Bringing Everyone to the Table: Accommodating Special Diets During the Holidays

by Kathleen Nay

Thanksgiving is over and the leftovers are dwindling, but there is more holiday eating and meal prep on the horizon. As food and nutrition professionals, we understand that emotions can run high when it comes to sharing meals, traditions, and dietary restrictions with a crowd. So what can a holiday meal that balances a variety of special diets look like?

In my family, every shared meal requires some logistical acrobatics. We have vegetarians, vegans, people with nut allergies, and people with Celiac disease. Some of the dietary restrictions are self-imposed—my husband and I choose not to consume meat, and he prefers to extend that choice to eliminating all animal products, including eggs and dairy. (Me? Well… I enjoy cheese and sour cream, and the occasional fried egg.) But the dietary restrictions of others in our family are not by choice. My brother has a severe tree nut allergy; my mother in law has Celiac disease and must be careful to avoid even a crumb of gluten. Most in our extended families also abstain from alcohol. Needless to say, communal meals can be a challenge.

This year our guests included some friends from undergrad, one friend's dad and cousin, and my husband's parents. We tried to make our meal both vegan-friendly and gluten-free where possible. Photo: Kathleen Nay

This year our guests included some friends from undergrad, one friend’s dad and cousin, and my husband’s parents. We tried to make our meal both vegan-friendly and gluten-free where possible. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Last November, the New York Times published an article about the ways in which special diets can heighten tensions at the holidays. The article focuses its attention on teenagers and children who use dietary restrictions to exert their budding independence. While I think it misses its mark in this regard—there are plenty of adults, young and old, who have legitimate reasons for their specific dietary needs—this doesn’t change the fact that tensions often run hot around holiday food traditions, regardless of the reasoning.

Though the article itself was published over a year ago, the comments section is still active—and telling. There is much hand-wringing, with recent comments ranging from, “Why make Grandma cry? Eat it and say thank you!” to “Welcoming people into your home involves actually being welcoming. When I invite people over I always ask about food restrictions…” to “Sounds awfully complicated to be required to chart everyone’s restrictions.”

So how do you plan a holiday meal that is inclusive of every eater’s needs? In our household, we’ve figured out a few strategies that work for us and our loved ones.

Be up front about your needs, and ask guests if they have special diets.
When sending out invitations for the holiday gatherings, we tell guests up front that we’re a vegan/vegetarian household. Giving people forewarning about the foods you personally cannot eat gives them a chance to plan accordingly, and saves you both from embarrassment at the dinner table. Likewise, as you plan your meal, ask your guests for advice about any foods they avoid and alternatives they prefer. This will give them some assurance that there will be something they can eat.

Barring any severe allergies, invite guests to bring what they like (even if you might not eat it yourself).
Although we’re vegetarian, turkey has been served at our table! A benefit of hosting potluck-style meals is that everyone gets to bring at least one dish they know they’ll be able to eat. When we’ve hosted holiday meals in the past, we usually make most of the dishes, but include a list of suggested sides that people might bring to complement the meal. At Thanksgivings past, I’ve always told guests that they should feel free to bring a turkey if they’d like to have it (because I know that most people are thinking, what’s Thanksgiving without turkey?) One year, a friend felt up to the challenge of roasting his own bird, so he brought it to share with our other omnivore guests. (Our cat was also very happy to have real meat scraps thrown her way.) Not only does this make guests feel more welcome in our home, it also gives people the space to cook what they’d like.

Emma wonders hopefully whether anyone brought turkey this year. Sadly, no one did. Photo: Anna van Ornam

Emma wonders hopefully whether anyone brought turkey this year. Sadly, no one did. Photo: Anna van Ornam

Make sure to include at least a few dishes that everyone can eat (and be clear about which dishes have hidden ingredients someone may wish to avoid).
Remember that not everyone will necessarily eat everything—and that’s okay. At our recent holiday gathering, everything was vegetarian, but not everything was vegan or gluten free. There were “meatballs” made from quinoa and black beans—gluten-free, but not vegan. However, we also had Portobello mushroom patties on our table—both vegan and gluten-free! If there are dishes that are not made from scratch, be sure to read labels for hidden ingredients.

