Gluten-Free Thanksgiving: A Complete Guide

Having a safe gluten-free thanksgiving is possible.

I know that Thanksgiving is a hard holiday for people living gluten-free. It’s one of the most painfully obvious times of the year where we realize our ability to connect, celebrate, and participate in traditions has been disrupted.

And connecting, celebrating, and participating in traditions is important nonetheless. So with the help of dietetic intern Sierra King, we developed this complete guide to a gluten-free Thanksgiving for you!

Table of Contents

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving A Complete Guide - A Celiacs Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving - - Tayler Silfverduk - Celiac Dietitian

The Purpose of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has many different purposes for many different families. Depending on how your family celebrates Thanksgiving will bring different meaning and traditions to your gatherings.

Even though Thanksgiving is different for everyone, for many, the main reason for Thanksgiving is to give thanks for the blessings in your life (which includes your family).

However, sometimes this holiday can bring stress, loneliness and many other negative feelings for celiacs. This is because food is often central to the holiday and with celiac, our entire relationship with food has been disrupted.

While repairing your relationship with food is important, reminding yourself of what the holiday is about can help ease some of the grief with celiac you might have during the celiac.

The food has changed, and you can still celebrate and enjoy the presence of the people. The food has change and you can still reflect on the things you’re grateful for.

Some Thanksgiving Reminders

Going into Thanksgiving gluten-free can feel hard. This is normal, holidays where food feels central are going to be difficult. Below are some gluten-free thanksgiving reminders to hopefully offer you some comfort as you go into the day.

  • Aside from food, what else are you celebrating during this holiday? For me, I am celebrating what I am grateful and enjoying spending time with family.
  • Thanksgiving is allowed to feel hard. It’s allowed to feel emotional. It’s allowed to be imperfect.
  • You are not going to ruin Thanksgiving by being gluten-free, and don’t let gluten ruin your Thanksgiving.

I know it’s hard to think about taking up more space or getting more attention than you normally have gotten during the holidays. Be gentle with yourself and your loved ones as you go into Thanksgiving day.

A Celiacs Complete Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving - The Complete Guide to a Gluten-Free Thanksgiving - Tayler Silfverduk - Celiac Dietitian

Managing Stress of Being Gluten-Free at Thanksgiving

I don’t remember a time when the holidays weren’t stressful. However, celiac does add a level of complexity to the stress of Thanksgiving. Below are 9 simple ways to cope with the stress of navigating Thanksgiving with celiac disease.

  1. Find a quiet place to take a breather when things get hard to deal with 
  2. Find a friend or family member who you are close with and understand what you are going through. This person is going to be your go to person when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed by Thanksgiving. This person can be at the event or just a text or phone call away. (If you join my Celiac Support Group, you’ll have me and other celiacs in your backpocket to vent to!)
  3. Ask the host what is on the menu and if you could help prepare or cook some of the food
  4. It is okay to bring your own food or a side dish, so you know that you can eat at least one thing while you are there.
  5. Be patient with your friends and loved ones. It took you a while to adapt to living gluten-free and you have to deal with it everyday. It’s likely going to also take them some time to get used to your new needs too.
  6. Have practice conversations to prepare yourself for any conversations you may have with loved ones or friends about celiac disease.
  7. Don’t skip meals on Thanksgiving day. It’s important you are adequately nourished throughout the day so you have the energy and space to fully process the day.
  8. Have a self care day before and after the event (even if it is getting more sleep or going for a walk)

A lot of these tips are general and may seem straightforward, but do not underestimate the power of the most basic tips. Something might be basic but that doesn’t mean it won’t help.

Gluten-Free Tips for a Buffet-Style Thanksgiving

If your family is hosting Thanksgiving as a potluck or buffet, don’t worry, all is not lost.You can still enjoy Thanksgiving while gluten-free. Here are your gluten-free survival tips for a buffet style Thanksgiving:

  • Ask the host ahead of time if they can keep the bread and desserts at the end of the buffet table or even better, on a separate table entirely.
  • Ask to serve yourself first to prevent any cross-contact from people’s plates hovering over the food or from utensils getting mixed up.
  • Serve yourself leftovers in case you want seconds so you have safe, uncontaminated food to enjoy.

Buffets are scary when it comes to living gluten-free because cross-contact is everywhere, but you can still enjoy the holiday if this is how you family chooses to celebrate.

