Now that we’re in November the excitement is building for the most wonderful time of the year! For me, there is nothing wrong with starting to celebrate the holiday season before Thanksgiving as long as Thanksgiving still gets its due share of attention and celebration. That being said, Thanksgiving can be a source of stress for people with food restrictions, especially for those who are newly diagnosed. (Holidays centered around sharing a meal are hard- especially at first.) Thankfully, there are many of us who have walked this road for several years now so you’re not alone as you face this first (or second or third) Thanksgiving with food restrictions.
Whether you are reading this for yourself or you are preparing for a food-sensitive guest at your own dinner table this year, I wanted to get this post out now because it includes products which can be more difficult to find at the last minute. With 3 weeks to go until the big day, the time to shop/order is now.
Of course, the main event. Believe it or not, turkey is trickier than you think. Not all turkeys are gluten-free because they can be marinated in or infused with broth, or even just processed on a shared line. There is a helpful list here of a few national brands with gluten-free turkeys, but the best thing to do is read the label and/or contact the company yourself and check. (For example, Butterball doesn’t label their turkeys as gluten-free but the company representative reported that all frozen and fresh turkeys are gluten-free, with the exception of the frozen stuffed turkey- for obvious reasons.) Which brings me to my next point…
Stop and think before you stuff!
It sounds like common sense but obviously most popular stuffing brands/recipes are not gluten-free…because well, bread. So you as the host or as the guest need to make a decision. If you are going to prepare a turkey and stuffing that is gluten-free and allergen-friendly for everyone, then of course you have to use an allergen-safe stuffing (more on that below). My personal preference (and honestly what makes me feel safer as a guest) is to simply have a separate small gluten-free turkey breast that is cooked just for me (and whoever else may need it). Granted, another thing to keep in mind is oven space- not only room for the allergen-free turkey, but also assurance that it isn’t going to come in contact with something allergen-filled in the stove. (Yes, even when you use one of those turkey bags, you’re usually instructed to poke air vents so if air can get in, so can contaminants.) So again my personal recommendation would be one of the following:
- Roast the gluten-free turkey breast the day before and just warm it up before dinner
- OR (new idea this year!) prepare the turkey breast separately in an Instant Pot (again only if you have one that is allergen-safe)
Which bring us to…Stuffing!
This is my personal favorite item on the Thanksgiving table. Believe it or not, your days of stuffing are not over! With a little creativity, you can find a way to make a stuffing that is allergen-safe for you. My personal recommendation is hands-down Aleia’s Savory Stuffing. (NOTE: it does contain eggs, but for me eggs baked into things is OK but make sure you know what is safe for you and your guests.) Otherwise, it is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, and Kosher. I have been able to find it at my local Stop and Shop but you may need to order it so check out their website for a store locator near you and for ordering deadlines to guarantee arrival by Thanksgiving. Also, I have seen it on Amazon but I would just warn you to be careful when you order from there because there are older varieties I’ve seen that aren’t dairy-free so make sure it’s from a trusted seller.
What’s turkey without gravy?
I’ll be honest: I was never a huge gravy fan even in my gluten-filled days so this one wasn’t so hard for me to give up. However, a few weeks ago I attended the Greater Boston Gluten-Free Expo and met the lovely people from Full Flavor Foods, and let’s just say my life will never be the same. They handed me a sample of the gluten-free AND dairy-free turkey gravy and it was like all of a sudden a little piece of the world was right again. It brought back warm memories of childhood Thanksgivings at the kids’ table and touched my soul in the way that just the right unexpected food can. I have a packet stashed away for my Thanksgiving table, and if I were you, I would head to their website today to order one for yours!
Other Important Ingredients to Have On Hand
All of the items mentioned above are important, but so are the smaller ingredients that are necessary to complete the perfect allergen-friendly Thanksgiving meal.
- Earth Balance Butter: This is key for keeping those mashed potatoes dairy-free, soy-free, and delicious. It can sell out or just not be available in stores (especially for people like me who need the soy-free version) so plan to snag one ASAP.
- Chicken broth: Both the stuffing mix and my favorite mashed potato recipe require chicken broth. AND NO, NOT ALL CHICKEN BROTH IS SAFE!! I personally love Pacific Foods brand because I know it is safe, but it is expensive. I’ve also found success with the Trader Joe’s brand, Aldi’s brand, and College Inn brand BUT I cannot stress this enough: CHECK THE LABEL. Recipes and procedures change all the time and even brands which were once safe can change (and vice versa!). For example, the College Inn chicken broth in the box is gluten-free BUT the same thing in a can is not because it has hydrolyzed wheat gluten. I know, it’s enough to make my head hurt too.
- Pie crust!: If you’re lucky enough to have a gluten-free bakery near you, you might consider ordering a pie. Yes, they’re expensive but especially with the limited oven space and the cross-contamination concerns in the kitchen, it might be worth it. If you are planning to try making your own, I would recommend looking for either the King Arthur pie crust mix or my personal favorite (because it’s so easy), these pre-made pie crusts from Wholly Wholesome.
- Most of the other necessities (potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery and onion for the stuffing, green beans, etc.) can wait until the week of Thanksgiving when you make the big grocery store run for everything else.
OK now that I have given you the product rundown, I want to close with 2 important reminders.
First, I am not exaggerating when I say that planning early is important for preparing an allergen-safe holiday meal.
Even if you have a natural food store near you that carries a lot of these products, it is a BUSY time of year for these companies. This is the one time of year when a lot of people who don’t usually buy gluten-free/dairy-free items are stocking up for someone in their family.
Second, and honestly most important, whether you are preparing to be a guest at a Thanksgiving dinner or you are preparing this meal for someone with food restrictions, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE communicate first.
Levels of sensitivity vary. While one gluten-free guest may not be worried about shared cutting boards, sponges, or wooden spoons, the reality is that for many of us each of those things matter. If you feel more comfortable making your own food at home and bringing it with you, just say so. If you would rather be the one in the kitchen to oversee everything and show up with your own cooking utensils, say so. If you are the chef and you really just don’t feel comfortable doing this safely, say so. The last thing anyone wants is for Thanksgiving dinner to end in someone getting sick so just communicate with one another to see what is best for your particular gathering.
Now, let the countdown continue! Less than 3 weeks until the perfect (for you) gluten-free, dairy-free, whatever-else free Thanksgiving dinner.