Gluten Free Holidays and Dinner Parties

Turkey with your favourite stuffing, gravy, all those wonderful pastries;  Being gluten free for the holidays can feel like you’re floating on oceans of water and there’s not a drop to drink.

The good news is, it will be a lot easier not to overindulge during the holidays because most of the things you find yourself nibbling at then wishing you hadn’t are the cookies and squares, all of which are off limits.

The other good news is, with a little planning, you can still have a great time and even indulge a little.  Here are a few tips.

If You're The Host

It’s easy if you’re the host.  You can make an entirely gluten free holiday meal, throw a few bread rolls on the table and no one will even notice.  There are gluten free alternatives to stuffing, you can make your gravy gluten free and the rest of the main course is likely naturally gluten free.  Mashed potatoes, candied yams, cranberry sauce, it’s all a wonderful part of your gluten free holiday.  Even dessert.

Stuffing: It's been tradition in many families to stuff a turkey with a lovely aromatic bread based stuffing and let it roast for hours inside the bird.  Current heath guidelines however recommend making the stuffing (or dressing) separately to avoid bacterial growth, or if you choose to stuff your bird follow these guidelines.

Gluten Free Stuffing:
- You can use gluten free bread and make your favourite stuffing recipe.  The texture may be a bit different.
- Try something different.  Peruse the internet and look for a naturally gluten free recipe you'd like to try.  Many use rice as a base with sausage and fruit for substance and festive flavour. 

Make it Separately:
This is what I do.  My family love our traditional stuffing so I don't have the heart to keep it from them.  Your favourite turkey stuffing can be made in a casserole in the oven along with the turkey, or in the slow cooker.  I like the slow cooker version.  It saves room in the oven and allows me to keep the bread separate from the rest of the meal to avoid cross contamination.

If you’re a guest, the terrain is a little more uncertain, but you can navigate no problem.

If You're the Guest

Let Your Limitations be Known

Let you’re host know that you require a gluten free diet and ask about what’s on the menu.  If you have celiac disease make sure he or she is aware of that and how serious it is for you to know what’s in the food you eat.  Often very slight alterations will be fairly simple for your host to manage.  Keep the croutons separate from the salad.  Same for the dressing if you’re not sure it’s gluten free.  If your host is amenable you can make some gluten free brand suggestions along with some tips like thickening gravy with corn flour or rice flour.


I frequently pop a little bottle of homemade salad dressing in my purse just in case I can’t have what’s being served.  If meat is on the menu yours can be cooked separately and seasoned with just salt and pepper, or you can offer to bring your own.  I often bring my own piece of meat to summer barbecues.  I wrap and cook it in foil so it’s not touching the grill that the glutenous sausages and hamburgers are cooked on.  If you’re not comfortable asking for alterations, you can offer to bring a dish, so you know there will be something there for you.  I attended my cousins Christmas dinner this year.  She asked me to bring a salad.  I suggested that since I was bringing my whole family I should contribute to the meat as well.  There were a few other items there that I could have, but the roast beef and salad that I brought gave me the comfort that I wouldn’t go hungry.  One year I brought gluten free pumpkin pie to my sister-in-law’s Thanksgiving dinner, and it was gone before all the other desserts! 

Simple Strategies

If you’re going to a party that you can’t influence or contribute to the menu you can:

  • Eat before you leave, that way if there truly is nothing for you, you won’t starve
  • Take a snack.  A gluten free granola bar or some rice crackers with cheese will hit the spot partway through the evening.
  • Be early to the buffet: If cheese and crackers are on separate plates  you can have the cheese;  at least early in the evening.  I get a little nervous later on when the buffet table gets messy looking.  There is more chance of cross contamination.  The same goes for the fruit platter, pickles etc.  All are naturally gluten free, but you should try to be early to the table before things get mixed up.
  • Call ahead: If your party is catered or is at a public venue like a restaurant or a club, the same tips apply as for restaurant dining.  Call ahead, make sure the staff know about your gluten free needs.  Chances are they’ll be open to ensuring that your food is safe.  Get the name of the person you speak with so that when you arrive you can introduce yourself and let them know that you are the one with the gluten free requirement and who you spoke with.  You may be pleasantly surprised and find that you have a great time.
  • Ask to see the package: If you're not sure of a dressing or a snack food do be shy.  Ask to see the  package and check the ingredients yourself.
  • Most of all remember the reason for the season

Things to avoid

  • Cold cuts are off limits, unless you know for sure they are gluten free.
  • Avoid casseroles, soups, stews, unless you know the recipe and the person who made it.  Many are thickened with flour or canned products that may have gluten and most people are not familiar with the dangers of cross contamination so even if the recipe has no gluten ingredients, it may not be save for celiac. 
  • Avoid the messy buffet.  Once people have been messing around, utensils have changed plates, double dipping has occured the buffet becomes off limits.  
  • Anything that's not a simple, whole food that you don't know how it's made.  Better safe than sorry!

Whatever the celebration, holidays and dinner parties are about family and friends. 

Enjoy the people in your life and let the food be secondary.

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