Thanksgiving is less than a week away and Christmas is only five weeks away! Some of you may be approaching the holidays with a bit (or a lot) of fear and trepidation. Food is a huge part of holidays whether it is family gatherings, office parties, or a special meal for you and your immediate family. If you are on a special diet of any kind, these occasions can be a real challenge. Although I’ve been gluten free for ten years, this year will be an adjustment for me as I face the holidays with new diet restrictions–dairy and soy free. In addition, I now have a son who is gluten free, and I want to make the holidays as easy for him as possible.
With that in mind, I thought some holiday tips would be helpful to both you and me. These tips are geared towards food and eating, but I would like to start by reminding you that your relationships with family and friends really are the most important part of the holidays. Food is quickly consumed, and then it’s gone. Relationships are lasting. Try to focus on time with people, and the food might not seem so important.
1. Plan. Plan. Plan. I know. It used to be so much easier, didn’t it? You probably had to do some planning then, but now you have to do a lot. If you are one of those people who really doesn’t care much about food, then you can get away with minimal planning, but if food is important, you have to plan. See the following points for the specifics of planning.
2. Communicate and Educate. This is best done ahead of time (hence the planning point). If you will be eating at someone else’s home or a restaurant, talk to the cook (or cooks) ahead of time. Let them know of your diet restrictions, and find out if anything they are making is gluten free or could easily be made so. Most people don’t mind using corn starch to thicken gravy instead of flour, but they won’t do it if they don’t know. Educate them on cross contamination and the need for clean surfaces, utensils, bowls, pans, etc. Communicate nicely, and don’t expect them to make everything gluten-free.
3. Contribute to the Meal. You might want to contribute to the main meal and the dessert so you have something you are sure is safe for both. Desserts in particular often contain gluten, but gluten-free desserts are just as delicious and can be enjoyed by all.
4. Bring Your Own Food. In addition to contributing food for everyone, you may want to bring something just for you. If attending a holiday party, bringing your own crackers could be helpful, or maybe you will want to take your own stuffing or dinner roll for Thanksgiving.
5. Prepare and Freeze Food in Advance. It’s no fun to be stressed out over food when you should be enjoying the holiday. If you plan ahead and know what foods you want to have for particular occasions, many of those foods can be prepared and frozen. I have made multiple pumpkin rolls and frozen them a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving.
6. Oversee Food Preparation. You can’t do this in every situation, but you often can. If the event is at your home, of course, this is easy. But even at a family member’s home you can often work with the cook to make sure contamination is avoided.
7. Watch Out for Contamination When Food is Served. Your efforts to keep something gluten free while it is being cooked can be totally destroyed by crumbs from rolls or a serving utensil that is used for the stuffing then dipped into the green beans.
8. Get Your Food First. I know this can seem a bit awkward, but getting your food first can ensure that it stays uncontaminated from situations like I mentioned in number seven above. Take as much as you think you will want and don’t go back for seconds.
9. Set Food Aside. Hold back some food from the serving dishes so that all of it doesn’t risk contamination. That way you can enjoy some of the leftovers too.
10. Smile. Smile. Smile. Even if you don’t feel like it. Smiling will enhance your mood and help you feel less stressed. Reflect on how much better you feel being on a gluten-free diet. Remember that a diet change is better than taking medications. Enjoy your gluten-free food, and treasure your relationships.