Most GF bloggers out there focus on recipes around the Holidays which is great and definitely useful. I’ll include a few links to recipes that I think sound interesting, but my focus is going to be on socially navigating Thanksgiving as a gluten free dinner guest.
The problem with Thanksgiving dinner, as opposed to typical dinner parties, is tradition. Asking a host to modify their great-great-great-great grandma’s recipe for stuffing or gravy is simply not a politically correct request. So how do you approach Thanksgiving? Luckily, many common Thanksgiving Day foods are almost always gluten free: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, green beans and other veggie side dishes. The major pitfalls are gravy and stuffing (and, consequently, the turkey). To guarantee a GF experience, DO NOT eat turkey that was stuffed with any type of bread. The consensus in the GF community is that the bread can bleed into the turkey and contaminate the entire bird.
What can you do to enjoy a great Thanksgiving meal without drawing too much negative attention to yourself? Here are some suggestions:
Avoid the gravy, ask your host not to pour it over the potatoes and, instead, have people use a gravy boat at the table.
Offer to make the gravy! You can tell your host that you have a killer gravy recipe that everyone just HAS to try. If the host insists that their family recipe must be at the meal then casually suggest that they not pour the gravy over the potatoes and instead keep it in a separate dish so that people can try both types of gravy. Of course, it is probably best to disclose that you need the meal to be gluten free but if you aren’t comfortable for whatever reason (maybe it is your first T-day at your in-laws or you don’t know the host very well) there are ways to dodge the gluten bullet.
When it comes to stuffing, I will list possible suggestions in the order of least extreme GF option to most extreme.
Avoid the subject altogether. Either simply do not eat turkey and make do with side dishes or bring another protein dish! It is very common for guests to bring a side dish, why not bring something comparable to turkey? You can make an herbed chicken dish or a dried fruit chicken dish. The options are endless. Pick whatever you think sounds good and go with it.
If you plan to be present during the cooking process on Thanksgiving Day, offer to bring the bread crumbs for the stuffing. Explain to the host that you are gluten free and can’t eat most breads but that you would be happy to bring the gluten free bread crumbs that they can incorporate into their original recipe. Here is a site where you can buy GF bread crumbs. If you don’t have time to order bread crumbs you can easily make them yourself! Bread crumbs are just a euphemism for diced stale bread. Grab some GF bread and/or bake some in your bread maker and let the bread dry out. Here is a tutorial on another method for making your own bread crumbs (not a gluten free tutorial, substitute GF bread).
If you are comfortable, ask whoever is making the turkey to cook the stuffing separately. This is what my family does for me! We stuff the turkey with dried fruits and have a separate baking dish to cook the traditional stuffing for the other guests.
Another pitfall is cross-contamination. If you are around during the cooking process (in my family, people just hang out in the kitchen chatting with the appointed family chefs while all the cooking happens) then keep an eye out! If you see a cross-contamination threat, intervene. If you are not around during the process, try to contact your host before the cooking starts and explain about cross-contamination eg a spoon that is used to stir the gravy should not also be used to stir the mashed potatoes. Ask if they have any questions!
My best advice is to bring your own dessert. Bring or make a gluten free pie that people can share (watch out for cross-contamination with pie servers!). You can buy GF pie crusts at most Whole Foods stores in the frozen section. Pumpkin pie is your best bet because you do not need to make a top for it. If you want a fruit pie you will need to buy all-purpose gluten free flour and make a top for the pie which is easy to do but time consuming.
If pie seems like too much of a hassle or you do not have access to a GF grocery store or simply want a less expensive option then bring ice cream! You can bring some fresh berries to go with it if you’d like.
A few more thoughts
I know it is frustrating that as a gluten free guest the burden is on you to make sure you have something to eat. Furthermore, I know it is frustrating that you have to pay for and prepare so much food just to make sure you can participate in the meal! Try to put these thoughts out of your head. This is our reality and if you dwell on it…it will drive you mad. Look up recipes that are cheap to make or recipes that stay away from flour-substitutes if you are worried about cost. Make something that is naturally gluten free (the ingredients are much cheaper this way). Think of it this way: it is unfair that you have to bring side dishes AND dessert but think about all the compliments the other guests will pay you and your cooking skills!
Good luck on Thanksgiving, readers! Try to enjoy the Holiday. If things start to get messy with cross-contamination or unsupportive dinner hosts, post here and we can discuss how to navigate the situation. Don’t forget that you have every right to advocate for yourself and your health.