Gluten-Free Holiday Hot Spots


What’s hiding in your meal?

Photo by MooN T/shutterstock

A  gorgeous roasted turkey on a Thanksgiving table crowded with delicious food is a sight to behold. But does the traditional menu that once made your mouth water now stress you out? Don’t let gluten or food allergies ruin your Thanksgiving! Here are the common places where problem ingredients can hide in America’s favorite feast—and tasty tips to help you savor Thanksgiving again.

The Appetizers

Simple fresh fruits and vegetables are a safe bet but watch out for the dip. Not only could it contain gluten or potential allergens, people may be dipping wheat-based crackers into it when you’re not looking. There may also be gluten or other allergens in the toppings, fillers, sauces or dressing in those hors d’oeuvres. Watch out for utensils, too. The knife slicing the cheese or meat may have been used to cut a gluten-containing item first.

Try to be the first person to use the dip (spoon some onto your plate), bring your own personal dip or enjoy plain gluten-free chips by themselves. It’s always a good idea to bring your own crackers and chips to a holiday gathering—but don’t be surprised if your host takes them to pair with dip, cheese or meat mixtures you can’t eat. Always read the labels, even on items that look simple, like a block of cheese or a log of sausage.

The Turkey

Pure meat like turkey is naturally gluten-free but that doesn’t guarantee your holiday bird is a safe bet. Self-basting turkeys can contain gluten and birds can be injected with brine with questionable ingredients. Watch out for pre-stuffed birds and turkeys that come with gravy packets. Always read the label.

Ask the cook to hold off on any spices and seasonings until you approve them. Fresh and unprocessed is the way to go—fresh herbs, lemon, garlic and other pure seasonings are naturally gluten-free.

If your request for a naturally seasoned turkey is ignored or your host insists on preparing the bird using a seasoning pack, sauce or gravy that’s questionable, don’t argue. Instead, make your own safe entrée. Roast a Cornish game hen or bake a small ham and bring it to the gathering. If there’s space in your host’s oven, bake it there. Be sure to cover it with foil to avoid any random crumbs in the oven.

The Gravy

Gravy is a primary gluten-full suspect. If your family is game, provide an all-purpose gluten-free flour for the gravy.

If the cook is using broth in the gravy rather than just the turkey drippings, check the label; many commercial broths contain wheat. If your family won’t budge on using safe ingredients for the gravy, secure your own gravy from outside sources and bring it to the meal. Gluten-free gravy is available from Pacific Foods, Road’s End Organics (gravy mix) and McCormick (gravy mix).

The Stuffing

If your family stuffs the holiday turkey with conventional bread dressing, that bird is no longer gluten-free. So you have two choices: Ask that the stuffing be baked separately (outside the turkey) or bring your own gluten-free stuffing mix and stuff the bird with it.

Thankfully, gluten-free stuffing is now fairly easy to find in many grocery stores around the holidays. Several manufacturers, like Glutino, Three Bakers and Whole Foods, offer a stuffing kit or bread/croutons that can be used for stuffing.

The Green Bean Casserole

This holiday staple is often considered a lost cause by gluten-free folks. There’s likely gluten in the cream of mushroom soup used in the filling and in the fried onions used as topping. Fortunately, there are packaged gluten-free substitutions for both the soup and the fried onions, but keep in mind your shipping timeline if these products aren’t available in your area and you have to order them online. Check out Pacific Organic Cream of Mushroom Condensed Soup and Awesome Foods Onion Rings.

The Mashed Potatoes

The traditional version of this beloved side dish is naturally gluten-free and it’s simple—just potatoes, milk, butter and seasonings. If you can tolerate dairy, you should be in the clear as long as the butter is safe from cross contact and the spices are pure. If you can’t tolerate dairy, ask for a separate bowl of plain cooked spuds and mix in your own dairy-free milk and dairy-free buttery spread to make an individual-size serving for yourself.

The Sweet Potato Casserole

The simple ingredients in the classic version of this dish—sweet potatoes, butter, marshmallows and spices—make it delicious and easy to make without gluten. However, it may still require a bit of inspecting. Some people place bread or saltines in their brown sugar to keep it fresh. If so, this brown sugar should not be in your casserole. The spices are likely gluten-free but double-check them for any fillers. Make sure the butter used is fresh and hasn’t been cut with knives used for the dinner rolls. If you have a problem with dairy, this recipe is easy to re-create with a dairy-free buttery spread. If you’re vegan, there are gluten-free vegan marshmallows (available from Dandies) that melt and turn crispy-brown just like marshmallows made with gelatin.

The Rolls

Dinner rolls are an obvious gluten-full trouble spot. Yes, you can pass the breadbasket and not partake—but why feel deprived? Buy some gluten-free rolls from the grocery store (available from companies like Udi’s, Rudi’s and Schar) or bring homemade bread to share. Butter your rolls with a fresh stick of butter and a clean knife. If you’re worried about this, bring your own butter and use it for the duration of the meal. Alternatively, parcel out enough butter on your plate from a clean stick.

The Cranberry Sauce

The simplest homemade cranberry sauce contains cranberries, sugar and water. If you add commercial spice blends, check the labels. Of course, commercial cranberry sauce is readily available and it’s usually gluten-free. Again, read the labels and look for good manufacturing practices that prevent cross contact.

The Pumpkin Pie

You’ve made it through the meal without mishap. Everyone is clearing plates and you’re safe, right? Think again. Unless your family serves fruit salad for dessert, there’s a high chance the dessert (pies, tarts, cakes, cookies) will contain gluten. If you’re a celiac, don’t be tempted to eat around the crust of your favorite pumpkin pie. You can choose to decline dessert or bring a homemade gluten-free pie to share.  Don’t let anyone put their gluten-full knife or fork into your safe dessert! Serve yourself first. And then set aside another “untouched” slice in a safe place, just in case you want seconds.


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