Christmas and gluten free. A stressful combination. A time when family asks you to harm yourself to make it convenient for the rest of the family and “just” eat gluten.
Survive a Christmas gathering gluten free by providing your food, planning, and ignoring comments regarding your diet. Plan ahead for what food you may need, eat ahead of time, or let everyone know you won’t be eating. Ignoring comments and jokes regarding a medically necessary gluten free diet can be difficult, so decide how you want to handle these situations should they come up.
Holiday traditions can be the most challenging social situations to navigate after going gluten free, particularly for medical reasons when dropping a diet for a day, weekend, or event is not an option. Over the years, I’ve come up with strategies that help us cope with these situations.
What Has Gluten At Christmas?
While being gluten free at Christmas can seem almost impossible, relatively few items have gluten in them! If cooked in a separate space, there are so many options for gluten free people.
I wrote this article about all the naturally gluten free items at Christmas that don’t need any special ingredients or changes (just awareness of cross-contamination). I highly recommend reading through it or sending it along to family members.
Traditional Christmas dishes that contain gluten are stuffing (or dressing), cookies, cakes, pies, crackers, biscuits (or rolls), and different types of candy. Gravy and some other dishes may contain gluten. And it would be best if you always were cautious of cross-contamination.
Most food is wrapped in some dough for holiday parties, such as baked brie, rendering them dangerous for anyone on a gluten free diet.
Look for gluten free stocking stuffers and candy, advent calendars, and gluten free desserts. Bring your food to holiday parties or anywhere you do not know if they will serve gluten free food without the risk of cross-contamination.
Then there are the issues with people, not food. You may only see people once or twice a year and don’t quite understand what you are going through. People who somehow think it is funny to joke about gluten free, the worst of it is people who don’t believe you need to be gluten free even under doctor’s orders.
The Christmas season is already a stressful time of year. The added stress of being gluten free or caring for someone that is gluten free can add to that. Finding a way to feel normal during Christmas is complicated, and sometimes sacrifices are needed to maintain your comfort and sanity over the expectations.
Gluten Free Stocking Stuffers
Stocking stuffers are not something that I used to think about when it came to being gluten free. But over the years, I’ve learned and seen many forms of gluten in typical stocking stuffers.
One easy way to get around this is to opt for non-food stocking stuffers. If you have a child that is gluten free, opting for no food in stockings is an easy way to make them feel included while not singling out their treats or spending too much on it.
Two items that I was shocked to find gluten in were chocolate truffles and candy canes. Many chocolate truffles, even high-end ones, contain malt. Malt is made from barley and is not gluten free. Candy canes are another one. Some red food dye contains gluten, and others risk cross-contamination, so check for a certified gluten free label on your favorite candy canes.
A few years ago, I found out that Lindt white chocolate did not contain malt and the candy cane pieces they put into the white chocolate peppermint truffles used beetroot to dye it red! So they have become a favorite around here. But even products that were gluten free in the past may change their recipe year to year, so always check labels!
Gluten Free Advent Calendars
Advent Calendars is another of those shockers. Many Advent Calendars contain malt in the chocolate, additives to the chocolate for crunch, or cross-contamination on the manufacturing equipment.
I did an extensive search to develop some great options for Advent Calendars that are gluten free. I even included some that are DIY and non-food (but some still come packaged up for you). Click here to check that article out with the different things I found.
What I usually do for my kids is a wooden Advent Calendar that I can load with safe candy items each year and fits multiple pieces of candy. But I love the idea of getting small items in an Advent Calendar that go with a significant gift given on Christmas morning!
Gluten Free At Holiday Parties
There are a couple of different topics to tackle about going to holiday parties when you are gluten free- firstly, how to deal with the food, and secondly, the social aspect of food.
When it comes to holiday parties and food, there is generally an overload of gluten.
Is it something delicious on its own? Add gluten to make it a holiday food.
Especially around the holidays, it can feel incredibly impossible to eat gluten free when out. Everything seems wrapped in biscuit dough, phyllo dough, puff pastry, or loaded on a cracker.
Never assume there will be a food you can eat when you go out. Always bring something with you that you know you can eat. Especially if you know you will make a poor decision when around food when hungry, get your food.
If you are concerned about being rude by bringing your food, read this article I wrote on the topic. I go into all types of different parties and situations and what you should do in each of them.
Eating before a party is usually a good idea, so you don’t need to navigate what you can and can’t have on an empty stomach. Even if you choose this approach, bring a snack in case the smell of food gets overwhelming.
Bring something similar to blend in and feel included if you can easily find what food will be at a party.
Or even offer to bring a dish to share so you know there is something you can have! Just make sure to take the first serving to avoid cross-contamination.
It is normal to feel left out or hyper-aware about eating and can be significant anxiety after starting your gluten free diet.
I don’t write this for people who think that gluten free would be fun to try and might go on and off their self-imposed diet. Where eating gluten causes physical and psychological symptoms.