A sampling of what was on our table this year. Photo: Kathleen Nay

A sampling of what was on our Thanksgiving table this year. Photo: Kathleen Nay

If you can use a substitute, do.
Not every recipe lends itself to being easily converted to a nut, gluten, or dairy-free dish. But try to make simple swaps. Toss veggies in olive oil instead of butter to go dairy-free. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken or beef stock to make a dish vegetarian. Consider using a plant-based milk like nut, seed or soy instead of cow’s milk. Use gluten-free cornstarch to thicken the gravy. Try crushed ginger snaps to make a gluten-free crust for your pumpkin pie.

Leave the toppings on the side.
We have a recipe for lemon green beans that we absolutely love. The toasted pistachios sprinkled on top gives them just the right nutty flavor and crunch. But when my nut-allergic brother visits? Leaving the pistachios in a dish on the side is an easy fix.

Don’t question what is or isn’t on a guest or family member’s plate.
Whatever people chose to eat or not eat while at your house—just don’t worry about it, and don’t be offended! A friend of mine in recovery from anorexia recently reminded folks on her Facebook page to be sensitive to friends and family who suffer from eating disorders, which might not be outwardly obvious. She advised that comments about weight, talk about having to diet or exercise to work off your holiday meal(s), and general comments about not “needing” to have seconds or dessert can be triggering for folks with eating disorders. What a person decides to put on or leave off their plate is their choice. If a guest isn’t into a particular dish you’ve made, just remember that whatever their reason, it probably isn’t about you.

I'm thankful for friends who let us try out sometimes-unusual recipes on them! Photo: Kathleen Nay

I’m thankful for friends who let us try out sometimes-unusual recipes on them! Photo: Kathleen Nay

Finally, share your recipes!
We’ve hosted lots of friends and family at our place over the years. Most of our friends don’t typically eat strict vegan diets, but thankfully all of them have been willing to try our sometimes-weird recipes. (Not a holiday food, but jackfruit carnitas, anyone?) Sometimes they’ll even ask how we make a particular dish. I believe that good food is meant to be shared, and I’m always happy to do so if it means making future meals together a little more inclusive.

Kathleen Nay is a third-year AFE/UEP dual degree student who’s been vegetarian for nearly eight years (though she admits to the occasional sneaky turkey sandwich). Her cat Emma, seeing her humans eat only vegetables, thinks human food is utterly bland and will stick to her kibble, thank-you-very-much.

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Fall Flavors and Balanced Bites: Easy, Tasty, and Flexible Recipes for your Thanksgiving Repertoire

by Hannah Meier, RD, LDN

 For many, Thanksgiving is a time to take a step back and enjoy the little things–not least of which are family, friends, and food. But Thanksgiving also falls at a high time of stress for many students (and professors alike). Take advantage of the nostalgia that this season brings, and embrace your life as it is right now–how cool is it that you GET to be stressed out by your finals at the only nutrition school of its kind in the country? Okay…maybe that’s a stretch, but I know you will at least enjoy these recipes as simple and creative ways to squeeze in some Holiday cheer. And because I love finding tasty ways to enhance the nutritional value of any dish (without, of course, compromising taste!), all of these recipes are those I’ve developed or modified from their original versions to not only provide positive Holiday vibes, but also powerful nutritional moxie.

With the dawn of the 11th month of the year comes Thanksgiving. (Really, one could argue that the feast-filled festivities kick off with the first bite of pumpkin spice whatever, which this year happened to be August 29th when Dunkin Donuts debuted its sweetly spicy treats.) If you listen closely, you might be able to hear American foodies across the country .

Thanksgiving in America has long been associated with a bountiful table of rich and delicious food, prepared with care and shared among close friends and family. As graduate students in Boston, often far from home, harnessing anything reminiscent of warm thanksgiving dinners of years past can bring some peace to the hectic pace of school and work life.

