Three nutrition experts share their culinary advice catering for special diets at Christmas, offering tips on how to make guests with dietary requirements feel welcome
Cooking at Christmas can be stressful enough, before you start adding different dietary requirements to the mix. Luckily our three dietary experts are on hand to make sure nobody feels short-changed at the dinner table.
THE VEGAN or VEGETARIAN
By PIXIE TURNER, aka Plant-based Pixie, nutritionist
When you can’t hide behind a meat centrepiece you have to make every element shine. Get maximum flavour from veg by roasting or pan-frying in a little oil rather than boiling. Supermarkets offer great meat-free alternatives to turkey to serve one or two, which makes cooking for a mixture of guests straightforward.
Last year I made homemade edible Christmas crackers packed with vegetables. They went down well, so I’ll be making them again this year. You can find the recipe, along with others on my website. Pixie’s recipe for edible Christmas crackers.
My stand-out bought choices are M&S Red Cabbage & Squash Filo Tarts and Parsnip And Mulled Wine Bake. Or make Phil Mundy’s special nut roast.
Lightly coat carrots and parsnips with honey or maple syrup, then roast, and parboil sprouts and broccoli before pan-frying. Bring it all together with an onion gravy, thickened with cornflour or blended lentils (add a dash of soy sauce for a deeper colour).
Booja Booja Truffles are wonderfully decadent Ecuadorian chocolate truffles that happen to be vegan! You could buy or make vegan brownies and serve with a dairy-free crème fraiche such as Oatly, or a dairy-free coconut ice cream.
When your other guests are drinking hot chocolate (or mulled wine), you can offer vegan guests a hot smoothie using almond or oat milk and cocoa powder. You can find my hot chocolate smoothie, along with other plant-based winter warmers on my site – it’s a new twist on the breakfast drink, and makes a warming and energising treat after that bracing Christmas Day walk…
THE GLUTEN-FREE or COELIAC GUEST
BY NORMA McGOUGH, registered dietitian at Coeliac UK
Catering for a gluten-free diet is simpler than you’d imagine, as so many festive dishes are naturally gluten free or can easily be made without gluten. Always use separate serving utensils and segregate the gluten-free dishes from those containing gluten to make sure there’s no risk of cross-contamination.
A classic smoked salmon starter, prawn cocktail or Parma ham and melon can all be enjoyed if you’re gluten free, but serve separate gluten-free bread, such as HFG’s gluten-free soda bread.
If an item isn’t labelled ‘gluten-free’ (a term protected by law), check for the gluten-containing ingredients wheat, rye, barley and oats, which must appear in bold. Soup is another good option (if you’re thickening it, use cornflour) – try HFG’s spiced squash soup with soured cream, but remember to use gluten-free stock.
You can buy turkey joints with gluten-free stuffing. Or make your own stuffing using ground almonds, minced onion and celery, gluten-free sausage meat or puréed chestnut, with fresh herbs and seasoning. Make gravy using meat juices, reduced and thickened with cornflour.
Puddings and cakes are usually more challenging when catering for special diets at Christmas, but supermarkets now stock Christmas puddings and Christmas cakes. Making your own? Try HFG’s gluten-free mince pies or HFG’s gluten-free Christmas pudding recipe, which can be cooked in the microwave. You can now find ready-rolled gluten-free pastry, too.
If you fancy a tipple, cider, wine, sherry, spirits, port and liqueurs are all gluten free. There are now plenty of great tasting gluten-free beers, too. The HFG team are fans of light and refreshing Brewdog Vagabond Pale Ale, organic Celia Premium Czech Lager and Stella Artois Gluten Free Lager.
Go to coeliac.org.uk for lots more information, help and advice on gluten-free diets.
THE NO-DAIRY GUEST
BY AMANDA URSELL, nutrition editor
If your guest can’t have cow’s milk, because they react either to the protein or the milk sugar it contains, you’ll also need to avoid all animal milks and cheese, etc, including goat’s. For those who are only intolerant to the lactose, you can use lactose-free milk, cheese, ice cream and yogurt in your dishes. My suggestions assume a total exclusion of dairy foods.
Prawn cocktail with wholemeal bread is a good option. Prawns and whole (but not reduced-fat) mayonnaise usually fit the dairy-free criteria, but always check the ingredients list. Serve on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce with bread that comes in a wrapper so you can check the label (milk powder is added to some breads) and opt for a dairy-free spread, if using. You could make a minestrone soup using fresh veg and homemade stock, or make our delicious minty pea soup (but leave out the optional crème fraîche).
Buy your turkey unadorned (or check the ingredients list carefully). Roast it using your own seasoning of garlic, lemon and herbs. Make stuffing from our roast turkey with herb stuffing – but remember to use milk-free breadcrumbs (see above). You can make your usual bread sauce recipe, swapping the milk for soya milk, and drizzle the normal veg with olive oil rather than serving with butter.
Make healthier Christmas pudding (using milk-free breadcrumbs), served with custard made with a dairy alternative, such as oat milk, or use Alpro Deliciously Dairy Free Custard. Our healthier mince pies are also suitable as long as you use fat that qualifies as dairy free. Serve with dairy-free ice cream such as Swedish Glace Vanilla Made With Soy.
Wines, beers and spirits aren’t an issue for dairy-free guests – the challenge is catering for coffees and teas. For cappuccino, latte or hot chocolate, Oatly Oat Drink Barista Edition froths well. For tea our go-to choice is Alpro Soya Unsweetened and, for drinking on its own, Pip & Nut Unsweetened Almond Drink. We also like Good Hemp Original Dairy Free.