My significant other Billy has been gluten intolerant since 2011, and we learned how to avoid gluten one step at a time. At the beginning it’s an overwhelming “Herculean task” trying to figure out how to eat safely. This is a positive guide to help gluten-free eaters and their families have a successful, happy, and illness free holiday.
So now that Billy has cleaned up his diet, he notices if he accidentally eats anything with even a little gluten. For example if he eats a burger that is cooked on the same grill where they toast rolls he might get a headache. Or when he eats fries from a place where they cook chicken nuggets in the same fryer, he will feel sick.
If Billy ingests enough gluten it will make him sick to the stomach with achy joints, flushing, chills, and sometimes skin rashes too. Symptoms can last for around 3 days so it’s not something he is willing to risk lightly.
That being said, it makes people happy to be able to enjoy a meal with family. He wants to eat holiday meals as much as his family wants him to be able to enjoy home-made holiday treats.
So we began our messy journey learning how to make the best of our experience. We have learned and uncovered issues the hard way, through trial and error. We hope that our experience will help your family avoid some of the frustrations and disappointments we have experienced along the way.
I want to mention that eating as gluten-free as possible ABSOLUTELY improves his quality of life. If it didn’t make a huge difference, there is no way we would put in this much effort. I ASSURE YOU! When you serve your loved-one a carefully prepared gluten-free meal you are absolutely improving their health!
If you have ever wondered “What Is Gluten Free?” “How Do I Cook a Gluten Free Meal” or “What are the most common mistakes when preparing a gluten free meal?” We are here to help.
If a holiday meal seems overwhelming, try cooking an easy meal first. I have one suggested at the bottom of this page. It is a good starting place for beginners. It is easy to prepare and that is important when you are just learning.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye that gives bread and other baked goods a springy texture. Gluten is also found in so many products that seem unrelated to bread, for example barley syrup as a sweetener, or wheat flour on seasoned fries.
Tips for Cooking Gluten-Free Foods for Thanksgiving and Christmas
Included in this Blog Post:
- Wash Dishes More Than Once
- Clean Kitchen Surfaces
- No Wooden Cooking Utensils or Dishes
- Cast Iron – Not Gluten Free
- Tin Foil for Baking Sheets
- Separate Utensils for Every Dish
- Use Gloves
- Must Every Ingredient Say Gluten-Free?
- Are Herbs & Seasonings Safe?
- Are Rice, Oats, & Other Cereal Grains Safe?
- No Macaroni in Your Salt-Shaker
- Wipe Off Salt, Pepper, & Condiments
- Don’t Stuff the Turkey
- Mashed and Sweet Potatoes
- How to Make Gravy Gluten-Free
- Careful with Canned Soups
- Making Grandma’s Recipe Gluten-Free
- Pre-Made Pie Crust
- Cornbread & Potato Bread – Not Gluten-Free
- Watch for Falling Crumbs
- Pay Attention: Loading Your Dinner Plate
- Cracker-Less Meat and Cheese Platters
- Cranberry Sauce Is Super
- Gluten-Dissolving Enzyme Supplement
- Those At Risk Eat 1st
- Cook A Holiday Meal Before the Holiday Event
Best Tips for Cooking a Gluten-Free Holiday Meal
1. Wash Dishes Twice
It is necessary for the dishes to be squeaky clean with no residue on them. Yes I know most people clean their dishes very well, but I like to wash dishes that contained gluten at least twice. At our house Billy has specific pans that we don’t cook gluten items in, but no one expects you to buy special dishes to serve one meal. Just make sure the dishes you use are super-duper clean.
2. Clean Surfaces to Avoid Contamination
If your house is like my house the kids leave bread crumbs everywhere they go. Even though they are supposed to be sitting in “their spot” at the kitchen table when they eat. Ever wonder “Why Breadcrumbs?” in the tale about Hansel and Gretel? I don’t!
Anyway it is a great, super fantastic idea to wipe down your kitchen counters and table. It really does cut down on the chance the food will get accidentally contaminated.
3. Don’t Use Wooden Cooking Utensils or Dishes
Whether it is a wooden spoon or wooden cutting board, this kind of utensil absorbs ingredients and doesn’t clean up well enough to pass for gluten-free. Be safe and just use a well-washed metal or plastic utensil, or dish.
4. Your Cast Iron Pan Probably Isn’t Gluten Free
If you are like most of us in Pennsylvania Dutch country we make both meat and desserts in our cast-iron pans. Breaded meats are “a thing” out here too, although we personally only ever seem to bread venison steaks (like every 4 years or so lol).
We do make desserts in our cast-iron though, pineapple upside-down cake is the best! We only use gluten-free foods in our cast-iron pan so that we don’t make Billy sick.