But of course, as students with limited budgets, thinly stretched time, and perhaps a particular dietary preference or two (I see AND appreciate you, vegans!), it can seem like preparing a traditional Thanksgiving feast often isn’t in the cards. Think again! Get inspired with the following recipes that require just a few seasonal and nutritious ingredients, everyday kitchen tools, and easy preparation methods and savor the season as a thrifty, well-nourished omnivore or herbivore. Rest assured that the seasonal ingredients in these recipes provide meaningful nutritional benefits and come together in balanced combinations of nutrient-dense carbohydrates, cardio-protective fats, and lean proteins. Most importantly, they are absolutely delicious and worthy of being shared with your favorite people.

Appetizers & Finger Foods

Lox and Cracker Bites

Makes about 24 “Bites”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A play on the classic cream cheese, capers, and lox combination, these savory snacks can be pulled together in no time. Compared to more traditional cheese and sausage on crackers, the smoked salmon here offers anti-inflammatory fats and is less of a saturated fat bomb for a similar amount of protein. Look for whole grain crackers to round out the dish with filling fiber.

Ingredients

  • One 4-oz package of smoked salmon, sliced into thin strips
  • Plain strained (think Greek or Icelandic) yogurt—I like the consistency of Siggi’s in this recipe
  • Capers
  • Whole grain crackers (I like Mary’s Gone Crackers Rye)
  • Fresh dill (optional)
  • Cracked black pepper (optional)

Instructions

  1. Lay out about 24 crackers (you may need less or more depending on the type of cracker you use).
  2. Spread about 1 tablespoon of yogurt on each cracker. Top the crackers with a few capers, one or two slices of smoked salmon, and a pinch of fresh dill (optional).

Sprinkle black pepper over the crackers and serve.

 

Tahini Stuffed Dates (vegan)

Makes 25 dates

Photo Sourced via Pinterest (baconveggie.blogspot.ca)

Photo Sourced via Pinterest (baconveggie.blogspot.ca)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sweet-and-savory combination, stuffed dates are another great finger-food option to bring to whatever Thanksgiving celebration you find yourself attending this season. Super simple to prepare, the dates pack their sweetness into a portable, fiber-full package that is a perfect complement to the tangy tahini filling and crunchy pistachio topping. Made from sesame seeds, the tahini brings a satisfying dose of unsaturated fats and protein that helps to balance out the sugary dates.

Ingredients

  • 25 Medjool dates, pitted
  • ½ cup of tahini
  • 25 shelled pistachios for topping

Instructions

  1. If not already pitted, remove the pit from 25 dates and lay on flat surface.
  2. Peel open or slice dates down the middle, forming a “boat” for filling.
  3. Stuff each date with 1 teaspoon of tahini and top with one whole, shelled pistachio.
  4. Enjoy!

 

Side Dishes

Cauliflower and Celery Root Mash (vegan)

Inspired by Gourmande in the Kitchen

Makes 4-6 servings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is nothing wrong with potatoes, but why not try bringing something unique to the table this year? Celery root, also known as celeriac and knob celery, is in peak season during October and November. Though it is not the most handsome of vegetables, it can be eaten raw and tastes like a refreshing cross between celery and fresh parsley. When cooked, its flavor mellows to an almost nutty flavor. The combination of cauliflower and celery root in this mash brings a creamy alternative to potatoes in a dish with far less concentrated starchy carbohydrates per serving.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium celery root, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 small head (about 16 ounces) cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Steam the celery root and cauliflower in a microwavable steamer or in a steamer basket over boiling water.
  2. Transfer the cooked celery root and cauliflower to a tall blender or food processor (you may need to work in batches). Add oil and salt and blend/process until smooth. Add 1-2 tablespoons of steaming liquid to loosen the puree if needed.
  3. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

 

