The Holiday Diet – How dietary restrictions affect holiday meals 

Story By Lexi Phillips

We’re all familiar with the traditional holiday meals—roast turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Families and friends gather together to stuff their faces and spread love and cheer. These are the basics of Thanksgiving and Christmas. But tradition isn’t always the best option for every family—especially when you have a dietary restriction that prevents you from eating the same foods as everyone else. 

For some, this means finding alternatives to certain foods: tofurkey, gluten-free stuffing, dairy-free mashed potatoes and the like. For others, it means figuring out different types of foods that they can eat along with their family. To get a better look at how those with dietary restrictions eat during the holidays, PULSE spoke with past and present CWU students for their experiences and their favorite holiday dishes. Check out what they had to say, and find some new holiday recipes to try this season! 

Accommodating for Differences in Diet and Lifestyle 

For senior Steven Baril, who is double majoring in film and physics and has been a vegetarian for almost two years, the holidays are easy. “It’s kind of nice for my family. They kind of like it, because … it caused them to make new dishes that they hadn’t made before,” he says. He goes on to explain that since he’s gone vegetarian, his family has started eating more vegetarian as well, and have begun experimenting with meat-free foods. 

Trevor Krey, another senior film major who is also vegetarian, says things are harder for him. “[For] most of the … holidays, I basically just don’t eat. I just avoid everything that has meat in it, because my parents don’t really care what I do.” This is not an uncommon occurrence. Those who choose to go on a certain diet may find their family criticizing the diet change or just generally not caring or doing anything to accommodate for it.  

“I was born into a vegetarian family, so I’m fortunate,” says junior Karie Urban, who is double majoring in English and history and has been vegan for over year and vegetarian for nine, “I know [for] a lot of vegans, sometimes their parents will reject them.” Urban continues to say she is a member of a group for vegans on Facebook, on which she hears many stories of people being rejected by their families due to their veganism. 

Urban also explains that as a vegan, the food isn’t the hard part so much as receiving gifts. “My boyfriend is Mexican, and his mother reads and speaks English and stuff like that, but sometimes she forgets, so one year she bought me these really cute boots … but they were made out of suede. I didn’t know how to tell her, or what to say,” she says. 

Additionally, she says she occasionally receives wool blankets and sweaters, and that she has to check the tag on certain gifts to make sure they don’t contain a wool blend. So, if you are planning on giving a holiday gift to someone with a dietary restriction, talk to them and see if their dietary restriction extends to items as well. If it does, make sure you’re not about to run into an awkward moment where your friend or family member can’t accept your gift. 

If you have a dietary restriction and you are unsure if your family (or the people hosting your holiday dinner) will be willing to accommodate for you, you may have to accommodate for yourself. “If you’re going to a family gathering where you know them well enough, just [tell] them, ‘Hey, I just adopted this new dietary change. You don’t have to accommodate me, but can I bring … cranberry sauce, or a gluten-free stuffing?’” says Nutrition grad student Alicia DiFolco, who has her B.S. in Food Science and Nutrition and is a certified registered dietitian. “Because it’s hard to put that on the host to make something.” Other options, she says, are to either eat the side dishes that are available and adhere to your diet, bring a main dish that everyone can enjoy but that you can eat most of or ask for certain toppings to be put on the side. 

“That means you can choose—‘Oh, I want the brussels sprouts, but I can’t have cheese because I’m vegan, so I’ll just add my own stuff,’” DiFolco explains. 

What to Eat   

For Urban, it’s all about finding substitutes for traditional holiday foods. “I love making vegan green bean casserole. So, I make my own mushroom gravy and cook with fresh green beans,” she says. For tofurky, she recommends the Tofurky brand or Field Roast, both of which taste “so much like turkey. … I’ll [also] usually do creamy mashed potatoes. So, I’ll use vegan sour cream, almond milk and red potatoes.” 

Desserts, however, can be harder for vegans. Urban says she always buys organic sugar, due to non-organic sugar being processed through bone char. “PETA will confirm certain things, like at Costco you can get apple pie, and that one’s been confirmed vegan-friendly,” she says, but she warns that any store-bought dessert may seem to be vegan, but may not actually be. 

First-Year Clinical Physiology Major Sarah Sanders, who has been gluten-free by choice for seven years, takes a similar approach. “I don’t eat rolls, because I haven’t found a gluten-free roll that I like so far, but [my family and I] have figured out how to make a pretty good gluten-free stuffing. … For pies, my mom makes me my own little soufflé that’s without the crust—so it’s the inside of pie,” she explains. 

For many vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free eaters, it only takes a little bit more work to make something close to the traditional holiday meals so prevalent in America. For others, they simply choose to take a different route. 

Elijah Bergevin, a sophomore double majoring in music and actuarial science who has been a vegetarian for almost two years, tries to spice up holiday dinners by making different types of salads, using things like cranberries or broccoli. “We just try to focus on things beyond the meat and potatoes,” he explains. 

Former PULSE Associate Editor Mandi Ringgenburg, who has been lactose intolerant for three years and vegan for two, prefers to make simple, fruit- and veggie-rich dishes during the holidays. “My ideal dinner has tons of fresh, cooked vegetables, a salad, sweet potatoes, cooked spiced apples and vegan ‘meat’ dishes,” she says. 

