4 Tips for a Gluten-Free Thanksgiving
by Max Librach
Thanksgiving is all about family, food and gratitude. But it sure can be hard to feel grateful when you’re a guest at someone else’s house who may not fully understand your diet. This can lead to difficulty finding things to eat at the table, and concern about cross-contamination.
For these reasons, Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays for celiacs to plan for. It revolves around one big meal, and there are a number of things you can do to make sure your Thanksgiving is everything you hoped for.
Here are a few tips to help make Thanksgiving celiac-friendly so you can focus on enjoying your friends and family and delicious gluten-free food…
Communicate and Educate! While it’s lovely when family and friends advocate for us, it’s ultimately our jobs to make sure there is food we can eat wherever we go. This may mean bringing your own meal, or bringing sides to share so that at least you’ll have something you can eat safely. It could mean providing the hostess or host with gluten-free gravy recipes or a list of brands of chicken stock to use that are gluten-free.
It may mean educating your family and friends about what celiac disease is and why cross-contamination is a big deal. It’s important to be generous about offering information around the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of what you can’t eat, rather than just saying ‘I can’t eat that’. If your loved ones gain a stronger understanding of the gluten-free diet, they’ll ask more questions and think more about it in the future. This will pay huge dividends for future get-togethers.
Thanksgiving is a lovely time to start communicating more assertively with your family about what could make family gatherings more positive for you as someone with food restrictions. This may mean people making sure that serving utensils used with gluten-laden foods stay in their own serving dishes, or family members having gluten-free rolls available in addition to the regular bread or dinner rolls.
- You Don’t Have to Give Up Your Favorites! Stuffing? Totally easy to make gluten-free! Biscuits? Absolutely doable. Pumpkin pie? Yep, that, too! Just about anything can be made gluten-free these days, and you can even pick up some of your holiday favorites in prepared versions, such as pies from Whole Foods’ Gluten-Free Bakehouse. There’s no shortage of good gluten-free substitutes for American comfort food. You might even be able to pass some of these goodies off as the “real thing” to your relatives and friends!
Beware of Sneaky Hidden Gluten. Gluten can be found in some chicken stock, and in the flavoring liquid that’s injected into some turkeys. Play it safe by choosing a gluten-free brand of chicken stock (such as Pacific) and sticking to turkeys that have no added ingredients. Then double-check the packaging of any spice mixes, brines or marinades you may be using for the turkey – most are fine, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Gravy is nearly always made with flour, but can easily be thickened with corn starch, arrowroot powder, sticky rice flour or other gluten-free starches. Those crunchy fried onions on the green bean casserole and the cream of mushroom soup used in many of those casseroles contain wheat flour. So try frying your own shallots to top a green bean casserole made with Progresso’s gluten-free Creamy Mushroom Soup, or Imagine’s gluten-free Creamy Portobello Mushroom soup (or try a homemade version). Be sure to inquire about bread crumbs, which can be hiding in meatballs and casseroles.
Bring a Dish. Even if someone else is entertaining, unless you trust them 100% to know gluten-free cooking like the back of their hand, you’re doing three awesome things by bringing a dish. First, you’re showing your appreciation by contributing to the meal. Second, you’re making sure there’s something safe that you can eat. And third, you’re showing the host and their guests that gluten-free can be delicious!
If you don’t know the chef very well, this can be a great way to make a new friend and build a new relationship! You can call them ahead of time, introduce yourself, and tell them that you eat gluten-free. To build on the three things above, you can mention the dishes that you love most and the ones that are most likely to contain gluten and offer to make one or two of them with an alternative recipe. Or, you can even offer to go to their house early to help with the cooking.
Eat well, enjoy your time off with friends and family, and have a safe and delicious Turkey Day!