Main Course

Roasted Turkey

Servings vary depending on size of bird

Adapted from Food Network Magazine

Photo Credit: http://www.bhg.com

Photo Credit: http://www.bhg.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you get more traditional than a roasted turkey at Thanksgiving? Probably not. Though most Thanksgiving feasts are not famous for their stellar health profile, placing oven-roasted turkey at the center of the dinner table is actually a nutritionally sound tradition. According to the USDA Nutrient Database, one 3 ounce serving of light meat turkey (without the skin) contains 125 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 26 grams of protein (plain meat of course does not provide any dietary carbohydrates but that’s before you smother it with cranberry sauce or gravy). Dark meat turkey gets a bad rap, but actually only contains 3 more grams of fat per serving with slightly less protein and about 25 more calories. Dark meat tends to contain a higher concentration of vitamins B-6, B-12, niacin, choline, selenium, and zinc, though the light meat is also a good source. Compared to other animal meats, roasted turkey is generally a lean choice that is low in saturated fat (animal-based saturated fats seem to consistently have the worst effect on cardiovascular disease markers) and a good source of easily digested protein. In order to get the most out of your turkey dish and avoid post-feast “meat sweats,” try to keep your portion to about a size of a deck of cards, especially if you’re filling your plate with other protein-rich dishes.

Ingredients

  • A 10- to 12-pound turkey
  • Salt and pepper (or salt-free seasoning such as Mrs. Dash)
  • Onions, carrots, and apples, all chopped into large bite-size pieces
  • Fresh herbs like sage, rosemary, and thyme (per personal preference)
  • Olive oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F .
  2. If not already removed, pull neck, liver, and giblets out of cavity. Save giblets for gravy if desired.
  3. Dry turkey with paper towels, then season inside and out with salt and pepper. Try using salt-free seasoning like Mrs. Dash to reduce sodium content for sensitive individuals.
  4. Fill turkey with chopped vegetables and apples, as well as fresh herbs of choice.
  5. Place breast-side up (legs on the bottom) in a roasting pan and brush with olive oil. Tent with foil and roast for 2 hours (add an extra 15 minutes per pound for larger birds).
  6. Remove foil, baste with more oil and turn up oven to 425 degrees. Roast for another hour or so until the meat at the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds.

 

Cranberry, Lentil and Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash (vegan)

Makes 4 Stuffed Squash Halves

Photo Credit: http://www.lentils.ca

Photo Credit: http://www.lentils.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuffing acorn squashes is an easy way to make it look like you can get fancy in the kitchen (but look at you, you can!) This time of year, acorn squash is plentiful at the grocery store and market, and is often on sale. If you can’t find or don’t like acorn squash, you can use a kabocha or small butternut squash instead. Winter squash, with its deep orange and yellow color, is bursting with phytochemicals, and when roasted takes on a caramelized flavor that makes it easy to forget how richly fibrous the flesh is. Did you know you can eat the squash skin? Just be sure to wash it well before cooking!

Wild rice, actually a seed not a grain, joins forces with lentils to provide a complete amino acid profile and round out the entrée as one that is entirely satisfying. Dried cranberries balance out the texture of each bite and provide irresistible jewels of tart sweetness. Enjoy this plant-based acorn squash dish as a vegan entrée or on the side of any traditional Turkey Day feast.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup uncooked wild rice
  • ¼ cup dried green or brown lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ cup dried cranberries (unsweetened, if you can find them)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Spices (optional): ½ teaspoon rubbed sage and  ½ teaspoon dried thyme

  • 2 medium acorn squashes, cut in half and seeds removed.

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, large skillet, or rice cooker, combine rice, lentils, and vegetable broth or water. If cooking in skillet or saucepan, bring liquid to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer until rice and lentils are cooked, about 50 minutes. If cooking in rice cooker, use brown rice setting and let it do its thing.
  2. While the rice and lentils cook, preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil, lightly coat foil with oil or non-stick spray, and place squash halves cut side down. Bake until tender, about 30-35 minutes.
  3. Coat the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil and cook onion over medium-low heat. Add sage and thyme if using and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens and just begins to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more.
  4. Add wild rice and lentil mixture to skillet. Add cranberries, and raise heat to medium-high. Cook 1-2 minutes, until mixture is heated through. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
  5. To serve, scoop wild rice, lentil, and cranberry mixture into each squash half and enjoy!

