I remember very vividly the terror, the sadness and the grief of facing my first Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner…gluten-free. For me it wasn’t just the gluten. I had done a full elimination diet and come to learn in the process that I’m sensitive to gluten, dairy (specifically cow’s milk), soy, sugar (and carbs in general), eggs, flaxseed and canola oil, just to name a few. I think this just about knocks everything off my holiday buffet table. Holiday dinners and other social events can be very challenging for someone with food sensitivities. For centuries so many of our celebrations have centered around food. If you’ve seen Dances with Wolves (starring Kevin Costner), you may very well remember the exciting celebration after the buffalo kill. Yah…we get to eat! Maybe genetically this energy still resides within us, even though food in our nation is not nearly that hard to come by any longer. Whenever I travel by plane, I tell myself that I really don’t need a snack during the trip but I know every time, when everyone around me is enjoying those nasty honey roasted peanuts (which can contain wheat starch by the way), something in me cries, “I want some too!” I am hungry? No. Do I need those nasty nuts? No. Do I know they are horrible for my body? Yes. So why do I still want them? I have no clue but to get around this personal dilemma, I carry a Go Picnic snack box with me so I have something to appease this very primal response in my body and mind.
So, how does one get through the holidays enjoying themselves while still maintaining their new lifestyle and more importantly, their health? The first thing that I did was to examine what on the buffet means the most to me. What is it that I just can’t live without? The key dishes for me are sweet potato casserole (we top ours with a flour, sugar and pecan topping), stuffing, soft yeasty rolls and cranberries. I am not a big turkey fan but I am a protein person so turkey is a given (although I have toyed with the idea of just making a roast chicken). My next step was to try and recreate these dishes in such a way that I could enjoy the flavors and feel content without destroying my health in the process.
The first rule of thumb I used is my number rule for all my meals…vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables. I work veggies into all of my meals including breakfast (which is very often spinach or kale in my protein shake). I recommend to my clients that over half the food on their plate be vegetables and preferably the green variety (see Kim’s Plate below). Holidays are no exception. It’s amazing how much better I feel (especially energy wise) when I get adequate vegetables in my diet.
While planning my holiday meal, I thought about which vegetables are most nutritious for us such as greens and other cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts. I then began to get creative with the unique flavors of the holidays such as cranberries, pomegranate, butternut squash and pecans. Behold the dishes I prepared especially for my first “clean eating holiday:”
Now to tackle the casserole and stuffing. The sweet potato casserole was easy. My taste buds have accumulated to a lower sugar diet so I was content to enjoy just a baked sweet potato with some toasted pecans sprinkled over the top. You could even whip the baked sweet potato with some coconut oil if you wanted the creamy feel that a casserole provides. The stuffing however provided a greater challenge than the casserole. Being that I have been “gluten-free” for seven years, there were no GF stuffing mixes on the market then. There were barely any good GF breads so stuffing seemed like a pipe dream to me. I decided to make a quinoa dish with similar stuffing flavors in it such as onions and sage and then I called it day. It wasn’t until years later that I converted my family stuffing recipe to GF as I began to realize that my entire family exhibited signs of gluten sensitivity. I have now forced my diet choices on my family while they eat under my roof. What they do outside of my home, unfortunately, is out of my control. Gluten is no longer allowed in my house and especially at my dinner table.
I am happy to report that the first couple years that I made the choice to eat healthy on Thanksgiving and Christmas, I felt amazing. I was the only one in the house who had energy after eating our great feast. I had thoroughly enjoyed all the flavors on my plate and had a ton of energy while everyone else laid around groaning that they had eaten too much. As I too had been in this position just one year earlier, it was a real eye opening experience for me. I felt proud of myself about the new dietary decisions I was making and felt totally satisfied. Mission completed!
Today is a totally different story. There are so many GF product options on the market now. Last year there were about 2-3 national brands of stuffing. Glutino was the most common I had observed. We tried it and it was good. This year, I see too more national brands and I also notice many local bakeries are offering stuffing mixes as well. While it is great to have these options available, I urge you to use them with caution. Even though I did try the Glutino stuffing last year, I only ate about two tablespoons of it. My body still does not like carbs. For me, the quinoa “mock stuffing” I made in years past is still a better choice for my body.
Below I am presenting you with some products and recipes that can help make your holiday celebrations a little easier to enjoy. I still urge you, however, to include some new healthy vegetable options in your holiday menu. Your body will thank you with abundant energy and radiating health. After the products, I have also included some tips on dealing with family and other people who are curious (and sometimes challenging) about your new diet choices. I hope all of this info will help you sink into the holiday and have the best one ever.