If you aren’t sure if your cast-iron is gluten-free, be safe rather than sorry. We like using a dish or pan that can be cleaned more thoroughly like glass, metal, or enameled cookware.
5. Use Tin Foil on Baking Sheets
This is pretty much the same speech as the cast-iron. Gluten is never going to come off this surface. In our house we have specific smaller baking sheets for Billy.
If we are cooking gluten-free food for the whole family and need a bigger baking sheet, we use tin foil. This keeps the foods from coming into contact with the contaminated surface.
6. Have a Separate Utensil for Every Dish to Prevent Cross-Contamination/Cross-Contact
Not everyone uses the same utensils to cook multiple dishes, but we do sometimes. For example if we are cooking green beans and brussel sprouts, sometimes we use the same spoon to stir both pots of vegetables.
We do not share utensils, when cooking or serving, if we are cooking a mix of gluten-free dishes and regular dishes. It’s too easy to get confused and accidentally contaminate one of the gluten-free options.
7. Use Gloves
To prevent cross-contamination we use gloves when preparing certain items. Washing your hands does not guarantee that you have removed all of the gluten from your hands. It is safer to make a decision beforehand to wear gloves when preparing the regular food, or the gluten-free items.
We find that we prepare more regular foods than gluten-free foods. This means it’s easier for us to put gloves on to cook the gluten-free items. I’m sure there are families that need more gluten-free options than regular foods, so consider carefully and do what works for you.
8. Does Every Ingredient Have to Say Gluten-Free?
It’s reassuring if a product or ingredient says gluten-free but it will probably almost triple your grocery bill if you are shopping this way. Meat is often gluten-free. You just have to be concerned about machinery cross-contamination, seasonings, brines, glazes, and marinades that may not be gluten-free.
I always take my phone shopping so I can google search whether a certain brand’s items are gluten-free. The websites usually give you the information pretty directly. Comment threads are also helpful because if someone got sick, they post in comment threads to help others avoid sickness.
At this point I don’t have to look up every item that does not state gluten-free. I have learned over time which brands are not using gluten containing ingredients. If a food item doesn’t state gluten-free you are taking a chance and might get sick.
Companies can change ingredients and manufacturing processes at any time. Just because you ate a food one time does not mean it’s going to be safe forever.
This usually doesn’t happen often but it’s good to be aware of how the food you eat, makes you feel. This way you can maintain a diet very low in the problematic ingredient and avoid as much illness as possible.
CERTAIN ILLNESS’ REQUIRE A HIGH LEVEL OF CLEAN EATING
Ask your friend or loved one if they only eat food that is LABELED GLUTEN-FREE, or if they eat foods that don’t have gluten-containing ingredients. It is much safer to only eat gluten-free labeled foods for those who will suffer serious harm. Celiac Disease causes injury to the small intestine if gluten is eaten. Over time this may do enough damage that surgery is required.
If your guest has a milder reaction than celiac it can save a lot of money on purchasing food. If every food item does not need to be labeled gluten-free, you will be able to purchase cheaper options at the grocery store.
A milder reaction can still be pretty terrible and last a few days. Choose wisely! Talk to your friend or loved one. If you are concerned and feeling unsure, send a screenshot of the ingredients, then they can verify whether an ingredient, or product, is safe.
9. Herbs, Seasonings, & Nuts
Sadly although you would think herbs and nuts are pretty safe, they are not. Many herbs, seasoning, and nuts are processed on manufacturing lines where wheat (and wheat products) are also processed.
Just because these items are processed on the same lines does not necessarily mean that they are contaminated. There are certainly “less risky” products available though, so why take any unnecessary chances.
10. Rice, Oats, and Other Cereal Grains
Rice, oats, and other cereal grains seem as if they should be naturally gluten-free but unfortunately are often contaminated. When they are planting fields of “cereal grains” (wheat, barely, rye, oats, etc.), there is often some “seed migration”. Wheat or other gluten-containing grains will often end up in a field of oats or rice.
Farmers harvest the fields with big machines and process the grains in bulk. Certain harvests have more or less contamination. To be considered gluten-free the product must contain less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. You can find certified gluten-free grains, but they cost more. I find spending the extra money worth the investment because the grains are often contaminated.
11. Macaroni in Your Salt-Shaker
Don’t use macaroni in your salt-shaker! This may just be a Pennsylvania Dutch thing but locally it is common for people to put macaroni noodles in their salt shaker. The purpose is for the noodles to absorb any moisture and keep the salt from sticking together.
Placing rice in your salt shaker is a good option for gluten-free folks. I find using rice works just as well to absorb humidity, keeping your salt from turning into a solid.
12. Wash Off the Salt and Pepper Shakers (Just to be Nice)
When you eat and use your salt and pepper shakers, they tend to get coated with whatever foods you are sampling. To be extra safe, wipe off any residue on salt and pepper shakers and any other condiment bottles you are using. That way your gluten-free guest is less likely to get accidentally gluten-ed.
