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10 Survival Tips for Gluten-Free Holiday Parties

We compiled top advice from our editors and readers to help get you safely and successfully through the holiday season.

1. Plan & Prep

Avoid unhappy surprises. Select your menu, organize your recipes, make a grocery list and prepare as many items as you can in advance. (Freeze them to reheat on the big day.) Test any new recipes beforehand. If you’re celebrating away from home, ask what gluten-free or allergy-friendly products your host might need and offer to order those ahead. Check in to see what dish you can bring to complement the menu.

“I’m really glad to bring a dish the host can’t make gluten-free. I’d rather bring my own than eat other people’s cooking.”

2. Read Labels

Don’t eat food if you don’t know what’s in it. Always check the ingredients before indulging. If there are questions about a product, call the manufacturer. Educate your hosts about hidden gluten or allergens.

3. Back to Basics

The best way to eat safely and nutritiously is to eat simply. Choose single-ingredient foods—wholesome items that are naturally gluten-free and allergy-friendly. Prepare them using simple recipes that don’t require hassle. Then jazz them up with easy, flavorful sauces. Avoid packaged goods and refined products unless you’re sure of the ingredients.

“I make everything fresh, simple and gluten-free and don’t tell anyone. They’re always surprised to discover that gluten-free is so good!”

4. Substitute Safely

You can prepare gluten-free gravy, stuffing, biscuits and desserts using a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend. With these commercial blends, now readily available in most grocery stores, you can rework almost any recipe. (The exception is gluten-free yeast rolls and breads; they’re more challenging.) Add up the amount of flours and starches in your recipe and replace that with an equal amount of gluten-free all-purpose flour blend. The same is true for substituting dairy, eggs, soy or nuts with safe alternatives. You can replace these allergens in almost any recipe.

5. Clean Your Space

If you’re away from home and cooking in a gluten-full kitchen, clean your work surfaces with warm, sudsy water. Wash your hands frequently during cooking. Use disposable pans to minimize the chances of cross-contamination. Bring your own cutting board from home or buy a new one there.

6. Poultry Points

Stay away from any turkey that’s basted or self-basting unless it’s clearly labeled gluten-free and the ingredient list is free of your allergens. Don’t stuff a gluten-free bird with gluten-full dressing. If your stuffing isn’t gluten-free, bake it separately in its own pan so it doesn’t contaminate your turkey.

7. Serve Yourself First

Don’t leave your house hungry. Eat before the party to cut your risk of cheating.


If the party meal is served buffet style, be the first in line. This is a sure way to avoid cross-contamination from those who swap serving spoons or accidentally drop stuffing particles into the gluten-free sweet potatoes.

8. Do It Yourself

Gain a bit of kitchen competence and you’ll never regret it. When you host the holiday meal, you slash the chance of cross-contamination. When you bring your favorite dish to the gathering, you guarantee there’s something safe to eat.

“I make my own GF dishes for the holidays and I never miss what I used to eat. There’s joy in making your own, sharing with others and knowing you won’t get cross-contaminated.”
“Learn how to cook and I guarantee you’ll eventually enjoy being an excellent chef and host. My guests have no idea they’re eating a gluten-free, dairy free meal.”

9. Expand Your Thinking

Consider what the season means to you. Most festivities center around food—but don’t fall for it. What is your true impetus for celebrating? Whether it’s spending time with loved ones, attending religious services, helping those in need, connecting with your spirituality, having opportunities for generosity or expressing gratitude—let that be the center of your holiday, not what is—or isn’t—on the menu.

“My husband and I focus on our relationship by splurging on our own private holiday dinner. Then at the family get-togethers, we don’t do a lot of explaining or feel out of place. We just eat what we know is safe.”

10 Pack Leftovers Early If you’re eating the holiday meal with your relatives, claim your share of the leftovers before others help themselves. The turkey slices you take home shouldn’t be touched by everyone’s forks.

Readers’ quotes courtesy of Gluten Free & More’s Reader Survey.

Managing editor Erica Dermer (edermer@glutenfreeandmore.com) is author of Celiac and the Beast: A Love Story Between a Gluten-Free Girl, Her Genes and a Broken Digestive Tract.