Yours in good health,
At first the answer to this question seems obvious…how could there be? But where there are processed foods, gluten (and soy) often reside. So, unless you’re buying your turkey fresh from a farm, there is a chance it could have gluten in it. Here are two great articles on how to avoid gluten in your turkey.
What common holiday dishes typically contain gluten?
Stuffing and casseroles – The famous “green bean casserole” has two potential culprits…cream of mushroom soup (Campbell’s brand has wheat starch – see below) and then the French fried onions used to top the casserole contain wheat (see photo below). See alternative products and recipes below.
WATER, MUSHROOMS, VEGETABLE OIL (CORN, COTTONSEED, CANOLA, AND/OR SOYBEAN), MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, WHEAT FLOUR, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF: SALT, MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE, SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, DEHYDRATED CREAM (CREAM [MILK], SOY LECITHIN), YEAST EXTRACT, FLAVORING, DEHYDRATED GARLIC.
A good replacement brand is Pacific Foods. It does contain dairy though.
The “French Fried Onions”
Here are some recipes for GF “French fried onions” that you can prepare at home:
Recipe Three – Gluten-Free French onions for green bean casserole (made with sweet onion Kettle potato chips)
If you’d like to make the casserole gluten and dairy free from scratch, here is a recipe. Be advised that I have not tried it. Living Without
Sweet Potato Casserole
There are several ways to prepare a sweet potato casserole. The two I am most familiar with is the classic marshmallow topping and the pecan topping. While marshmallows may be gluten-free (please check the label…note, I’ve never seen a bag that is GF certified), there are many other reasons not to eat marshmallows on your beautiful, highly nutritious sweet potato. I’ve included a little health quiz below. I hope it will change your mind about using marshmallows to top your sweet potato casserole.
While there are no gluten ingredients in this product above, can you spot any other ingredients that one with digestive issues might want to avoid?
If you answered the following, you get an A+ :
Corn Syrup and Modified corn starch (both a GMO), Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (even spell check couldn’t figure that one out…I don’t eat anything I can pronounce or have to “google” to figure out what it is), Artificial Flavor (could they be anymore vague? Many companies hide yucky ingredients under this label…”natural” is not currently regulated) and Blue 1 (otherwise known as blue color dye…in white marshmallows…come on, really?)
If you just HAVE to top your casserole with marshmallows, below is a better choice (please note that they do contain seafood…but do taste very good).
For me, as I mentioned above, I prefer now to just have a baked sweet potato topped with some toasted pecans. You can even “candy” the pecans. Here’s a link to a recipe: Candied Pecans
If I am having company that expects a true sweet potato casserole, below is the recipe I will use. It is a family recipe that I have converted to gluten and dairy-free. It has more sugar than my plain baked sweet potato but it keeps the family happy.
As I mentioned earlier, stuffing is one of the star dishes on my holiday table. I tried for several years to go without it and finally I caved and attempted my first gluten-free stuffing. This was before there were boxed versions on the market. My first few times were a flop but finally, I got it right. I converted my family recipe which included southern style cornbread (non-sweet), one of the key elements in this recipe. So to get the stuffing right, I first had to master the southern style cornbread which I have finally done much to the delight of my two older southern raised children. I’ve featured the recipe below. My first pick for stuffing is my own recipe. If I can’t muster the energy to make my own recipe, my standby would be Glutino brand. I’ve reviewed some of current brands on the market below. Please note, Glutino brand was voted number one by my local gluten-free support group.
Boxed Stuffing Options
Others I’ve tried….
Others I have NOT TRIED…
Whole Foods Market Gluten-Free Bakehouse
Gravy, Broths and Bouillons
Unfortunately, these particular foods can be a gluten landmine but there are many good options. For broths, I use Imagine and Pacific Foods brands. Many of these products (broths, soups, pumpkin puree and cranberry sauce) say “gluten-free” but do not have a third party certification. I contacted them about this and here is their response:
Pacific Foods Brand
“Thank you for taking the time to reach out to us. All Pacific Foods gluten-free products are produced using ingredients which are naturally gluten-free. As part of our overall food safety and quality program, we have gluten validation procedures in place to prevent cross contamination between gluten free products and products containing gluten. Our facility operates under a HACCP program and has obtained SQF level 3 certification. Our suppliers are required to submit gluten free statements and the allergen control program of their facility. Products containing gluten will be scheduled at the end of the day. If it is not possible to run the gluten containing products at the end of the day, a thorough cleaning of equipment is required to ensure there is no gluten residue left. In addition, we conduct gluten tests on our finished products if they are produced after products containing gluten. We also randomly test our finished products to ensure that they are in compliance with gluten free FDA guidelines. At Pacific Natural Foods we believe nature, pure and simple, just tastes better. Since 1987, we’ve been striving to deliver the delicious tastes out of what nature has already provided,keeping recipes simple and capturing the full flavor of ingredients when flavors are at their peak. Back then we started out making soymilk, and now we have a full line of natural and organic products ranging from soups and broths to non-dairy beverages and pot pies! It is the feedback that we receive from our customers that makes our work here so satisfying and we truly appreciate it.”