13. No Stuffing the Turkey
This should be obvious if you are trying to cook a gluten-free meal but many people don’t think about it. I don’t know how many times we have been at holiday meals where someone suggests that turkey is gluten-free. Well yes it is, but not if it was cooked with regular bread stuffed inside. Billy is prepared with his own food when we attend holidays, but it always makes people sad when they suggest the turkey and he tells them it’s not gluten-free.
We stuff our turkey with onions, carrots, and celery and put our regular stuffing in the oven after the turkey is done baking. Billy doesn’t like homemade stuffing made with gluten-free bread but we do enjoy the gluten-free box of pan stuffing.
If you do bake gluten-free and regular items together in the oven, you have to be careful because of splatter. Items baked together can be covered in foil to reduce contamination.
14. Mashed and Sweet Potatoes
There is no gluten in potatoes! As long as your butter, milk, and seasonings are gluten-free (which they often are) your mashed potatoes are safe.
Sweet potatoes are gluten-free too but canned sweet potatoes may or may not be. Corn syrup is typically gluten-free but watch out for things like caramel coloring which can contain gluten.
15. Gluten-Free Gravy
Gravy made with wheat flour is obviously not gluten-free. It’s up to you and your guest as to whether the cornstarch needs to say gluten-free.
If you aren’t into making the gravy from scratch many grocery stores carry gluten-free gravy packets. They are easy to use and taste similar to regular gravy packets. I have also heard about using amaranth to make gravy but I haven’t tried this method.
16. Many Canned Soups Have Wheat
You may not think this applies to holidays but if you are into green bean casserole this can ruin your day. You can find gluten-free mushroom soup but we haven’t found a brand that tastes as good as Campbell’s. Sadly I don’t think Campbell’s makes anything gluten-free, we certainly haven’t found it at our grocery stores.
Progresso makes a gluten-free mushroom soup but my family isn’t a huge fan of it. We do use the gluten-free french-fried onions for baked chicken and as a topping for salad.
We just skip making green bean casserole at home. Not enough family members like it enough to make it worth cooking. There is so much other good food that day there is no need to worry about it. I can just eat regular green bean casserole when we go to the big family Thanksgiving.
17. Cup for Cup Flour for Grandma’s Cookies
Gluten-free cup for cup flour, is a blended flour created to function similar to wheat flour. This works really well for homemade goodies, like cakes and cookies. C4C flour is a bit pricey but it works well for recipes that call for wheat flour, like homemade gravy. This means that you can make grandma’s homemade cookies gluten free.
The treats will be more expensive and might require slightly adjusted cooking times and baking temperatures to perfect textures. It’s totally worth it to share a gluten-free treat with your loved ones, and many will appreciate being able to eat old favorites again!
18. Pie Crust in the Freezer Section
When you are going through all of this trouble to make a wonderful gluten-free meal safe for a loved one, no one is going to judge you for not wanting to bake a homemade pie from scratch.
Just FYI if you want to buy a frozen gluten-free pie crust, get them early! If you are shopping for a gluten-free pie crust, or 2, on the week of Thanksgiving or Christmas, good luck. If you really want an easy gluten-free pie crust without making it from scratch, please consider buying it before the week of the holiday. Learn from my mistakes!!
19. Regular Cornbread and Potato Bread are Not Gluten-Free
Regular cornbread and potato bread also have wheat as an ingredient. I just wanted to mention it because the names are misleading and it is a common mistake. We buy special gluten-free cornbread mix to bake at home.
We have been asked often whether Billy can eat potato bread, and he can’t because it is not gluten-free. Sadly we have not found a gluten-free potato bread option. If you know of one, please don’t keep it to yourself!
20. Watch for Falling Crumbs
Be aware, when serving and eating food, of the crumbs that could fall on top of the gluten-free dishes. Certainly it is better to keep gluten-free foods away from the other foods but that is not always convenient or possible. It’s nice if everyone is aware and keeps contamination in mind.
Don’t be shy to tell if you think you may have contaminated a food item. Most people with a food reaction will appreciate you telling them because they would rather be safe then sorry!
21. Touching Bread with a Serving Utensil
When you serve yourself meat or cheese for sandwiches make sure you do not touch your bread with the utensil. If you put the contaminated utensil back into the dish it could contaminate the remaining food.
We have literally watched someone contaminate the one safe food item we brought to an event. It’s not fun to attend a party and not be able to eat anything. He has gotten used to it but it can be depressing and feel isolating. From this experience we have learned to always bring him his own container of the dish we make to share.
The people close to him know to watch out for contamination, but not everyone has had experience with food intolerance. Mistakes are easy to make. People, and kids especially, may not know how the simple act of touching the utensil to the bread could negatively affect others. We find it best for him to always have his own container of food. That way there is always something safe for him to eat.