Usually, those of us in that situation wish we could grab some food and get back to a self-imposed diet later. Unfortunately, we can’t. And when you say the words “gluten free” everyone seems to feel entitled to know why, how, and all about it.
If you would prefer to keep it to yourself, there are ways to do that. If you don’t want to go into your private medical information with strangers (or even friends and family), you shouldn’t be obligated.
There is a bizarre reaction when people say they are gluten free rather than any other allergy or intolerance out there. I have a hypothesis that it is in the history of gluten and wheat in our society. I did look into it a bit. If you want to dig deeper as well, you should check it out.
But you don’t owe anyone an explanation of why. And you can keep the fact quiet if you wish. If you choose to do so, you may want to tell people that you have some severe food allergies, so you brought your food or ate ahead of time. Telling them is usually enough information to let them know it isn’t a choice and you appreciate the offer.
Suppose a party is wholly centered around food. In that case, it may not be the best to attend, for instance, a party for making and decorating cookies, a cookie exchange, or even a dinner party where food is the complete center of the social gathering.
School Holiday Parties With A Gluten Free Kid
If you are caring for a gluten free child, the holidays aren’t just about making sure their food is safe, but their environment, the situations they are put in and knowing they can handle it. Adults can make informed decisions, but a child doesn’t have the self-control or information about it.
Holiday parties for kids tend to center around school activities, so that I will go into here.
The first thing to do is make sure that you and the teacher are on the same page regarding the child and gluten. If applicable, get a 504 plan, so any substitute teacher or other school staff can access what they need.
I always recommend putting in a 504 or IEP for a gluten free kid to ask before giving any food that has not come from home. You can even put in there that they need to give 24 hours’ notice, so you have time to grab some safe treats.
If you want to look further into putting gluten free into an IEP, follow this link for the best advice I have on this subject.
Don’t assume that you will always get notice ahead of time or that the teacher will. Sometimes, people will bring in treats last minute without informing the teacher. Teachers then face a couple of options they don’t like: allowing it and not having alternatives for the kids with allergies, or not allowing it and meeting the repercussions from the entire family class.
If possible, supply a stash of snacks and treats that are suitable to bring out in these situations. There are certified gluten free crispy rice bars (not the name brand) that are safe at room temperature, or if a freezer is available to store them, provide cupcakes for a celebration.
I find that these last-minute treats happen more often over the holidays, especially during school holiday parties. A parent who hasn’t signed up to bring something may suddenly have time and show up with them.
Ideally, the teacher and child’s grown-ups will have discussed the allergy concerns ahead of time. With time to provide anything needed, such as a gluten free pizza or gluten free cupcakes, they may participate like the other children.
When it comes to candy given out, make sure that it is not eaten at school or the party and is put into a bag so you can go over it later, if appropriate.
You can also provide a list of gluten free items that your child may have without first checking with you. Things like Reese’s Peanut Butter cups are marked “gf” on the package – they even have gluten free pretzel ones! This way, if there are treats, they can include your child without extra fuss.
Something else besides food to consider is the activities they will do. Check out the list here for standard classroom supplies that may contain gluten, and make sure if there are any activities with them, there are alternatives provided.
Christmas Food That Is Naturally Gluten Free
This is the good news section! So much that is traditionally served for Christmas dinner is naturally gluten free.
The naturally gluten free is important because what it means is that you don’t need to change ingredients, recipes, or get different foods to make this gluten free. The main concern is cross-contamination, which you will always need to be aware of and may take extra preparation.
For information on how to cook gluten free for someone in a kitchen that typically cooks with wheat, I detailed what to do. The article should be handy for anyone making a Christmas dinner for someone that needs to be strictly gluten free and avoid cross-contamination.
Some naturally gluten free foods typically served at Christmas are turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy (if they use cornstarch), sweet potatoes casserole, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, gherkins, and olives, and fruit salad. For more detailed information on each of these, here is the link for more details.
Bringing Your Own Food To Christmas Dinner
If you decide that it is too much to ask for food cooked safely for you, or you would prefer to prepare your own, bringing your food to Christmas dinner is a great option.
If you think that people may be offended that you bring it, you can always give them the information in the section above to make it safe for you and offer to bring your own, so they don’t have to do that.
I usually approach bringing our food to take care of what we need ourselves and not stress anyone else out in the process. There is enough for people to do; if you can make it easier on them by preparing it yourself, it will be easier for everyone else and most likely safer for you.
When I cook and bring gluten free, it is for three people: myself and my two children. My husband usually enjoys participating in what everyone else is having. Since I cook for children and myself, I have to be cautious to make it something they will eat.
Usually, I will mimic what I know will be served.
I like to get gigantic turkeys, cook them and freeze them in small bags. I can use these for sandwiches, other meals, but also Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
I make up a disposable dish to bring with me, so I don’t need to worry about it getting covered with gluten and then brought back to my kitchen.