Imagine brand’s response:
“Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding our Imagine® Soups.
Consumer health and safety is our number one concern. We do not have lists of products that are specifically considered to be gluten free. Reading the label is the best way to check for the presence of ingredients which contain gluten. If gluten is a major ingredient, it will be specified in the ingredient list. For consumers concerned about the presence of trace amounts of gluten, we suggest avoiding products that include natural flavors or spices.
Hain Celestial Group products that make a gluten-free claim will carry the triangular Gluten-Free symbol, be labeled gluten-free, or specify Gluten Free certification by GFCO. To learn more about the wide variety of gluten free foods we offer please visit www.glutenfreechoices.com. We hope you find the information, recipes and articles to be a useful resource.
The Hain Celestial Group’s labeling declares major allergens (peanuts, soybeans, milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, tree nuts, and wheat) and we follow the U.S. FDA’s regulations. We recognize the serious nature of the allergen issue and we strive to minimize risk.
Both major and minor ingredients of all products, as well as all processing procedures and equipment, are closely scrutinized and all potential allergen issues as determined by the Hain Celestial Group are declared on our labeling.
We assure you that strict manufacturing processes and procedures are in place and that all of our manufacturing facilities follow rigid allergen control programs that include staff training, segregation of allergen ingredients, production scheduling, and thorough cleaning and sanitation.
Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused. If we can be of further assistance, please feel free to contact us at 1-800-434-4246, Monday through Friday from 9AM – 7PM Eastern Time.”
I have used these two brands below for years with no issues.
For a bouillon, I prefer Savory. I follow several celiac chat boards, and this brand is often recommended.
Another brand on the market…
Above is another brand, Orrington Farms. I have NOT tried it yet. It is marked “gluten-free” but again, does not have a third party certification.
For gravy, I prefer to make my own. I follow a recipe by America’s Test Kitchen, Giblet Pan Gravy for a Crowd. It is fool proof and turns out perfect every time. I was very easy to convert it to gluten-free. It is a little time consuming (although you can do it in increments which makes it seem a little less labor intensive). If you are not up to making your own gravy, there are several options on the market.
We used this brand above for two years and like it. I keep it as a back up in case I run out of my homemade gravy which often happens. This year, we tried a box of it and it had a weird taste to it. I’m not sure what happened. Below are a couple brands of GF gravy mixes.
Is there gluten in cranberry sauce? No…it is naturally gluten-free. Do you need to worry about cross contamination… yes. While the current cranberry sauces on the market say, “naturally gluten-free,” there is currently no gluten-free regulation or testing standard in place. There will be by August of 2014. So for now, I would choose a company you trust. My first pick would be Pacific Foods. It is also organic. Another option would be to make your own cranberry sauce. I just follow the instructions on the cranberry bag. You can also replace the processed sugar with coconut palm sugar for a low glycemic version.
Like cranberry sauce, pumpkin puree is naturally gluten-free. Do you need to worry about cross contamination, YES. Most processed food goes through a production line. For companies that don’t worry about gluten contamination, there is always a concern for cross contamination. There are two ways to get around this. One you can make your own. The second option is to buy a brand such as Pacific Foods. See photo below. I have done this in the past and it’s not really that difficult. Chef Amy Fothergill has a recipe for homemade gluten and dairy-free pumpkin pie in her new cookbook, The Warm Kitchen. Click here to see instructions for preparing your own pumpkin puree.
For the crust there are many options. If you prefer to make your own, I suggest either Cybele Pascal’s recipe for pie crust in her book The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook. Or again, Chef Amy Fothergill also has a gluten and dairy-free pie crust recipe in her new book, The Warm Kitchen.
If you prefer to buy your pie crust pre-made, Wholly Wholesome offers a vegan, soy and gluten-free frozen crust. These are available at Whole Foods Market, Sprout’s Farmers’ Market and, I think, Draeger’s Market (a market local to me in northern California).
You can also use the French Picnic pastry shells although they do contain butter.
