Thanksgiving is upon us and Christmas will soon be here! But 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 restricted diet of any kind, such occasions can be a real challenge.
These Gluten-Free Holiday Tips will help you be prepared and enjoy safe gluten-free holiday food. But before I share my food tips, I want to remind you that relationships are the most important part of the holidays. Food is quickly consumed and then it’s gone. Relationships are lasting. Focus on time with people and the food might not seem so important.
1. Plan. Plan. Plan.
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.
As much as possible, get in touch with people well in advance to find out when and where gatherings are going to take place. As soon as you are able, determine what food is going to be served. This information will help you with the following tips.
2. Communicate and educate
Communication is key to finding out what other people know about your diet restrictions as well as educating them about what they don’t know. 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 that you cannot eat any gluten and have to avoid cross contact. Find out if anything they are making is naturally gluten free or could easily be made so. Most people don’t mind using corn starch to thicken gravy instead of flour, but they might not think of it themselves. The same is true of the tablespoon of flour that is used in turkey roasting bags.
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
Offer to help with food by bringing some to share with everyone. Whether it’s a full meal or a party with snacks, there are plenty of gluten-free options that everyone will enjoy, and you’ll know that what you brought is safe.
For a dinner gathering, you might want to contribute to the main meal and the dessert. That way you will have something that is okay for you to eat at both times (who wants to be left out of holiday dessert time?). 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. For Thanksgiving, you might want to bring your own roll or stuffing. If you’re not able to make a gluten-free dessert and there won’t be anything naturally gluten free available, you could bring something packaged that you can enjoy.
Bringing some easy to eat and satisfying snacks like nuts, seeds, or gluten-free granola bars can keep you from getting overly hungry before a meal is ready or at a party where there aren’t safe snacks.
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. Pie crust, cookies, and fudge can also be frozen.
Even if it doesn’t work to freeze the actual holiday food, try preparing and freezing some of your everyday meals so that on holiday baking or cooking days you have easy eating options.
6. Oversee food preparation
You can’t oversee food preparation 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 or friend’s home you can often work with the cook. If they want to make food that is safe for you to eat, they will likely welcome your help. You can catch issues of cross contact, read labels, and make substitution suggestions.
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. If all the food is in one area where people serve themselves, suggest arranging the food so that the gluten-free dishes are together.
If food is placed on the table and being passed around, suggest passing the gluten-free food first.
8. Get your food first
Even if the gluten-free food is separated such as in the suggestions above, it can be helpful if you get your food before everyone else. I know this may seem a bit awkward, but it can ensure that your food stays uncontaminated. Take as much as you think you will want and don’t go back for seconds.
9. Set food aside
In addition to the two points above, you might try holding back some gluten-free food from the serving dishes. That way all of it doesn’t risk contamination, and you can enjoy having seconds or eating some of the leftovers the next day.
10. Smile. Smile. Smile.
Even if you don’t feel like it, smile. Smiling will enhance your mood and help you feel less stressed. Reflect on how much better you feel being on a gluten-free diet, and remember that a diet change is better than taking medication. Enjoy your gluten-free food and treasure your relationships.