The food, the host and the holiday season

December 12, 2012

Ah, the holidays. A time filled with dinner parties, cocktail hours and office potlucks.

But once an innocent, fun-filled time of happy cooking and eating by hosts and guests alike, has now become a culinary nightmare. The 21stcentury has brought diets such as veganism and vegetarianism, gluten-free and a plethora of allergens. How does one navigate the proper etiquette of modern-day diets?

As a vegetarian, I’m no stranger to this feeling of anxiety as the holidays approach – will I be able to eat at this party? Do I eat beforehand? Should I bring a dish or advise the host of my dietary needs?

Different thoughts percolate in the mind of the host. Who is a vegan? How is he/she different from a vegetarian? Does this mean they’ll eat the fish course, but not the meat? Gluten-free??

Let’s break down the who, what and how for the holidays, whether you’re a host or a guest.

Homemade burgers are delicious but they may not be suitable for all guests.


Vegetarian: There are many different types of vegetarians, flexitarians and pescetarians.

  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: They will not eat any meat, fish or poultry, but will eat eggs and dairy products.
  • Ovo-Vegetarian: They will not eat any dairy, but will eat eggs.
  • Lacto-Vegetarian: They will not eat eggs, but will eat dairy.
  • Pescetarian: They will not eat any poultry or meat, but may eat fish and/or seafood. It’s best to double-check before you serve them salmon in case they prefer shrimp.
  • Flexitarian: These guys are a bit more flexible with their diet and will occasionally eat fish and poultry. Again, it is best to double-check with your guest what it means to them.

Our glossary will help you navigate all the different dietary preferences.

Vegan: Avoid consuming any animal products. This includes meat, poultry, fish or seafood, as well as dairy, eggs and any animal by-products. Most vegans do not consume gelatin and honey.

Make sure you are mindful of what goes into the dish. For example, vegans will not enjoy brown-buttered green beans, and any vegetarian or vegan will most certainly be sick if you happen to use chicken stock instead of vegetable stock in the soup.

Gluten-Free: Many on a gluten-free diet are Celiac, meaning their bodies cannot properly digest gluten – the common ingredient found in wheat and bread products, such as cereals, pasta, and bread. Luckily, this has become a more mainstream diet and many gluten-free options are now available. As the host, it is important that you check the labels on any pre-packaged foods as they commonly have gluten in them.

The Recommendations


  • Potlucks: this one is a no-brainer. Just bring a dish you can eat. Make sure it’s enough to share with others. Celebrate your lifestyle choice, don’t hide it!
  • Cocktail Party: you may want to have a quick bite before you show up – especially if you don’t know the host and there may not be many options. Stash a snack in your purse to eat after you leave.
  • Dinner Party: this one can be a bit tricky. If you’re especially close with your host, offer to bring a dish and kindly remind them of any dietary restrictions. If you’re not that close, casually mention your dietary restrictions upon receipt of your invite and practice due diligence at the table.

While preparing for a holiday party, think about the setting and style of the event you are attending/hosting. This will affect your food choices.


  • Try to be considerate if not accommodating. You do not need to prepare an all-vegan feast if one or two guests follow this diet, but be sensitive. Use olive oil and vegetable stock for your vegetables and offer up a hearty soup or salad they can enjoy. If you’re really unsure, ask them to supply a main course; they’ll probably be more than happy to oblige.
  • Help them navigate the courses – if there’s bacon hidden in the casserole supplied by your aunt, tell them. If there were bread crumbs used in the meatballs, let your gluten-free guest know.
  • Look upon this as an opportunity to try something new! If you’re a culinary-savante, use this to broaden your repertoire.

The healthy recipe

Moroccan-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

Here is our yummy holiday recipe that will make many guests happy!

Inspired by the spices of Morocco, this soup is everything the holidays are about: warm, inviting and slightly spicy. Harissa, a spicy Moroccan chili paste, can usually be found in specialty food stores. Otherwise, feel free to substitute your favourite hot sauce, like tabasco or Sriracha, to your preference. This soup is gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian friendly.

1 lb of butternut squash, peeled, seed and cubed

1 L of low-sodium vegetable stock

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

3-5 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp harissa paste

1 tsp cumin

1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated

¼ c. tomato paste

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper


Fill a large sauce pot with squash and fill it with water. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly tender. Reserve 1 cup of liquid and drain the rest. Set squash and water aside.

Heat olive oil on medium high-heat in your sauce pot, and add in onions and garlic. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant, then add in harissa, cumin, ginger, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Allow mixture to cook down for 3-5 minutes, this allows all the flavours to soak in.

Add in squash, squash liquid and vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer, cover and reduce heat. Cook for 30 minutes until fully cooked through.

Blend the soup either with your immersion blender, or allow the soup to cool and pour into your blender. Pour soup back into pot and heat over low heat until hot.


If you want to add a boost of protein for your vegan and vegetarian friends, add in a can of white beans when you add squash. Just make sure you drain the beans and rinse thoroughly first.

By Jessica Starkey

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One Comment »

  • Alvaro said:

    It’s hard to find educated people on this topic, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about!



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