Gluten-Free Holiday Survival Guide

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Gluten-Free Holidays

By Dr. Deanna Attai

Eating gluten-free is always a challenge,  especially during the holidays. We gather with friends and family, and lots of food. Next to dining out, the holiday meal probably instills the most anxiety in someone on a gluten-free or other restricted diet. But, there is good news! You  can survive  the holidays and still enjoy being with your loved ones.

Avoiding the obvious sources like stuffing, pies and other desserts is one thing, but gluten can lurk in  the following:

  • vegetable dishes and casseroles in the form of added broth or bread
  • packaged sauces and salad dressings
  • gravy due to packaged broth and flour, and
  • in the turkey itself, as some “self-basting” varieties have a gluten-containing basting liquid.

It can be very difficult to explain to relatives that you see once a year why this time you just can’t eat their famous stuffing or pumpkin pie. So options include not eating (one friend’s suggestion!), subsisting only on wine and cheese, or adapting and educating – and I recommend the latter. Just like all aspects of a gluten-free lifestyle, preparation, planning and education are important. Flexibility and understanding on the part of all involved also helps tremendously.

If you attend a family or friend’s gathering, talk to them about the  menu.   The goal is for you to be able to enjoy the majority, if not all of the meal, without causing too much disruption or added stress for the host.  You are simply educating   others on the effects gluten has on you. Most hosts  will graciously add gluten-free sides.

Many of the side dishes for a traditional holiday meal are vegetable based and are inherently gluten-free, but some education is needed to make sure that there is no gluten lurking in those side dishes.

Traditional: Gluten can be present in resent in packaged broths and sauces

Gluten-Free option: Gluten-free broths are available.  Leading brands such as Progresso and Swanson sell natural and organic broths.

Traditional:  Bread-based stuffing cooked “inside the bird.”

Gluten-Free option: Gluten-free options: To avoid cross-contamination, ask your host to cook the stuffing “outside of the bird,” so that you can eat turkey.  You can also make gluten-free stuffing made with quinoa, wild rice or gluten-free bread.

Traditional: Flour-based  gravy

Gluten-Free option: Cornstarch, gluten-free flour or other thickeners can be a substitute for flour to make gravy without sacrificing taste.

Traditional: Pumpkin Pie

Gluten-Free option: Gluten-free prepared desserts are becoming more widely available. Just make this amazing and easy gluten-free pumpkin pie recipe and serve it with a smile.  People won’t be able to tell the difference!  Minimize your stress and always test the recipes out before the big day.

Other tips to enjoying the holidays:

  • Offer to make some of the dishes yourself
  • Have a light meal before the event
  • Bring some snacks in case
  • Try to serve yourself first to minimize cross-contamination from serving utensils

If you happen to be hosting the event, you obviously have a little more control of the situation, but instead of feeling that you need to prepare all of the traditional favorites, ask your guests to bring their favorite dishes, and you’ll have your gluten-free alternatives.

Remember (and you may need to remind others of this as well) that the main purpose of the holiday gathering is to have an enjoyable time with family and friends. The meal is important, but with appropriate planning and education, it does not have to be a stressful event, and no one has to get sick.