If you’d like to do a mix, I have heard that Breads from Anna has the best. There are many new brands on the market though and I have included them below. Be aware that some of them include dairy and/or egg.
I really like this allergy-friendly pie crust by Cybele Pascal. Her book The Allergen Free Baker’s Handbook is my favorite baking book. It’s perfect for us since we are gluten, dairy, soy and egg-free. The publisher has given me permission to reprint the recipes. Thanks, Cybele and Ten Speed Press/Celestial Arts.
Check out Cybele’s Baking Handbook:
Reprinted with permission from The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook: How to Bake Without Gluten, Wheat, Dairy, Eggs, Soy, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, and Sesame by Cybele Pascal (Celestial Arts, © 2009).
Another dessert option besides pie is an apple crisp. I featured a recipe by my colleague, Kyra, in my recent review of her cookbook, Sweet Cravings. It’s the best apple crisp recipe I’ve tried. Gluten-Free Apple Crisp
The publisher has graciously allowed me to reprint the recipe for this post. You will see at the bottom.
Check out Kyra’s book at:
“Reprinted with permission from Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle by Kyra Bussanich (Ten Speed Press, © 2013). Photo Credit: Leela Cyd.”
Breads and Corn Bread
Soft dinner rolls have been the one thing I have not been able to directly replace. Some of the new gluten-free bread products are a lot better than seven years ago when I first went GF. While I opt not to eat grain based bread anymore, here are some pretty good options:
Schar ciabatta rolls…heat in the oven for just a few minutes to get maximum softness.
Unrefined Bakery Rolls (grain-free…made with almond flour). This is the best Paleo style bread that I’ve experienced. They have both rolls and loaves.
A local GF bread option (here in the bay area of San Francisco) is Bacano Bakery. They have the most amazing multi-grain bread. In my opinion, it tastes just like wheat bread. They now have multi-grain rolls. I have not tried them but I would bet they are amazing as well. Check them out: Bacano Bakery
Another option my family is always happy with is Yankee style cornbread muffins (the sweet style). Our favorite is Pamela’s Products but we just recently tried Fresh and Easy brand and my kids loved it. There are now many brands on the market. Another brand I have not yet tried but trust is Gluten 1-2-3. All of their products are top notch.
Tips on dealing with family
1) Call your host ahead of time to discuss the menu. Explain that you’ve had to change your diet for health reasons and can no longer consume (fill in the blank). Tell them that you are happy to make several side dishes to share. Be sure to make enough that you can fill up on, if needed.
2) Review with the host the info on “Is there gluten in turkey?” link. If he/she seems nervous about glutening you, assure him/her that you can bring a safe turkey breast if needed. You can either make it at home ahead of time or buy a pre-cooked gluten-free turkey breast. You can also bring a container of safe gravy.
3) Bring any favorite items such as GF dinner rolls or pie that you just can’t live without. Bring enough to share, if you want, so you don’t feel odd pulling out your own items. Be sure to label your items, “gluten-free” and possibly keep them in a designated area so no one contaminates the GF food with a shared serving forks or spoons.
4) You can always opt to host dinner at your house where you can keep everything safe. If your guests want to bring something, suggest desserts or wine. You can have your own safe GF dessert option on hand too.
5) How to handle well meaning, curious relatives…Well, this can be challenging. I have found that it is best to answer their questions briefly. Here is an example: “Kim, I notice you’re still following that fad gluten-free diet. How much longer do you predict the fad will last?” My response, “I’m continuing on the diet because I feel so much better. It works for me. Hey, how is your neighbor that…(fill in the blank)” The point is to redirect their attention away from your lifestyle choices. No matter how much you truly believe they would probably benefit from the diet (and they probably would since these sensitivities tend to be genetic), I doubt that you are going to convert them on Thanksgiving day. The best way to impress people is by example. Your radiating health may someday be what helps to convert them.
6) If you are newly diagnosed with celiac disease, or some other health issue where your doctor has told you that you can no longer consume gluten, feel free to be honest with your family. You can say something like, “You know, I am still grieving the fact that I’ve had to change my diet so radically. I’m about ready to cry looking at Aunt Mary’s casserole that we all love so much and now I can’t eat. I’m not ready to talk about this quite yet, but I promise you one day, I will.” I think this will get the point across that you’re just trying to cope at the moment. It’s okay too to lay low and stay home the first year as you adjust. Try to surround yourself with people you trust and know will support your new lifestyle.
7) Trust in the process. It will get easier every year that goes by. People will adjust to your requirements and you may be surprised at how people go out of their way to provide safe options for you. Most importantly, enjoy and know that you are making the right lifestyle choice for you.