Hannah Meier is a second-semester Nutrition Interventions, Communications and Behavior Change student and not-so-closet foodie. She loves to come up with better-for-your-body substitutions to traditional recipes that don’t sacrifice flavor or appeal. This year, she is thankful for a supportive and trusting family, and beautiful fall weather in New England.

 

The Best of Vegan and Vegetarian Dining in Boston

by Hannah Packman

Given its relative size, it is unsurprising that Boston isn’t the meat-free mecca that DC and NYC are. But what Boston’s vegetarian dining scene lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. The city is peppered with diverse and delectable veg-friendly spots, sure to delight omnivores and vegans alike. Here’s a rundown of Beantown’s best plant-based menus, illustrated by my poorly-lit, over-edited Instagram pictures.

Editor’s note: Life Alive and Veggie Galaxy were previously part of Grace Goodwin’s write-up of Central Square special diet-friendly eateries—so popular with our writers that they were reviewed twice.

02 Vegan Café

02vegancafe

The Chuna Salad, a “tuna” salad comprised of chickpeas, pickles and onions.

Location: 1001 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138

Hours: Tuesday-Wednesday 8 am-4 pm, Thursday-Friday 8 am-8 pm, Saturday-Sunday 8 am-6 pm

02 Vegan Café offers up an assortment of inexpensive meatless breakfast and lunch items with a hefty dose of crunchy-hippie vibes. In addition to the menu items, they carry vegan pastries, many of which are gluten-free, if you’re into that kind of thing. And since it’s conveniently located in the vestibule of a yoga studio, you can grab a pre- or post-om snack—or if you’re an anti-athlete like I am, you can just go for the food.

Clover Food Lab

Location: Several throughout Cambridge, Brookline, and Burlington, as well as seven food trucks in greater Boston area

Hours: Varies by location

clover

The Mezze Platter, a medley of Mediterranean salads served with house-made hummus and pita.

Clover is the kind of vegetarian restaurant that even a die-hard carnivore could love. The sleek, white décor certainly doesn’t scream “dirty, tree-hugging Pinko,” and neither does the food. The menu is free of the meat and dairy substitutes that generally intimidate the meat-eating public, making it readily accessible to all diners. It doesn’t hurt that everything at Clover is a gustatory delight, from the Mezze Platter (my personal favorite) to the egg and eggplant sandwich. Added bonus for the eco-conscious: most of the ingredients are seasonally and locally sourced, including the produce, eggs, and spices.

FoMu

Location: 481 Cambridge Street, Allson, MA 02134 & 617 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

fomu

(Source) Look at that sexy ice cream. How could you possibly resist a lucious scoop like that?

Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 am-11 pm, Friday 11 am-11:30 pm, Saturday-Sunday 10 am-12 am

FoMu is Boston’s premier vegan ice cream parlor. Not only does it bring some top-notch, creamy, dairy-free scoops, but it also boasts a veritable pupu platter of creative flavors. On a recent visit, the menu included sweet lavender, avocado, cardamom pistachio, and rosewater saffron. Unique flavor combinations not up your proverbial alley? FoMu has your back: they also serve traditional varieties, like cookies and cream and vanilla bean, for the ice cream purist. And if you’re not in the mood for ice cream (or you’re one of those eccentrics who don’t like it), FoMu also sells kick-awesome pastries, baked in-house.

Grasshopper

Location: 1 North Beacon Street, Allston, MA 02134

grasshopper

The infamous No Name, which is basically fried gluten in a sugary, salty, artery-clogging sauce.

Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 am-10 pm, Sunday noon-10 pm

Omnivores often presume—incorrectly—that vegan food is synonymous with quinoa, kale, and chia seeds. Those omnivores haven’t been to Grasshopper, the arbiter of junky, awesome, meat-free Chinese fare. Grasshopper’s food is cloyingly sweet, sodium-laden, and served in absurdly large portions, just the way Americanized Chinese food should be. It’s probably not the kind of thing you should eat every day (unless you have a death wish), but when you’re in a gluttonous state of mind, and you also happen to be craving vegan food, Grasshopper should do the trick.

Life Alive

Location: 765 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139

lifealive

The Warrior Salad: greens and sprouted legumes, topped with hummus and a miso sauce.

Hours: Monday-Saturday 8 am-10 pm, Sunday 11 am-7 pm

Life Alive is a funky, bohemian spot with correspondingly funky, bohemian food. If you’re a first-time diner, don’t be alarmed by the menu, which is full of kooky-named dishes and jam-packed with peculiar ingredients like nutritional yeast, bee pollen, nama shoyu, kelp, and sprouted legumes. Though it all sounds like hippie-dippie nonsense, the food at Life Alive is hearty and flavorful.  And to accompany your meal, you can choose from a full menu of beverage options, including smoothies, juices, kombucha, beer, and coffee.

MyThai Vegan Cafe

Location: 3 Beach Street #2, Boston, MA 021111

Hours: 11 am-10:30 pm

mythai

Pumpkin curry, served meta-style inside a pumpkin.

MyThai Vegan Café looks unassuming, with its dingy, dated interior, but looks can be deceiving. Despite its humble appearance, MyThai offers some of the best vegan food in Boston or anywhere else. There are more than 100 menu items, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. For many dishes, you can choose your own protein—for the more ambitious eaters, there is an array of mock meats: duck, shrimp, squid, and beef, among others—but there are also more familiar options like tofu and seitan. And if you have a sweet tooth, you can finish your meal with dairy-free boba tea and a slice of cake.

True Bistro

Location: 1153 Broadway, Somerville, MA 02144

truebistro

(Source) Death-by-Chocolate flourless cake, a vegan and gluten-free dessert to simultaneously sate your inner hippie and celiac.

Hours: Wednesday-Thursday 5 pm-9 pm, Friday-Saturday 5 pm-10 pm, Sunday 5 pm-9 pm, Weekend Brunch 10 am-3 pm

If you’re in the market for haute cuisine done vegan, True Bistro has you covered. With its candlelit tables and vegan wine selection, it’s a perfect joint for a romantic, albeit meatless, dinner date. True Bistro also boasts the only plant-based brunch in Boston, so you can have your vegan pancakes and eat them too. Incidentally, vegan pancakes pair excellently with a vegan Bloody Mary, which True Bistro so graciously offers during its brunch seating.

Veggie Galaxy

Location: 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139

Hours: Sunday-Thursday 9 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 9 am-11 pm

veggiegalaxy

The weekly rotating Blue Plate Special, falafel with hummus

Greasy spoon-gone-vegetarian Veggie Galaxy is a beloved Central Square mainstay, and for good reason: its comforting, homey dishes are a metaphorical hug for you taste buds. The menu prominently features typical diner provisions (burgers, French fries, milkshakes, and all-day breakfast), as well as more innovative dishes, such as the pulled barbequed jackfruit sandwich, or the hearty glazed seitan roast. And if you’re lucky enough to dine at Veggie Galaxy, don’t miss the mind-blowing vegan desserts; the aptly named Mile High Lemon Meringue Pie is truly out of this world, as is the s’mores cheesecake.

Hannah Packman is a second-year student in the Agriculture, Food and Environment masters program. When she isn’t busy filling her head with food-related facts, she enjoys filling her stomach with food-related objects.

Central Square: A Destination for Special Diet Dining in Cambridge

by Grace Goodwin

One of my favorite parts of Friedman is that when I tell people about my special diet, they are not quite as stymied as the rest of the world. Normally, when I tell others about my gluten, egg, and dairy intolerances, the response is “How do you LIVE?!” But from Friedmanites, I get an understanding nod. This is because in addition to being more knowledgeable about food in general, there are a number of Friedman students that follow special diets themselves.