I will put some pre-cooked turkey in there with the fixings that we like: usually mashed potatoes, gravy, sausage apple stuffing, rolls, and maybe some sweet potato casserole. I will put what can be eaten cold in another dish like cranberry sauce, deviled eggs, etc.
I put the first dish in the oven covered with tin foil (to avoid cross-contamination) about 20-30 minutes before dinner is ready. The trickiest part can be in the timing!
Then I make up our plates before we sit down.
Then we can pretend we are eating the same as everyone else and the kids don’t feel left out.
Gluten Free Desserts For Christmas
Many traditional desserts at Christmas are easily made gluten free, but others require special recipes or techniques.
For pie, I follow this recipe for the crust. It is just a basic pie crust recipe that you can use for pies crusts, hand pies, and all the similar pie crust uses out there.
I prefer to cut out shapes to put on top instead of doing the lattice style. Lattice in pie crust is extremely difficult with gluten free flour, and it is apt to break and cause a massive amount of frustration.
On the other hand, cutting out shapes is simple, and it even gives it a look that is unique, beautiful, and more professional. Typically I give these a nice egg wash for a finishing touch before putting them in the oven.
Hint: you can bake these separately, so they don’t sink to the bottom, burn, or otherwise make a mess of your pie. Just add them on while the pie is still hot, and after they cool, it looks like you baked them on top!
A good pie crust recipe will give you the option to make most traditional holiday desserts gluten free in a way that is hardly even noticeable to many people.
Something else I have done is to forget the pie crust entirely. Make up the filling in a pie pan or even on the stove-top! When I owned and ran my food cart, I used to make apple pie crepes to order! Here is the crepe recipe for the delicate and light shell.
I love cooking and baking and tend to do a lot of this over the holidays. I couldn’t make it through a season without Nicole of Gluten Free On A Shoestring. The two recipes I do every year of hers are the Sugar Cookies and the Soft Gingerbread Cookies.
Candy doesn’t present the issue of baked goods. We usually do toffee, coconut bon-bons, and if we feel adventurous, we try Grandma’s recipe for chocolate creams that never turn out. My husband thinks we will get the secret in her will, but I’m sure she will outlive us all!
The one recipe for candy that contains gluten that I’ve found as an issue is known as “Christmas Crack,” and it is toffee poured over saltines. I discovered that Schar’s table crackers are an excellent replacement for this recipe. Here is the link to these crackers on Amazon.
Make sure all the ingredients you are using are gluten free. Cross-contamination can happen with some products, such as chocolate chips and nuts. So make sure they are labeled gluten free or the manufacturer states they are gluten free and made on a separate gluten free line.
Relatives That Question You About Gluten Free
Holidays mean seeing family that you haven’t spoken with in some time and catching up.
Sometimes even years after being gluten free feels ordinary to you, members of your family that don’t typically see you will continue to question. But the first year or two can be the hardest.
There will be people who don’t understand why you can’t have gluten-no matter the test results, diagnoses, and doctor’s orders that have resulted in this dietary change.
Some may ask if you can give it up since it is a holiday and eat “normal” because no matter how well you explain it, they think it is a fad diet to be cool.
In the end, it is up to you to keep your diet, so you don’t end up miserable. Your family will never fully understand, although they may be able to support you in time.
Sometimes it takes seeing you miserable to get it. Sometimes they never will.
It will entirely depend on your relationship and how much you want to invest in this person’s knowledge about gluten free, but it may be best to ignore everything they say. Shrug and say if only I could eat whatever for a holiday.
How To Deal With Feeling Left Out At Christmas From Gluten
Isolation and loneliness are some of the biggest things to face after going gluten free. When it comes to family at the holidays, we don’t always choose to avoid the situation. And then, we must deal with the feelings of jealousy and being left out.
The best way to deal with this is to plan ahead of time, bring your food, and not need anyone else’s input during your trip, whether a day or a week.
Plan to bring your candy, dinner, and snacks.
The best way to not feel left out during the holidays is not to leave yourself out.
Join in, attend the party, go to the dinner, and enjoy yourself. Don’t let food be the thing that keeps you from your loved ones.
How To Feel Normal At Christmas While Gluten Free
Feeling out of place during the holidays, especially the first couple of years after going gluten free, is expected.
Plan ahead for all the details you possibly can. Bring food for all the meals you will be there and any snacks, candies, or other things that may cause some jealousy.
Nothing makes me feel better over these holiday meals than making some fun versions of the food everyone else is having and getting to enjoy those. Going out of my way to make something special that I know I will enjoy during a meal I may otherwise be jealous of.
Sometimes this means making the same meal as everyone else and tweaking it to my favorite foods, and sometimes this means doing something extravagant and unique.
Feeling normal in these situations is going to vary from person to person. You need to figure out what makes you feel like you are not normal and work to correct it. This may be food to bring with you or a boundary to set when discussing your health.
Do what you need to enjoy your holidays.