Thanksgiving…right around the corner!

18 Nov

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.


5 Responses to “Thanksgiving…right around the corner!”

  1. Erica November 19, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    The strategies for getting around gluten contamination without going into the song and dance of what Celiac disease is are good ones, but I would encourage people to go ahead and disclose to the cooks that you are actually intolerant to some of the foods.
    My grandmother is allergic to lettuce. This isn’t a hard to food to avoid, except for the fact that lettuce is constantly used in plating. Her sandwich touching a piece of lettuce means that eating the sandwich will cause her to swell up at the least, and maybe worse. The fact that she always orders no lettuce, but doesn’t tell the server that she is allergic means that she either has to carefully eat around where he food has touched the garnish, or the people she is eating with have to advocate for her.
    I know that she just wants to be polite and not a bother, but I am of the firm opinion that “not a bother” ends at physical health. The wait staff at restaurants cannot know that lettuce in a garnish will cause my grandmother physical harm unless she tells them, and similarly no host can know that you want gravy on the side because it will cause physical harm and not just because you dislike it unless you tell them.
    Trying to avoid the subject and just swoop in to avoid cross contamination issues will just cause stress for both you and the cook.
    I completely understand how much it sucks that a diagnosis also makes you a brand ambassador for your disease, especially with the stigma against anyone who is sick that exists in the US. But avoiding a potentially awkward situation shouldn’t come at the expense of personal health.

    • Cc Gluten-Free November 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

      Great point! Thanks for posting this important point! I am so glad that you highlighted the importance of disclosure. I find that I fall victim to a sort of “superman syndrome” where I think I can avoid talking about Celiacs but still handle and control the situation if I just ask the right questions or watch the chefs closely. 9 times out of 10 I end up having to explain anyways!

  2. Dawn November 30, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    I am not Celiac but have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Gluten creates antibodies that attack my thyroid. I am knew to this change in diet, so I don’t know how much I have to worry about cross-contamination. I do know that it wasn’t the holiday meal that was my problem this year; we had covered Thanksgiving well. It was the rest of the meals at my Mother-in-laws (we were there for an extended weekend.) I brought my own spaghetti, ignored the bread crumbs in the meatballs, and bought gf crackers and bread when we went shopping. I cheated when it got to be too difficult to remind her that I couldn’t have something because it would be like poison in my body. My point, BEWARE not just the holiday meal but all the other meals and snacks of an extended stay. Even overnight needs to be planned out.

  3. Bill December 1, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    I’d be interested in the exact words people say to their hosts. They are always disappointed that you can’t eat their specialties. I don’t like them hovering over me and calling across the table “Can you eat this dish? How about just a taste?” Is there a perfect formula to say to explain the situation but neither hurt their feelings nor make them over solicitous? Or is “over solicitous” your least concern?

  4. 台灣大樂透 September 21, 2014 at 12:24 am #

    Wonderful site, thanks a lot !!

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