Our countertop Breville Convection Oven is a Thanksgiving MVP because it allows us to cook multiple things at once. Hello, perfect wedding gift! (S/O to Jen & Dave for the Williams-Sonoma Giftcard)

Day Of Non-Negotiables: Make Cranberry-Orange Muffins from the Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook and watch the Macy’s Parade. I said non-negotiable, people.

How to Host the Ultimate Thanksgiving


Alright, so I promised recipes & ideas that will make everyone happy. Now that we’ve covered my basic Thanksgiving game plan, here are my favorite ways to cater to everyone’s needs at the big feast.

Main Dish Vegan or Vegetarian: While for whatever reason Tofurky gets all the street cred, there are much better (and much tastier) options out there. We like Field Roast’s Celebration Roast (this is not an affiliate link, just a link to their site). For a meat-free product, it actually tastes very good. Bonus, it already has stuffing inside – so one less thing for you to do!

Gluten-Free Side Dish Ideas:

Roasted Acorn Squash with Maple Butter from Alexandra’s Kitchen (can also make vegan by using Earth Balance Vegan Butter)

Creamy Mashed Potatoes from The Pioneer Woman (can also make vegan using Earth Balance, Dairy-Free Cream Cheese, and Unsweetened Almondmilk)

Vegan Side Dish Ideas:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic from The New York Times

Olive-Oil Whipped Cauliflower from Whole Foods Blog

Vegan & Gluten-Free Dessert Ideas:

Vegan, Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie from Minimalist Baker

Vegan, Gluten-Free Apple Crisp from Well-Plated by Erin


+ Most of these ideas also work for those who try to eat low-carb (except the mashed potatoes, obv).

+The vegan side dish ideas also work for those who are gluten-free (big time saver)

+ If you have someone coming to dinner who sticks to a Paleo diet, they can eat the turkey, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower!

+ The dessert ideas are so delicious, everyone can eat them, vegan/gluten-free or not. You can of course also ask someone else who is coming to just bring a store-bought pie as well.


There you have it. If you have a whole Motley-eating-crew of people attending Thanksgiving dinner, fear not, for you can actually serve delicious food, and make everyone happy at the same time.

Don’t Forget to Pin It!

How to Host the Ultimate Thanksgiving - when you have to cater to your family's different diets (gluten-free, vegan, paleo, etc.) throwing Thanksgiving dinner can seem like a real challenge! Use this Thanksgiving game plan to help get you through it!

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links for your convenience. 

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  • Reply
    November 2, 2016 at 10:55 AM

    These tips are great! I try to get as much done as possible the day before too! Makes day of that much more enjoyable!

    • Reply
      November 2, 2016 at 1:46 PM

      Exactly! I love the feeling of not being rushed the day of. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Kim Pena
    November 2, 2016 at 11:15 AM

    Just sent your blog to my mother. She just started Whole 30 and has been worried about Thanksgiving!

    • Reply
      November 2, 2016 at 1:47 PM

      Yay! Always glad when someone finds a post useful! 🙂

  • Reply
    November 2, 2016 at 6:06 PM

    Love this!! Everyone in my family seems to have a special diet so planning Thanksgiving these days can be pretty crazy! These are some really awesome tips 🙂

    • Reply
      November 3, 2016 at 1:56 PM

      Thanks, Leigh! I know what you mean! Hope they are useful to you 🙂

  • Reply
    November 3, 2016 at 1:16 PM

    Truly lovely! Thank you.

    • Reply
      November 3, 2016 at 1:56 PM

      Thanks, Miri!

  • Reply
    Megan @ The Many Little Joys
    November 4, 2016 at 10:17 PM

    Great post, Marla. I often end up hosting Thanksgiving for my husband’s side of the family, and I have learned to prep as much as possible ahead of time. And, I have a Breville convection oven, too, and it’s a life saver! I will never need a second oven in my house as long as I have that little work horse. It’s the best wedding gift I got that I didn’t ask for!

    • Reply
      November 6, 2016 at 8:24 AM

      Thanks, Megan! Seriously, that oven is a lifesaver for every holiday. I always wanted a double oven in my kitchen, but having the countertop oven actually makes it feel like I have two!

  • Reply
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