Thanksgiving: Handling The Chaos Of Cooking For Crowds

by Walt Raleigh,
This article was originally published on—a website dedicated to helping people with diabetes live happier and healthier lives—as "The Chaos of Cooking for a Crowd," and is reposted with permission from the author. 

The holiday season is at our throats again, as Dorothy Parker either once said or should have, and this month, I'm talking about cooking for crowds with special dietary needs.

When you've got diabetes, finding the right things to eat can be a challenge. I do the day-to-day cooking in the Raleigh household, and Mrs. Raleigh has happily adapted to my food requirements, though not a diabetic herself; this kind of loving support is one of the reasons I'm very glad I married her.

Also on Z Living: The Health Rules Of Food-Related Holidays For Diabetics

Cooking For Crowds With Special Dietary Needs

When you're Thanksgiving meal-planning for a crowd, it's harder. Around the Raleigh Thanksgiving table last year, there were ten people.

Among our number were: a strict vegan (no meat or dairy products of any kind), two people with type 2 diabetes, a hard-core Atkins dieter, and a person with celiac disease (I'm not a doctor and can't explain this to you, but the dietary restriction involved with this condition is "no gluten in any form" - no wheat products or related grains.). Some of these diners were elderly folks who didn't like spicy foods much, and some were adventurous thrill-seekers who put hot peppers on their cornflakes, judging by how they seasoned my cooking.

Also on Z Living: 9 Habits of Healthy Eaters, Straight From A Dietitian

Pleasing Everyone May be Impossible.

I originally set myself the challenge of creating a Thanksgiving dinner menu that everyone at the table could eat every bit of, but the permutations would have required a statistician to calculate and document, and aside from sitting an enormous raw salad in the middle of the table and encouraging everyone to "eat hearty," it seemed an impossibility.

Tip: Don't Obsess Over Cooking the Perfect Meal.

So here's Uncle Walt's hint for de-stressing over holiday cooking: don't obsess over trying to cook the perfect meal for everyone at the table.

Instead, you should obsess over cooking a "whole bunch of perfect little dishes", so that everyone can get enough to eat by mixing and matching what they can eat from what you've got on the Thanksgiving dinner menu. (There, isn't that better?)

Once I hit on that strategy, the rest was easy.

Also on Z Living: You've Been Diagnosed With Prediabetes. Now What?

Here's a Breakdown of my Thanksgiving Feast:

I cooked two turkey breasts for the carnivores, and made gravy from the pan-drippings for the folks who didn't need to watch their waistlines.

The folks who could eat breads and grains enjoyed the cornbread dressing, a Southern classic; the folks who weren't counting every carbohydrate could pile on the mashed potatoes and the candied yams, too. (I reserved a portion of the mashed potatoes with no butter or milk in them for the vegan, and baked a plain yam for the diabetics--Mother Raleigh and myself--to split.)

And, as it turned out, there were a good number of dishes that everyone at the table could eat: pickled vegetables (a Raleigh family tradition), fresh cranberry sauce (tart and tasty), and this year, a new addition, the "World's Best Carrot Salad," which was the consensus hit of the veggie entries on the sideboard this year.

Tip: Add this Crowd-Pleasing Carrot Salad to Your Thanksgiving Meal this Year.

The World's Best Carrot Salad is a Moroccan dish that our favorite falafel restaurant in New York City makes, and since the recipe has been published on the Web this year, thanks to New York magazine, I can share it with you. It's best made a day ahead and marinated overnight, and it's a real knockout.

Try it on your holiday table. The recipe calls for half a teaspoon of sugar, but if you can't bring yourself to use even that homeopathic quantity, Splenda works fine.

And remember, when cooking for crowds, you can't make a perfect Thanksgiving dinner menu for everyone, so don't try; aim for "everybody gets enough to eat," and have plenty of coffee to serve during the football game.


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