Gluten-Free Tips for When They Pass Food Around the Thanksgiving Table

The last thing we want during a gluten-free Thanksgiving is to  touch or have gluten-filled food hovering over our plate. So here’s how to deal with passing dishes around the table during Thanksgiving:

  • Be strategic about where and who you sit next to. I’d sit at the end of the table in between two people who are supportive of your needs. Then when gluten-filled food hits your end of the table, you can pull your plate in, and they can pass the food across to each other, skipping you.
  • Ask the host if they can keep bread on a separate table.
  • Explain your situation to the host, and ask to serve yourself first. Don’t forget serve yourself leftovers to avoid cross-contact after the dishes start passing each plate.

It can feel overwhelming trying to manage all of the points of cross-contact in this situation, but take it one step at a time. And don’t be afraid to lean on your allies during the dinner.

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving A Complete Guide - 6 Ways to Manage the Stress of Being Gluten-free at Thanksgiving - Tayler Silfverduk - Celiac Dietitian

Holiday Dishes that May Contain Gluten

Pretty much any holiday dish has the potential to contain gluten, and Thanksgiving dishes are not different. Below are some common holiday dishes that may contain gluten:

  • Mashed potatoes can contain gluten because of natural flavorings which could hide gluten if it’s made from a package. Additionally, some recipes call for flour to thicken them. Always check the label of mashed potato mixes, or with the host about what was used to prepare the mashed potatoes.
  • Cream sauces can contain gluten as these are usually started with a roux. Roux’s involve cooking fat and flour together to make a thick sauce base. And most people use wheat flour for this which is not gluten-free.
  • Gravies can contain gluten because they are usually thickened with flour. Always check with the host if the gravy was thickened with anything. An easy substitute is corn starch.
  • Cornbread/corn puddings even though corn is in the name, often gluten-containing flours are involved in preparation.
  • Stuffing can contain gluten because it’s often made with flour and bread. This includes homemade and store-bought versions.
  • Turkey can be unsafe for people living gluten-free if it has been stuffed with gluten-filled bread. Make sure the turkey has been seasoned with gluten-free sauces/seasonings and has not been stuffed with gluten. Additionally, sometimes people cook Turkeys in bags for easy clean up, and they’ll put a few tablespoons of flour in them. You’ll want to check on this too.
  • Ham that has been glazed or flavored can contain gluten. Always check the ingredients to make sure that there is no gluten or ask that the ham remain unglazed.
  • Green Bean Casserole and other kinds of casseroles can contain gluten either from the soups/stocks used to make them or from crunchy toppings like crispy onions that can contain gluten. Always check all of the ingredients before enjoying.
  • Anything with a crust (think pies) because pie crust is usually made with gluten-containing flour. And no, you can just eat the filling on top of the crust. If you have celiac, this would be a major point of cross-contact

Above are the common Thanksgiving Dishes that may contain gluten, if you have any more that I should add, leave them in the comments! And remember, just because it doesn’t contain gluten doesn’t mean it’s safe. You’ll also want to verify the cross-contact precautions your loved ones took with the food too.

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Dishes to Bring

Building on one of the ways to manage the stress of being gluten-free at Thanksgiving, bringing your own dishes or hosting can be very helpful. Whether you choose to bring you own safe dish or you’re hosting the entire meal, below are gluten-free main course, side dishes, and desserts you can make and take.

P.s. if you are hosting during the holidays, check out my post on gluten-free hosting during the holidays for even more tips!

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Main Course

When you think of main courses for Thanksgiving, do you think of stuffed turkey? Or maybe you think of ham? Well below are some gluten-free Thanksgiving main courses to make.

  • Sweet Potato Fry Casserole With Turkey and Cranberry – This casserole has all of the Thanksgiving flavors: turkey, green beans, sweet potato, and cranberry. Definitely a dish to consider.
  • Air-Fryer Turkey – Great for a quick turkey dinner. Of note, brining the turkey will add passive time to this dish. Luckily brining the turkey is making your fridge work harder than you.
  • Bourbon Brown Sugar Ham – Not everyone likes turkey and that is okay. Try this glazed ham with your family. It’s sweet, delicious, and dare I suggest easier than serving up a turkey.
  • Vegan Lentil Loaf – For those who love our feathered friends, this gluten-free Thanksgiving main course is for you! Here is a dish that will make dinner feel special and unique for all guests.

