Gluten Free Thanksgiving Survival Guide

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The reality of being gluten free means exclusion, social isolation, and missing out. This is hard enough during most of the year, but it can be challenging over the holidays. It’s more than just finding something to eat that is safe. It’s about dealing with family and friends who might not get it and navigating unavoidable social situations.

A gluten free Thanksgiving can be low-stress and enjoyable. The most important thing to remember is to plan. Planning will keep all the what-ifs at bay and let you enjoy the time off spent with friends and family. Part of your plan should also include anticipating other people’s opinions and how to handle these situations.

I know from experience how difficult holidays can be with one or more food allergies or intolerances. After navigating many years of these for myself and my children, I have a few tips I can share for anyone struggling.

Important Note

I want to acknowledge that this is not a fun holiday for everyone and that seeing family can be stressful. That is completely valid, and these suggestions may not change that. However, if you plan to celebrate this holiday, I hope that these suggestions will help.

It is also important to acknowledge that the pain of Thanksgiving goes beyond family relations. This is a celebrated holiday and brings so much pain to a wide portion of the population. This holiday to them means a celebration of death, disease, and famine. Celebration of cultural erasure.

Especially for this holiday, you should skip it if you don’t want to be there. This article is written for those who want to enjoy the company of family and friends during an extended weekend. However, our thoughts here at Sweet & Savory Thyme go out to those suffering.

How To Survive Thanksgiving When You’re Gluten Free

Getting through all the everyday social activities is hard enough.

After you start eating gluten free, you start to notice all the ways that food is integrated into every part of our lives, especially all the aspects of socializing. Friends going out for dinner, drinks (which inevitably include food), coffee, or even over to a friend’s house where they will bring out some food to be polite!

Thanksgiving adds a whole different level to this navigation. Not only is attendance expected and practically mandatory, but the entire reason is food. And that food is covered in gluten.

If this is your first holiday season since diagnosis and/or going gluten free, I’m sure you are overwhelmed with everything.

I’m going to try to put things concisely and give you the best tips I can to have as stress-free of a day or weekend as possible.

  • Plan Ahead Try to figure out what will be served and plan on alternatives that you will feel good about.
  • Bring Food To Share Even if you are the only one there that is gluten free, bring something to share with everyone else.
  • Plan All Meals Ahead Of Time Make sure you account for any additional meals that you will need when visiting. If you are staying longer than a day or even just planning for appetizers, desserts, and snacks.
  • Ignore Everyone Else There is something about not eating gluten that seems to just bring everyone else’s opinions out in the open. Ignore everyone else.
  • Don’t Put Up With Abuse This means that if you are going to be more miserable going than staying home, do what is best for you! What this also means is that you can find a way to tell people with opinions about your food that they can save their breath.
  • Start Non-Food Traditions The best time to start a tradition was last year, the second best time to start is now. Find a fun new activity for this time with your family or friends that doesn’t revolve around food.
  • Thanksgiving Dinner, Party Of One Cook your own full Thanksgiving dinner and feel included and have leftovers for a week.
  • Consider Hosting If going anywhere else is too much, consider having some family or friends over and cook your own Thanksgiving meal. No gluten allowed!
  • Cook Fun And Exciting Food Nothing makes me happier at big family meals I can’t eat than when everyone else is jealous of what I brought. Find some amazing recipes and take the opportunity to make your meal exactly what you what to eat without consideration of anyone else.
  • Plan To Enjoy I’ve already mentioned planning ahead. It may seem obvious, but it’s an important thing to remember to do. The most important thing you can plan on though is enjoying yourself. If you won’t be enjoying yourself, why are you putting yourself through this?

Plan Ahead For Thanksgiving Dinner With Gluten Free Alternatives

The biggest and most important thing you can do to make sure you enjoy yourself in social situations where food is involved is to plan. While this is an obvious one, I feel like it needs to be included and discussed.

Because it’s not just planning. Much of what we are doing is mimicking what everyone else is doing. And while Thanksgiving dinner is usually planned, we need to plan for the dinner and other people and contingencies.

Try to find out what will be on the menu ahead of time. If you are not Celiac and don’t react to cross-contamination, then you may be able to plan on sharing some of the meal with everyone else.

Specifics Are The Key To Enjoying A Gluten Free Thanksgiving

Make sure that you find out exactly what will be served.

This doesn’t just mean finding out what dishes will be served. If you plan on sharing any food, you need to find out how they plan to prepare the dishes.

For example, if they plan on stuffing the turkey or cooking the dressing separately.