Randomly yet conveniently, I ended up living in one of the best Boston locations for special diets: Central Square, the Cambridge neighborhood midway between MIT and Harvard. There are myriad spots for special-diet diners around the Boston area, but this particular stretch of Mass Ave is particular dense with them. If you are gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, vegan, or just curious, read on for some restaurant suggestions in Central Square that cater to your needs.

Life Alive

(765 Mass Ave, www.lifealive.com)

In the bleak midwinter, Life Alive is a humid green oasis, literally. The two-story restaurant next to Cambridge City Hall is packed with plants – and usually people, given the restaurant’s booming fan-base. Life Alive is extremely friendly to special diets and specializes in bowls of grains topped with steaming vegetables and addictive vegan sauces. Almost everything at Life Alive can be made gluten-free, and the staff are well aware of the distinction between Celiac customers and those that are gluten-free by preference. With the exception of a couple dishes with cheese, everything is dairy-free; most importantly the creamy almond- or coconut-based shakes that satisfy your craving for the ice cream you might miss.

Veggie Galaxy

(450 Mass Ave, www.veggiegalaxy.com)

This spot is the gluten-free and vegan version of a diner, right out of Grease. Just like a traditional diner, dishes range from breakfast all day to meatloaf and burgers. Gluten-free customers get to enjoy favorites that they may not have had in decades, like pancakes with caramelized bananas or savory breakfast sandwiches, all from a separate yet ample gluten-free menu. If you haven’t tasted eggs or dairy in a while, you can get a similar experience from the tofu scrambles and omelettes with either Daiya or house-made dairy-free cheese, none of which disappoints. Like Life Alive, Veggie Galaxy has thick coconut-based milkshakes in awesome flavors and served in old-fashioned tall glasses. If you want a warmer dessert, check out the gluten-free and vegan cakes and pies.

Tavern in the Square

(730 Mass Ave, www.taverninthesquare.com/location/central-square-0)

When you’re dining with pickier friends or those that just want a traditional cheeseburger, Tavern in the Square is a go-to. This chain restaurant is a traditional sports bar yet works well for those with food intolerances—particularly to gluten—because its menu is enormous and very well labeled. Gluten-free dishes are clearly marked with “GF,” making the menu scanning process much easier than it usually is for Celiacs. Thanks to Tavern in the Square, a fellow gluten-free Friedmanite and I had tater tots (so crispy and golden) for the first time in ages. You can also get all of the normal burgers and sandwiches with gluten-free buns or breads, so you can get the full experience again.

Four Burgers

(704 Mass Ave, www.fourburgers.com)

This burger joint is similar (and coincidentally, right next door) to Tavern in the Square: a great place to go with your gluten-loving, cheese-craving friends, where you can both enjoy your favorite foods in parallel. Four Burgers’ burgers can be made gluten-free in two ways: they offer gluten-free buns, or you can opt to have your burger atop a lofty pile of fresh greens with a tasty vinaigrette dressing. Additionally, both their white and sweet potato fries are gluten-free. Unfortunately, as of now there is no dairy-free cheese here.

Dado Tea & Coffee

(955 Mass Ave, www.dadotea.com)

Dado is a bit of a walk away from Central, towards Harvard, but it’s worth it if you are looking for a cute and quiet spot for lunch. The specialty here is the huge variety of teas, and of course the fact that it is yet another spot where those of us with restrictions can find options. The dairy-intolerant can enjoy 16 different flavors of bubble tea with soymilk. For both the gluten-free and the vegan, there are multigrain bowls that are similar to Life Alive’s but with a Korean twist, like Bibimbap. The rice here is not boring and white – it is a mix of organic brown rice, sticky brown rice, black soybean, yellow soybean, adzuki bean, and green peas that will fill you up.

Grace Goodwin is a second-year FPAN student from Alexandria, Virginia. Despite her food intolerances, she has worked at both Ben & Jerry’s and Georgetown Cupcake, making her either the best or the worst employee ever.