Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to join together over a dinner table and give thanks for everything they have. But if you follow a gluten-free diet, Thanksgiving can feel as if it's fraught with peril.
Traditional Thanksgiving foods usually are heavily gluten-laden - think dinner rolls, turkey stuffing, gravy and pies. And many people travel for the holiday, taking them away from the safety of their own kitchen and into the dining room of a relative or friend who may or may not understand the intricacies of gluten-free cooking.
Still, many people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity manage to navigate through Thanksgiving successfully. Here's a list of six tips, many of which I've employed to keep myself safe and enjoy the holiday:
- Cook at home, and make everything gluten-free. By far, the easiest way to ensure a gluten-free Thanksgiving is to cook the meal yourself at home with entirely safe ingredients. Using gluten-free Thanksgiving recipes or prepared gluten-free Thanksgiving foods and ingredients, you easily can recreate most traditional Thanksgiving dishes. If everything on the table is safe for you to eat, you can relax and enjoy the meal without worrying that your Aunt Suzy will cross-contaminate your vegetables with the gravy ladle.
- Segregate gluten-containing foods from gluten-free foods. If your Thanksgiving traditions include several gluten-containing dishes that your family just has to have, you can still take steps to avoid cross contamination. Try serving everything buffet-style, and place the gluten-containing foods on a separate table, away from your gluten-free food selections. Also, make sure your guests understand that they can't switch serving spoons between dishes.
- Contribute gluten-free dishes to dinner. If someone else in your circle always cooks at Thanksgiving, you can bring a couple of gluten-free dishes to share. That way, you'll be certain to have something you can eat, even if everything else contains gluten. Just be careful: In the bustle of the kitchen, your carefully prepared dishes still can suffer from gluten cross-contamination as you reheat them or dish them out. I use a double layer of aluminum foil over and under anything I place in the oven (especially if there are gluten rolls heating up in there), and always ask the host or hostess if I can place the gluten-free dishes on a separate table to serve.
- Bring your own food to dinner. If the Thanksgiving menu is set and you can't contribute dishes for everyone, you may simply need to bring your own. After all, the point of the holiday is togetherness, which doesn't have to involve eating the same food. Cook a Cornish game hen or a half a chicken, make a pan of gluten-free stuffing and any side dishes you like, and pack them all up to bring along.
- Help your host or hostess cook. If you can't bring food at Thanksgiving (perhaps you travel out-of-town and don't have access to a kitchen), you can try to keep parts of the meal safe by helping to cook it yourself. I don't like this option unless I'm extremely familiar with the kitchen in question (along with its various opportunities for cross contamination), but with diligence, you may be able to create gluten-free dishes in someone else's kitchen. If you decide to try this, you may want to bring some gluten-free ingredients along with you in your luggage (stuffing mix and bouillon cubes come to mind), or mail-order a pie to be delivered to your destination.
- Go out to eat. Although many people think of Thanksgiving as a day to be at home (or at a relative's home), various restaurants serve excellent Thanksgiving meals. With some prior planning, you should be able to find one that can handle a gluten-free meal while the rest of your party gorges on their gluten-containing favorites. Most years, my group attends a lavish buffet at a lovely restaurant. Since much of the menu is gluten-free, I feast on many of the same foods - but dished out in the safety of the kitchen, where they can't be cross contaminated by other guests. Just one warning: if you do decide to go out to eat, make your reservations early. Since relatively few restaurants stay open for Thanksgiving dinner, the ones that do tend to book up quickly. When you reserve, ask to speak to a manager or even to the chef about your gluten-free needs.
There are plenty of other ways to enjoy a safe, gluten-free Thanksgiving holiday. Share your advice and tips in the "Readers Respond" section below ... and whatever you do on Thanksgiving, don't eat gluten-stuffed turkey!