You may be able to do deviled eggs, vegetable platter, olives, and similar if you don’t react to cross-contamination and prepare them without gluten ingredients.

But for most people, I would not recommend planning on eating anything that someone without specific knowledge of gluten free has cooked.

Survive A Gluten Free Thanksgiving With Shareable Apps and Desserts

One of the things about holidays that center everything around food is that it is rarely just one meal.

Typically there are candies and cookies and savory appetizers that are offered as soon as you walk in the door. Unfortunately, these are rarely safe to share, and it’s best to plan on not.

Something I’ve offered to do in the past was to make and bring these things ourselves. But even when that isn’t an option, bringing food to share is usually more welcomed than not.

When bringing food to share, I prefer to make them naturally gluten free so that no one has cause for complaint. There are plenty of apps and desserts that no one would even know didn’t have gluten in them!

And by making them at home in your safe kitchen, you know that they are safe to eat.

When Traveling Overnight Or More, Plan All Gluten Free Meals Ahead Of Time

This one will depend on how you plan to do your traveling and how far you are going. It can be challenging to plan on staying in a hotel or family’s home when you can’t eat most food around you.

Plan every meal out that you will not be at home. Include breakfast, lunch, snacks, and food for the car trip. I usually bring extra just in case someone else snags something, or I decide to share.

Bring your own cooler or another method of keeping your food fresh and separate. Keeping your food in a community refrigerator is usually asking for someone to snack on it innocently. If you keep all your own food in its own spot, you have more control over it.

The other concern with a community refrigerator is that it could unknowingly get contaminated.

It is usually just safer, easier, and less stressful to manage your own food in its own location where no one else will have access to it.

Surviving Thanksgiving Gluten Free And Everyone Else’s Opinions

It isn’t just food that you need to prepare to handle over the holidays.

As families get together, they bring their biggest opinions with them. And somehow, everyone has an opinion on gluten free, even if they have only the foggiest idea of what that even means.

As you read this, you probably thought of someone in your family with larger-than-life opinions about everything that doesn’t concern them.

Get prepared to deal with it ahead of time. What do you want to say, or how do you want to handle it?

Do you know that someone will tell you how expensive it is? I actually looked into this one, and they may be shocked to find that they are probably spending more on food than someone who is gluten free.

Do you want to choose to ignore them, have something prepared to say, or come at them like a teacher with handouts and worksheets?

Assuming that there will not be someone who comments on it is unlikely and unrealistic if no one ends up commenting, fantastic! But mentally, preparing yourself for these comments will help you handle them.

It is not important what these people think. You are unlikely to change their mind when you take offense to a joke they’ve made and attempt to educate them.

I’ve found that a little quip in my back pocket to put back at them helps me. I wouldn’t recommend turning it around and joking about something of themselves. But when someone jokes that gluten free food tastes like cardboard, I can respond with something like, at least my food isn’t killing me any longer.

I find that people usually do not mean harm and honestly don’t know what you have been through and what gluten puts you through. Something that isn’t aimed at them but shows how seriously you must take this diet can have a bigger impact than all the data you could spout.

If you want to dig into the psychology of other people’s opinions about gluten, check this article out.

Thanksgiving Doesn’t Mean You Should Put Up With Abuse

On the other hand, being prepared for people to say these things doesn’t mean you should have to put up with abuse just because it is family or they aren’t aware of what they are saying.

Think of some words you can use to shut these naysayers down in a kind, but firm, way.

I often find that I forget these words in the moment, but by thinking and planning for them, I can handle them in a better way.

This is more for you than it is for them. Preparing yourself mentally to have people make these judgments can soften the blow when they happen and lessen any emotional scarring.

You should also not have to sit there and take comment after comment about your diet. Get up and walk away if you need to. No one needs to sit and endure that kind of criticism, especially after making it clear that you are not open to discussing it.

Survive A Gluten Free Thanksgiving By Making Non-Food Traditions

The holidays all seem to revolve around food, and most traditions are food-related.

But they don’t have to be.

Come up with some new and fun ideas to enjoy time together as a family that everyone can participate in regardless of allergies, intolerances, or other medical conditions.

It can be hard to start sometimes, but it will only be harder next year! The best time to start the tradition would have been last year, but now is the second-best time.

Non-Food Thanksgiving Tradition Ideas

I’ve come up with a few ideas that might be fun, but be creative and think about your own family and what everyone might enjoy!