22. Meat and Cheese Platters
Meat and cheese platters are generally gluten-free, unless there are un-packaged crackers on the same platter. You can ask if your gluten-free guest feels comfortable eating a meat and cheese platter that came with the regular crackers in a sealed package. At our house we mostly buy the platters without crackers, and we purchase our own crackers if we are in the mood for them.
23. Cranberry Sauce – Safer Than Most
I have never found a cranberry sauce or relish that has had a gluten-ingredient. I would double-check ingredients just in case, but I believe most cranberry sauces are probably safe.
24. Supplement with Gluten-Dissolving Enzyme
We have found a gluten-dissolving supplement available at our local nutrition store. I certainly wouldn’t take it and try to eat a bread roll, but we have noticed it makes a difference when Billy is eating out.
If he eats items from a shared fryer (a fryer that is cooking wheat items too) a gluten-enzyme supplement can make a big difference. Sometimes it helps so much he won’t get negative symptoms. It’s kind of pricey but worth the money (as long as you remember to bring the bottle along to dinner).
25. Eat 1st
This does not work for Billy as he rarely eats earlier in the day. He generally doesn’t eat much until dinner and then he has a 2nd dinner after that!
For everyone else needing to eat gluten-free I suggest they fill their plate before the other family members serve themselves. This reduces a lot of cross-contamination that can take place. I believe this would make a cleaner meal for the gluten-free family member and reduce the odds of them getting sick.
26. Cook A Holiday Meal Before the Holiday Event
So we have learned this the hard way. If we do not cook a Thanksgiving turkey before we go out to his uncles Thanksgiving celebration Billy gets sick.
Why? Because he always has to eat some turkey! It’s something we only eat around the holidays and it’s hard to resist cravings. Even though he know it makes him sick he would still eat it and pay for it later. This makes him very sick sometimes, or he just feels like crap the rest of the holiday weekend.
We have solved this problem by cooking our own turkey before Thanksgiving every year. Sometimes we cook a lot of sides with our turkey and sometimes we just keep it simple, but cooking the turkey is non-negotiable.
We cook the turkey as close to Thanksgiving as we can manage in our ever changing schedule. This means that he can either take our gluten-free turkey with him to Thanksgiving, or he has had turkey so many days in a row he is happy just eating the gluten-free mac n cheese his mom makes him.
Please don’t be offended if your friend or loved-one does not feel comfortable eating at your house. Try to imagine if you felt like you caught the stomach flu every time you ate a meal out.
Your loved-one just wants to be safe and have a good time. Having some gluten-free chips and snacks, still in the package, can be a great option. That way they feel confident they aren’t going to feel sick after eating.
I hope this post sheds some light on the complicated processes people with gluten-intolerances have to live by. It’s a lot of work to stay healthy but it’s worth it!
The process takes a while to learn. If you are just beginning, start small and don’t overwhelm yourself. Believe me, your loved-one will be so happy to have any food options available to them. It is so hard to find good gluten-free food “ready to eat” out in the world.
Many people with gluten allergies are used to cooking most meals from scratch. It’s such a joy for them to be able to eat without having to put in that much effort all the time!
Please let me know if you have any other tips for avoiding gluten during the holidays.
Did I mention most of the foods your family enjoys during holidays?
Have a question? Leave it in the comments and I will do my best to answer.
Let me know how your holiday meal went and if you learned anything new.
I do hope you find joy in being able to provide your loved-one with some holiday treats this season. Holidays are a wonderful excuse to be thankful for family and enjoy them for all their crazy quirks.
Best wishes for your holiday season from my family to yours! We hope you have a happy and safe season with only the good kind of crazy.
P.S. I added an easy meal option and a little info on adult drinks at the bottom of the page😊
Simple Gluten-Free Meal
Buy gluten-free labeled meatballs from the freezer section. We like the brand Cooked Perfect
Purchase a gluten-free tomato sauce
We add garlic & Italian seasoning to our sauce. Watch our for seasonings that may contain “traces of wheat”
You can purchase gluten-free rolls and cheese for meatball subs or..
Purchase gluten-free noodles, and GF garlic bread and…
Salad for a more traditional family meal.
Easy-Peasy and ready in a snap!
A Few Adult Beverage Options
Potato Vodka for the Win! Most juice I have seen is gluten-free so cranberry and/or orange juice would be a nice choice. Dirty martinis without vermouth are a good option too.
Wine is also fairly safe. We hadn’t noticed any reactions from wines we have chosen. If you feel unsure you can always google search and see what other people have to say about specific brands.
**So I love taking my own photos, but my time is very limited this season. For this reason I decided to use these beautiful photos I found at http://www.pixabay.com!