A Gluten Free Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving

This should really be called A Gluten Free Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving in a Greek and Italian family but that’s too long and there are plenty of tips here for non-Greek and non-Italian people as well. I was lucky enough to be living on my own when I was diagnosed with Celiac disease so I didn’t have to teach my family as much as I would have if I were still mooching off the mom and dad. Unfortunately, this make holidays very tough because my family in almost nine years has only recently become properly educated and it’s a constant struggle. (My dad tried to cook for me in a cast iron pan he just fried food with flour in just a few weeks ago and thought it would be OK.) To make matters worse, about four years ago I began dating an amazing man with an Italian family who’s concept of my gluten free lifestyle ranges from “I understand medically she must follow this diet” to “I think she’s just being a wacky pain in the a** and has some weird eating disorder.”

I decided to give my tips on Thanksgiving dinner in a range of situations out to everyone because recently someone commented that living gluten free must be so difficult and I had to say, “it doesn’t really bother me as long as no one makes me feel like a freak about it.” Feeling like a freak is my real pet peeve about not being able to eat gluten, not having to give up pasta or lasagna or pizza that isn’t gluten free.


Your family decides to eat out and you panic! Don’t worry, a few easy steps can make your Thanksgiving go smoothly.

1. Plan ahead and pick a restaurant that you can eat at. Call ahead and make reservations and speak to the manager and even the cook to make sure they are prepared for your special dietary needs. Most restaurants will be more than happy to accommodate your special food needs.

Always: make a reservation, call ahead, speak to manager and chef/cook
Do NOT: just show up, make over the top demands, expect a restaurant to bend over backwards for you on Thanksgiving with no preparation or without planning ahead

2. You family picks a restaurant that does not easily cater to gluten free e.g. Chinese or Italian. Chinese is more difficult than Italian but a little preparation can go a long way.

-Call the restaurant ahead of time and see if you can bring in your own food. For instance, if its Italian, ask if you can bring in gluten free pasta and have it prepared safely at the restaurant. If they are unsure about preparing your food safely, ask to bring in your own pasta dish in a Tupperware and have it heated and served with the rest of the family at dinner. Most restaurants are more than happy to accommodate if you ask ahead of time. If its Chinese, ask if you can bring in your own gluten free noodles to go with your food. Ask if your food can be prepared safely without soy sauce. My Chinese restaurant calls it “white sauce” where they use chicken broth instead of soy sauce and even leave out the corn starch for me.

-Call the restaurants and explain you have severe food allergies and you are having Thanksgiving at the restaurant. Explain you would like to bring your own food and have it served with the family.

-Worst case scenario, the restaurant will not let you bring your own food in and you cannot eat anything there. PREGAME! Eat at home and socialize with the family during dinner as if nothing is wrong. Order something small and cheap like a veggie plate you may or may not be THAT into but it goes a long way to play along with eating in the restaurant.


This is almost scarier than a restaurant. Nothing is worse than trusting your family not to make you sick. Most of the time, people in the food industry are trained how to treat food and handle food for people with allergies. Family members are not so educated or savvy.

1. In the most ideal instance, you can cook the entire dinner at home and control freak the whole experience and make everything gluten free. More than likely, however, the non-gluten free members of your family will not enjoy the gluten free food. Your best bet is to make gluten free food and regular food to make everyone happy but its tough to cook that much food. I have, in the past, made everything and killed myself in the process. Recently, I decided to make some gluten free side dishes and cater the non-gluten free food such as the turkey and stuffing. This has been the most successful method so far to have dinner at my house.

2. In many situations, a member of your family is having Thanksgiving at their house and they are doing the cooking. There are many ways to make this just as successful. First and foremost, sit down and have a talk with this family member about what your allergy is and why you cannot eat it if they don’t already know. Let them know what major ingredients in Thanksgiving dinner or any holiday meal you cannot have and also let them know some of the minor ingredients that can hide wheat in it like pre-made gravies or sauces. Also, offer to come over and help cook the dinner with them. This will allow you to keep an eye on the situation if you think there might be some room for error. Turkey is usually safe if you don’t bake it with the stuffing in it but that can be a Thanksgiving tradition. In this situtation, buy a turkey breast and cook it in a separate dish at the same time as baking the turkey. This is an ideal way to not make any impositions. You can also make 1 or 2 sides ahead of time and bring them with you guaranteeing that you will be able to eat something other than just turkey.

3. In the worst possible scenario, you have a family that you cannot work with and cannot help and will not in any way be able to feed you gluten free. The night before, make a small dinner in small containers which contain similar food to Thanksgiving food but gluten free versions such as: turkey, sweet potato, veggies, etc. Heat them up just before dinner is being served and make yourself a plate and take it out to the table as food is being served.

Tips to make at home dinners as successful and as comfortable as possible: bring at least 1 desert that is gluten free, make at least 1 gluten free side dish so that you can enjoy something other than meat, salads are a great gluten free way to share food with family (croutons on the side please!), mashed potatoes (who doesn’t love them!)

I hope these have given you some tips to make your Thanksgiving a successful one. Please post your own tips to making Gluten Free Thanksgiving successful in a glutenous world. And don’t forget, PLAN AHEAD.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. weathervanes
    Nov 19, 2011 @ 09:57:26

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