Thanksgiving can be stressful! If you or your kids are following a special diet, you have to scrutinize every dish, which can make Thanksgiving a lot less fun. High intensity travel, potential for funky family vibes, and orchestrating a big meal can take away the joy. But you can forget at least some of the hassle with these Thanksgiving tips and recipes I’ve relied on for years!
Way back when I was a new mom, I breast fed my baby on an extensive elimination diet. He was born just a few weeks before Thanksgiving, and by the time that first Thanksgiving came around, things were tough. I was already eliminating many foods, and I wasn’t prepared to handle a big family gathering with nothing I could eat.
That baby is now an adult – and elimination diet choices have gotten a lot easier. There are more options for allergy-free foods than ever. But years ago, I had to be creative and re-learn how to prepare just about everything, from scratch. There were zero allergy-friendly prepared foods available to buy. Even gluten free bread didn’t exist, and we made our own – until we eventually found one bakery in Canada who shipped us a box every month. The one other brand available in stores was described by a friend this way: “We tried it, and my daughter hated it. So we brought it to feed the ducks. They would’t even use it to line their nests.”
That was the state of the options at the time – so if I could do it then, you can do it today, with the virtually infinite choices out there for prepared foods, mixes, recipe blogs, and support for allergy-free eating.
Getting our allergy-free favorite food strategies down was just one part of the story. The other part was juggling the social aspect. Do you ask others to accommodate your family’s needs? What do you tell your kids, when there is a table groaning under a spread they mostly can’t eat? Do you have a difficult relative who is unsupportive of your child’s special diet needs? As new parents, our first Thanksgivings were challenging. We had family members on all sides who were puzzled, put out, ridiculing, or worried. Even our doctor was confused: He told me “breast fed babies don’t have allergies” as over a dozen welts raised on my baby’s back during food allergy testing. He offered *zero* advice, shrugged, and apologized to me because my son would be severely asthmatic before long (never happened – but that’s another story!).
As parent of a baby with food allergies, I chose this mantra: No drama. Especially during the holidays, food carries important symbolism for joyful sharing, and that’s where I focus my energy. It’s all about what food to enjoy and how to make it, not what you’re missing. These tactics helped me along the way:
- Don’t talk about what your kids can’t eat in front of your kids, except for clear cut safety concerns (as in, you need an Epi pen if you eat food xyz). Don’t talk about food at all. Just make good nourishing delicious food. See more on why I say this here.
- If I am hosting, everything I make meets criteria so no one present is in danger of consuming an allergen or unsafe food. All my recipes omit major allergens like gluten, dairy, egg, soy, or tree nuts. Many are grain free and sugar free too. There’s plenty to tap for ideas and recipes, and it’s easier than worrying about who can eat what.
- Everything I make tastes good. You generally won’t notice that you’re eating an allergy-friendly version. I’m no chef; I’m serviceable enough at cooking and baking to make people pretty happy. That’s good enough.
- I make two pies or desserts that work for my allergy-friendly criteria. If a guest has a special dessert they love to share, great! I don’t ask them to adjust it for allergens, because I know there will be something for everyone.
- Allergy-friendly whipped topping is on the dessert spread along with classic home-whipped heavy cream. This is easy. Buy or make your own. If you are buying, check these options:
- If you are making your own dairy free whipped topping…
- If a guest insists on bringing a particular dish, but you need an allergy-friendly version, make one. Simply have your version available also at meal time – no need to announce to your guest that you did this – you can designate its ingredients with a small sign next to the dish if need be.
- If I’m attending another family or friend’s gathering, I bring whatever dish requested, prepared under the same rules, in quantity.
- As a guest, I ask permission to bring an allergy-friendly dessert if none will be available, since dessert is a well loved part of any Thanksgiving.
- At home, I like to make my own gravy from drippings, thickened with with arrowroot instead of corn starch or wheat flour. As a guest, I bring an alternative gravy without wheat flour or GMO corn starch. This gravy is the easiest way to go – just heat and serve. Some imperfect ingredients, but see my rules above – don’t sweat it if you really don’t have to. Again since gravy is a requisite part of turkey on Thanksgiving, I just bring this and offer it if needed.
- There will be junk, sugar, and plenty of opportunity to indulge in the “wrong” foods. Stay away from the truly dangerous allergens – the ones that might send your family to the ER – and let the rest slide. Your child’s joyful memories of these special times are more important than whether or not they eat some wrong foods and suffer mild symptoms for a day or two.
All that said, here are a few more ideas for a stress-free, allergy-friendly Thanksgiving day:
- Stuffing and gravy can be purchased ready made and gluten free. You can also buy your preferred favorite bread and chop it for your own stuffing recipe. My usual additions are simple and classic, like chopped celery, raisins, chopped apples, and scallions for a low FODMAPs version. If workable for my family or guests, I’ll add sautéed mushrooms or onions along with savory herbs like sage, rosemary, thyme and parsley. Chicken broth makes it moist and packable inside the turkey, or bake it separately if you’re needing a vegetarian option.
- Gluten free pie crust shells are available in most supermarkets in the freezer case. You can also make excellent pie crusts yourself if you prefer the taste and texture of homemade, like I do. After many years of pie making, my favorite gluten free pie crust recipe comes from this cookbook. There are many others that have come into print since, but this is my favorite.
- Pumpkin or sweet potato pies are easily made dairy free with coconut cream options. If you’re skipping granulated sugars, most recipes can work with honey instead, by substituting 1/2 to 2/3 cup honey for sugar and reducing other liquids. Check here for more tips on using honey instead of sugar.
- One hard to miss item is pecan pie. There truly is no nut-free version of this, so enjoy apple, pumpkin, sweet potato, berry or raisin pies instead.
- Need delicious hot rolls? You can make your own if you like – but there are many store bought options that deserve mention. Udi’s Gluten Free Rolls are found in the freezer section and need only a short time in the oven to toast up perfectly. Or, go big with an artisan gluten free sourdough option. In my neighborhood we enjoy locally made Kim and Jakes gluten free rolls too. Or, make these gluten free popovers if eggs are okay – best served immediately from the oven.
I have to mention cauliflower mash as a worthy replacement for mashed potatoes, which typically contain milk, butter, and of course nightshades. If nightshades are okay, enjoy mashed potatoes made with plain unsweet almond milk, ghee, salt and garlic powder to taste for a dairy free version. But if nightshades are a fail in your family, you might be surprised how many at your table won’t notice that this isn’t potatoes:
- Break a large head of cauliflower, de-stemmed, into pieces.
- Set in a steamer on top of about an inch of water, in a pot.
- Steam til soft.
- Drain and set aside the water. Don’t toss it!
- Mash the cauliflower with a masher or immersion blender, or place it in a food processor. Mash to soft and even texture.
- Stir in 1-2 tablespoons ghee and salt to taste, adding back any of the water from cooking to achieve consistency you prefer.
Need more? Favorite spots on the web for allergy-friendly recipes can be found on blogs for vegan or vegetarian dishes, celiac sites, Paleo recipes, or ketogenic recipes. Cherry pick whatever you need without placing your kids on over-restrictive diets. A great place to start is this collection of twenty allergy-friendly recipes for Thanksgiving. Enjoy!