First-year Secondary Education Major Gerald Lemmon says things are hard for him during the holidays due to a dairy sensitivity, especially when it comes to desserts, which often contain milk. “With that, it’s hard to really get through the holidays sometimes, because there’s candy, there’s festivities, there’s all kinds of stuff.” 

To make up for this, Lemmon uses marshmallows in place of milk in pastries. “You can make cookies into a cake using that, and it just adds another layer of soft, gooey flavor, which is kind of cool.” 

Lemmon also says his favorite holiday dessert is his grandmother’s chocolate cookie bars, which contain sugar, flour, non-dairy butter, non-dairy chocolate chips and walnuts. These are combined and baked in the oven, then cut into squares. “It’s just like having a cookie, but it’s much softer and it doesn’t have milk,” he explains. 

Former PULSE Editor-in-Chief Nicole Trejo-Valli, who has a gluten and dairy intolerance, says she still allows herself to indulge on foods that her body is sensitive to. “It has never really been an issue for me other than when it comes to desserts, but if there is something I love, then I'll eat it even if I shouldn't,” she says. “The holidays are a special occasion, and my dietary restrictions are more of a personal choice, which is why I'll indulge when it comes to dessert during this time.” Trejo-Valli says her favorite foods to eat during the holiday season are apple pie with ice cream and her mom’s pork. 

Making the Most of the Holidays 

For some, the holidays are a time of joy and love, regardless of whether or not they eat a turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. For others, it can be hard, and they may find themselves unable to enjoy the holidays as much as they’d like. All in all, remember that it’s not about the food; it’s about appreciating what you have and the people you love. Whether you have a dietary restriction or not, and no matter what you celebrate, Trejo-Valli says it best: “Live a little and indulge during the holidays.” 

Holiday Diet Recipes Continued  

Dairy-Free Eggnog 

Source: Healthful Pursuit 

Serves 4 

Prep time: 10 minutes 

Cook time: 15 minutes 


  • 4 egg yolks 

  • 2 ¼ cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk 

  • 1 400mL can full-fat coconut milk (for Paleo, get guar gum-free coconut milk) 

  • ¼ cup coconut sugar 

  • 2 tsp pure gluten-free vanilla extract 

  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg (to drink right away, use ½ tsp) 

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon 

  • 1 pinch allspice 


  1. Place eggs yolks in a small mixing bowl. Set aside. 

  2. Combine remaining ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat. Bring to simmer, then reduce heat to low. 

  3. Slowly add ¼ cup of hot liquids at a time to the egg yolks while whisking continuously. Continue doing this until you've added about one cup of the liquid mixture. Transfer liquid + yolks mixture to saucepan. 

  4. Bring back to medium heat and whisk while it's simmering for four minutes. 

  5. Remove from heat and serve immediately, or pour in a mason jar and refrigerate. 





Holiday Diet Recipes

Paleo & Gluten-Free Skillet 

Source: Well Plated 

Serves 4 

Prep time: 25 minutes 

Cook time: 25 minutes 


  • 1 tbsp olive oil 

  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into ½-inch cubes 

  • 1 tsp kosher salt, divided in half 

  • ½ tsp black pepper 

  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped 

  • 3 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered 

  • 1 medium-sized sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes 

  • 1 medium-sized onion, chopped 

  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¾-inch cubes 

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced 

  • 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried thyme 

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon 

  • 1 cup chicken broth, divided in half 


  1. Heat olive oil in large, cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high until simmering. Add chicken breasts, black pepper and ½ tsp of salt. Cook until lightly browned and cooked thoroughly. Transfer chicken to plate lined with paper towels. 

  2. Reduce skillet heat to medium-low. Add bacon and cook until crisp and brown and fat has melted down. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to another plate lined with paper towels. Discard all but 1 ½ tbsp bacon fat from pan. 

  3. Increase skillet heat back to medium-high. Add Brussels sprouts, onion, sweet potato and remaining salt. Cook while stirring occasionally, until tender and crisp and onions are starting to look translucent. 

  4. Stir in apples, thyme, garlic and cinnamon. Cook 30 seconds, the pour in ½ cup broth. Bring to boil and cook until evaporated. Add in chicken and remaining broth, then cook until heated through. Stir in bacon and serve warm. Enjoy! 


Vegan Biscuits 

Source: The Speckled Palate 

Yields eight biscuits 

Prep time: 20 minutes 

Cook time: 10 minutes 


  • 1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour 

  • 1 tsp kosher salt 

  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder 

  •   1 tbsp granulated sugar 

  • ¾ cup sweet potato puree 

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil 

  • 20 fresh sage leaves, chopped finely 


  1. Preheat oven to 450° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

  2. In a large glass bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, sugar and sage until fully mixed. 

  3. In a smaller bowl, use a fork to combine sweet potato and olive oil until well combined. 

  4. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, then stir with a rubber spatula until the dough begins to form. Don't worry about any visible flour! 

  5. Lightly sprinkle a clean, flat surface (like a counter) with flour. Turn dough out on it. 

  6. Using your hands, gently knead the dough until the excess flour has been incorporated. 

  7. Pat the dough into a ½ inch-thick round. 

  8. Using a 1- to 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut out the biscuits. 

  9. Transfer biscuits to prepared baking sheet. 

  10. Drizzle olive oil on top of the biscuits, then transfer to oven. 

  11. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown. 

  12. Remove from oven and let cool. Serve and enjoy!