The holidays can be a difficult time for anyone, but they can be especially tough for people with dietary restrictions.

As tempting as it can be to cheat on a diet when surrounded by tasty holiday snacks, these snacks can cause serious problems for people with special diets.

Dietary RestrictionsFor people without dietary restrictions, it can be difficult to understand what our loved ones go through when they have to pick through holiday dishes, ask for ingredients and check preparation techniques to make sure their meal won’t disagree with them. It seems like a lot of work to cook specifically for one person’s needs, but it’s easier than you might think. Many ingredients have readily available alternatives that won’t be missed by the rest of the family, and will fit the bill to accommodate a limited diet.

If you have friends, family or coworkers with dietary restrictions, use the tips below to make food that will meet the needs of different diets.


When cooking for diabetic loved ones, the most important thing is to not to stray too far from their normal daily diet. The holidays are naturally a time to indulge, but that can be particularly dangerous for loved ones with diabetes.

Lactose Intolerant

Lactose intolerance is an incredibly common ailment. More than 40 million Americans can’t handle dairy, so odds are good that you’ll have to be careful with the milk this holiday season. Lactose intolerance can make it very tough to enjoy many holiday treats, but there are a handful of excellent alternatives at the supermarket. Rather than using milk, try using a milk substitute like almond, coconut or soy milk.

Dessert can be especially difficult for any restricted diet, but there are simple fixes for those with lactose intolerance. Rather than pies with heavy cream, go for fruity pies or cobblers. There are also plenty of dairy-free cake and brownie mixes available.

Gluten Allergy

Cooking for friends with gluten allergies, or celiacs, is actually remarkably easy with a few small tweaks to normal recipes. Celiacs can’t stomach wheat, barley or rye, which unfortunately limits their intake of beer, many types of bread and most processed foods. Luckily, most people with gluten allergies can easily eat meat, vegetables and starches like potatoes, rice and corn.

Holiday staples like mashed potatoes can still be made, but you may need to substitute almond milk or soy milk for regular milk since many celiacs are also lactose intolerant.  When making sauces like gravy, try replacing flour with potato starch, which contains no gluten. Make sure to carefully check spices and sauce mixes, because many will use gluten or food starch, which typically is wheat or soy.

Nut Allergies

These days, it seems like you can’t swing a wreath without hitting someone with a nut allergy, but nuts can cause some seriously scary reactions in those allergic to them. Many holiday dishes call for nuts like pecans, almonds and walnuts, but it is often best to avoid them all together. If you do make a dessert or other dish with nuts, make sure you clearly label the dish and make sure to clean your prep dishes before making another dish.

If you are cooking for people with gluten allergies, remember that many gluten-free flour alternatives often use ground nuts, like almonds. They are great for celiacs, but you need to be careful about cross-contamination of baking dishes when cooking for people with nut allergies.

Vegetarian and Vegan

There are a few big differences between vegetarians and vegans, but the obvious rule for both is no meat. However, many vegetarians will eat eggs and dairy, in addition to grains, fruits and nuts. When you’re cooking for either group, there’s no need to assume that you only need to make salads for them.

For common dishes like mashed potatoes, you can exchange vegan butter and olive oil for milk and butter, and coconut milk for dairy in vegan dishes. Vegan desserts like carrot cake, oatmeal cookies and chocolate tortes can be incredibly easy to make and very tasty, so don’t be afraid of experimenting.

Basic Tips

Here are some basic survival tips for handling any food allergies:

  • Find out everyone’s allergies or food needs before any party or gathering to avoid surprises.
  • Clearly label dishes with known allergens.
  • Use separate dishes and utensils when you’re serving allergy-free foods to avoid contamination.
  • Don’t assume that things like spices are automatically safe. Many will contain gluten or other allergens.
  • Remember religious restrictions like kosher and halal. The Christmas ham might be a family tradition, but it might not be edible by all your guests.

Mike Cushing is a freelance writer for Medical ID Bracelet Marketplace, a Hope Paige company that provides fashionable and functional medical ID bracelets. After growing up with a sister with corn, wheat, soy and dairy allergies, Mike is very familiar with special dietary needs.