  • Find The Turkey Get one or more small toy turkeys to hide around and see who can find them first! The older the kids in the family, the harder they should be hidden.
  • Save A Turkey Donate to a local charity whether it is saving a turkey or another cause. Go to a charity event on Thanksgiving or that weekend. Another idea is to have everyone bring good, unexpired pantry items and donate them to a local food bank.
  • Family Relay Races Bring along stuff to get your family to play some fun and goofy games where everyone laughs and falls down.
  • Deviled Egg Race Put a deviled egg on a spoon that needs to be passed from one team member to another would be even more difficult than the original!
  • Trussed Up Turkey Take some kitchen twine left over from dressing up the turkey and tie team’s legs up for a 3 legged race.
  • Guess Who’s Thankful Have everyone write down what they are thankful for and then collect them. Pass them back out and see if everyone can guess who wrote what! Its a great way to catch up with family you haven’t seen for awhile
  • Kid Art If you have kids in your family, have decorate name tags for everyone to put at their place. Every year you can collect them and add a new one to each place setting. Or just take photos to compare as the kids grow.
  • Plan For Christmas As soon as Thanksgiving is over, it’s a rush to Christmas. Have everyone make a wish list and put it in a jar without names. Each person draws a wishlist and they gift something on the list at Christmas. It can be fun to see who remembers what they put down!
  • Story Time Have everyone share a favorite memory of either Thanksgiving, holidays in general, or family memories. It’s fun to pass the memories on to new generations!
  • Photo Theme Plan on a different group photo theme every year. Everyone should bring their own addition to the costumes or props.

How To Cook An Individual Gluten Free Thanksgiving Meal

Sometimes you want a real Thanksgiving meal, but you aren’t going to force everyone else to eat gluten free.

Cook up a real thanksgiving meal at home, with all the favorite fixings. Put it into a disposable baking tray and cover it with tin foil. Pop it in the oven for 20 minutes before everyone sits down to eat, and you will have a great Thanksgiving meal!

Make sure to pack a separate container of the foods that should not be heated in an oven, like cranberry sauce.

Be sure that you do not leave this unattended after taking off the lid—plan on putting it directly on your plate before sitting down to eat.

When I do this, I like to cook up a chicken instead of a turkey, so I don’t have any leftovers. But sometimes, I will do a turkey and freeze most of it. Turkey, cranberry sauce, and cream cheese on a wrap or in a sandwich is a great lunch treat you can have around through the holiday season.

Host A Gluten Free Thanksgiving

If it is too stressful to think about going to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving, offer to host!

You can host beautiful gluten free Thanksgiving dinner for friends or family that care to join. I have found that preparing the food myself may add some stress, but in the end, I prefer it to the stress of worrying about someone else’s kitchen.

This isn’t an option for all people or families, but it can be a great alternative to a stressful trip.

Make Fun And Exciting Food

As someone who has always enjoyed cooking, I love to share food with friends and family. But when everyone else plans on eating something I cannot join in on, it sure is fun to make something delicious and creative!

If you aren’t an overly traditional person and don’t mind having different food than everyone else, find something you will really enjoy and look forward to.

A great alternative to turkey is Peking Duck.

Instead of boring canned cranberry sauce, try making your own and keeping it really tart with only some orange juice to sweeten it. Then add it to endive leaves with goat cheese!

If you are looking for an alternative to stuffing, elotes instead. Just put the corn in the oven with the rest of your warm food and top it before sitting down.

Instead of the plate of raw vegetables, try pickling carrots, cauliflower, and peppers for a fun treat. Bonus: if you do this and the Peking Duck, you can make up some Bon Mi leftovers!

Come up with any fun thing you would like to have instead of the predictable feast if that is your thing. If you love the traditional fare, do it! Just make enough for leftovers, so you don’t have to cook after the holiday.

Plan To Enjoy Your Gluten Free Thanksgiving

This is the most important part of Thanksgiving to plan for.

Plan on having fun. Make sure that with all the stress that you are putting yourself through that you will enjoy yourself!

If you don’t plan on enjoying yourself, you are just there for others.

The whole point of planning, preparing, and going is to enjoy your friends and family without the stress of food and gluten getting in the way.

If you are new to gluten free and haven’t quite started yet, look at the benefits and possible problems of waiting to start and read about going gluten free gradually.


My passion is supporting those who need to be gluten free. After my family had to transition to eating gluten free I realized how difficult it is. It is more than finding a recipe. It is about how to navigate social situations, deal with isolation, and other things that come along with it. I live in Oregon with my family, cats, and chickens.

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