And don’t forget, nothing is stopping you from making these delicious main courses for yourself. Keeping the leftovers to enjoy afterwards while bringing a serving for you to enjoy at the Thanksgiving event!

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Let’s talk gluten-free Thanksgiving side dishes! There are so many different ways you can go with side dishes for thanksgiving. Below are 3 fun takes on Thanksgiving side dishes.

  • Turkey Rice Stuffing – A gluten-free quick and easy one-pan stuffing to make. Sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
  • Gluten-free Jalapeño Bacon Corn Bread – This corn bread is a fun twist on quick breads often served during the holidays. It’s adds a delicious savory kick to your Thanksgiving plate.
  • Herbed Wild Rice and Quinoa Stuffing – Making turkey for Thanksgiving dinner? Don’t let it get lonely! Serve it with this delicious gluten-free stuffing.
  • Sweet Potato Cassarole – You can’t have Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes. Bonus points: this recipe can be modified to be dairy-free too!
  • Orange Roasted Winter Squash with Cranberries and Goat Cheese – The sweetness of the orange juice and squash paired with tart cranberries and earthy goat cheese really bring this simple side dish together. It’s simple and delicious.
  • Brussels Sprout Salad – Brussels sprouts are one of the most underrated vegetables of the holiday season and this salad will prove it. It’s made with gouda, bacon, and pecans and is truly delicious.

Sides are probably the easiest dish to bring to help you feel like you’re participating without investing too much time and money into it. If you’re only bringing a side to Thanksgiving dinner, make sure to bring a main dish for yourself JUST in case!

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Desserts

Dessert is perhaps the most important course of Thanksgiving. Below are some delicious gluten-free Thanksgiving desserts you can make this year!

  • Chocolate Caramel Cups – Keep things interested by serving these decadent chocolate desserts. Serve with the traditional dollop of whipped cream for extra indulgence.
  • Crustless Pumpkin Pie – If you’re anything like me, the star of the show when it comes to pie is the filling. So why even settle for second-rate crust when you can focus on the real winner of the dessert? The pumpkin pie filling…
  • Sour Candied Citrus Peels – Don’t knock it until you try it. This is a fun dessert that can be made as a surprise for Thanksgiving guests this year.
  • Gluten-free Pumpkin Scones – If you like pastries, and you like pumpkin, these are a MUST try!

Above are some gluten-free thanksgiving dessert ideas. Please don’t skip out on bringing yourself dessert, whether it’s store bought or homemade. You deserve to enjoy dessert with everyone else.

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Meal-Delivery Kits - Gluten-Free Thanksgiving - Celiac Dietitian - Tayler Silfverduk

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Dinner Delivery

Not looking to host or bring a dish to share with everyone this Thanksgiving? You can make and take your own Thanksgiving dinner at home or you can have a gluten-free Thanksgiving dinner delivered to you! Below are some companies that offer gluten-free Thanksgiving meal delivery.

Be sure to do your own due diligence and check the suitability of these gluten-free Thanksgiving meal-delivery options for yourself.

What to do if you get Glutened at Thanksgiving

If you get glutened during Thanksgiving first things first, don’t panic. Additionally, don’t lash out on anyone. Mistakes happen. Don’t beat yourself up.

The key to surviving a glutening during Thanksgiving is to have a plan for it, just in case. This plan should include things that help you self-soothe any symptoms that you get from gluten exposure.

This might look like wearing comfy loose clothing to dinner just in case you get celiac bloat. You might also carry tylenol for any pain or headaches you may get and you may bring some water and electrolytes to help you stay hydrated. You may even want to bring a case of ginger ale to help ease any nausea.

Check out my post on what to do when you’ve been glutened for more tips.

Ending Thanksgiving Day...

So we’ve covered reminders, coping mechanisms for the stress, recipes you can prepare or meal-delivery services you may shop, and lastly what to do if the worst should happen during Thanksgiving this year.

I threw a lot at you in this post, so I want to take a moment and again let you know, it’s okay if being gluten-free during Thanksgiving feels emotional and hard.

I want you to know you’re not alone in feeling this way, and if you need some extra support this holiday season, I run a celiac support group that meets monthly and I would love to have you join us.

But wherever you find you support, remember your feelings are valid. Celiac is hard and that’s okay. And if you need more help, I cover how to stay celiac-safe during the Holidays, in other people’s kitchens, at restaurants and beyond in the Celiac Crash Course. If you’re recently diagnosed and feeling overwhelmed, you definitely need to check the course out.

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