Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Dairy-Free, Stress-Free Thanksgiving

Remember that glorious Thursday in November when you were a child and your family gathered together for a delicious feast? The smells wafting through the house the entire day, a bustling kitchen and most importantly, a day off from school. The meal being had at every house on Thanksgiving was similar, yet different. Some of the common mainstays were turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans (likely in a casserole), yams and that cranberry log that came out in the shape of the can it had been in. Everyone picked and chose which items deserved a coveted spot on their plate. I loved the stuffing, but didn’t care for the yams until I got older. My mom loved the mashed potatoes and gravy, but was too busy making everything perfect to enjoy much more. I think my dad ate everything. Back then, we didn’t know what “gluten” was. Nor “dairy sensitivity.” Nor “Tofurkey.” Food was prepared and served and everyone ate without much talk about the ingredients they were ingesting. Those were more simple times.  

Cut to today, where we are now the adults, having to orchestrate a meal for guests with about a thousand different preferences and dietary needs – and then throw in a picky toddler! It’s enough to make your head spin – or make you want to cave and order the complete meal from Whole Foods. With all of the food allergies, sensitivities and dietary preferences, it seems impossible to prepare a meal that everyone can eat. That’s because it is.

Sweet Little Boy Kisses His Baby Sister in a Rustic Ranch Setting at the Pumpkin Patch.

Let’s talk about the role of the hosts and/or cooks. If this is you, first thing is to abandon that pipe dream of everyone being able to eat everything. Let yourself off that hook, friend! The next move is to ask your guests what their specific dietary needs are. Once you know what you’re up against, you can come up with a plan that makes your offerings as inclusive as possible. Try to make easy changes that will go undetectable, such as making the stuffing meat-free or substituting vegetable broth in recipes so that your vegetarian cousin can partake. Leave toppings on the side so people can easily omit what they can’t eat. And if you feel like there is a big gap somewhere, let the person know, such as, “Aunt Sharon, I know you don’t eat gluten and although the mashed potatoes and gravy will be gluten free, I wasn’t able to find a stuffing you would rave about – do you mind bringing a gluten free stuffing you like?” People with dietary needs are usually more than happy (and many times prefer) bringing their own items because then they know for sure there will be something for them to eat.


If you are the guest, first of all, give thanks that someone has requested your presence somewhere and is willing to cook for you! Next, let your host know if you or anyone in your entourage has dietary needs or allergies and then offer to bring a dish or two. Some hosts are both flexible and creative and will do their best to make most things inclusive for you. Some are not, in which case you might want to BYOD (bring your own dinner) if you don’t want to starve on Thanksgiving. If you are someone who isn’t rigid about a certain ingredient and you try to steer clear of it as more of a preference, perhaps today can be one of the days that you break your own rules and eat what is offered to you. Perhaps not. It’s up to you. But, there is nothing more frustrating than having tracked down obscure ingredients and then slaved over an entirely gluten-free dish for someone who ends up saying, “Oh yeah, I’m not totally gluten-free. I’ll have a little here and there.”


These days, the key to a successful Thanksgiving meal amid food complexities is being both flexible and respectful, regardless of whether you’re the host or the guest. And when in doubt, BYOD.

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