If battling aggro drivers and the crowds at shopping centres isn’t enough to turn you into a festive Grinch, spare a thought for the nation’s home cooks. Today, they must work out how to cater for the gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, locovore, paleo or keto family and friends at their Christmas tables.
Never before have there been so many dietary requirements, ranging from medical and ethical to preferential.
The traditional Christmas Day offerings – turkey, ham, pork, tomato and onion pie, followed by a large slice of plum pudding with brandy sauce – simply don’t cut it any more.
According to Roy Morgan Research, 2.25 million Australian adults eat a meat-free diet, with Melburnians and Sydney-siders leading the (pitch) fork charge.
Market research company Euromonitor International says Australia is the third fastest-growing packaged vegan food market in the world. It estimates that market will be worth $215 million a year by 2020.
The challenges of feeding your particular group of friends and family at Christmas are very real.
The fraught topic of “dietary requirements” is close to the heart of Sabina Read, psychologist and media commentator on Channel Seven’s The Morning Show. Her mother is vegan and her father is fructose intolerant, “so finding food that both of them can eat is pretty bloody tricky”.
Ms Read – who was pipping cherries to make port wine cherry jelly for Christmas Day lunch, when TND caught up with her – said the day could bring high expectations of others and yourself. The family cook is no exception.
“If you’re wearing the apron this year, don’t be afraid to ask for help from others, especially from guests who have special dietary needs,” she said.
“Food is often the centrepiece to our celebrations, but it’s what we share as humans around the table that really underpins the meaning of Christmas.
“Above all, it’s important we all recognise that the cook has made a generous gesture to the occasion … if that’s you, don’t assess your efforts too harshly if you slip up. Avoid writing off the whole meal just because you were unable to meet everyone’s specific dietary requirements.”
Instead, she said, aim to find joy in the kitchen as you prepare, cook and clean together, rather than measuring success solely on the final culinary result.
Meanwhile, Tim White, who owns Books for Cooks, a Melbourne shop dedicated to books about wine, food and the culinary arts, said his best advice was to keep it simple on Christmas Day.
He recommended not making extra dishes to cater for special diets. Instead, make main dishes more inclusive, or sides more interesting.
“Think about making new traditions if the traditional dishes don’t work. Think about making more simple dishes to share rather than one big dish that has to cater for everyone,” Mr White said.
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He said there were many good vegan and vegetarian books available. Choose carefully from some of the recipes in them, and diners won’t event notice if the meal has no meat.
“We’d always recommend any of Yotam Ottolenghi’s books for vegetarian and vegan-friendly recipes. You might need to avoid the odd wheat or dairy product and the odd meat or chicken dish, but it’s not that hard,” he said.
“Or check out Tobie Puttock’s SuperNatural. New this Christmas, it is a great collection of contemporary, plant-based recipes that are gluten free, catering for most dietary issues and plain delicious.”
Etiquette expert Anna Musson, from The Good Manners Company, agreed it was almost impossible to avoid the catering chaos of Christmas.
“It’s always advisable for a host to inquire about food allergies when your guests RSVP. Likewise, a thoughtful guest will advise dietary requirements when they RSVP, not when they arrive,” she said.
“If you are served something you don’t like … simply smile and say thank you. If you serve something that is received with a frown, simply smile and move on.”
Ms Musson’s best tip for everyone on Christmas Day is this: no matter your dietary requirements, it’s always thoughtful to offer the host a hand, whether you feel adept in the kitchen or not.
However, if the thought of catering at home is overwhelming, why not head out for a meal, have a picnic in the park where everyone brings a plate or try your luck finding a last-minute booking at a restaurant for a fuss-free dining experience? If all else fails, there’s UberEats.
Another approach when sitting at the Christmas table might also be choosing to be dietary agnostic on this one day of the year.