Thanksgiving dinner is undoubtedly a favorite eating holiday. The intricate menu planning, breaking bread with family, and teaching the children to bake up homemade favorites are cherished traditions, all surrounding just one meal. What will your Thanksgiving celebrating be like this year? For many, the table will be surrounded by gluten-free eaters and gluten-eaters alike. This shared feast may be one that you look forward to or one where you worry about the safety of your food. But gluten-free’ers rejoice; Thanksgiving is a celebratory meal where gluten really doesn’t need to play a central role.
Here’s why: If you need to eat gluten-free, almost everything on the traditional Thanksgiving table can easily be made gluten-free. The preparation and cooking are best when done as a group project, unhurried and filled with spirited conversation. This is a great time to bond with relatives and friends who aren’t always seen or may have traveled for the occasion. This is a perfect opportunity to teach your family and friends a thing or two (or 20) about gluten-free living.
For many, the thought of a shared gluten/gluten-free table is troublesome. Family and friends need to understand that the apprehension is not a rejection of including some gluten-containing foods in the meal, but rather a genuine concern about potential cross-contamination. No matter how hard you work to keep your gluten-free food safe, kitchens are a busy place on Thanksgiving. Spoons will be double dipped. Foil will re-wrap the wrong pan. Someone is bound to sneak a taste with a contaminated fork. And making two versions of everything is not only double the work, but it is a recipe for confusion and errors. A Thanksgiving feast sans gluten may be a worthy tradition to start. And if a gluten-containing dish is a tradition that guests really want to have at the celebration, ask your guests to prepare them in their own kitchen and bring them along, label it carefully, and keep it separated from the gluten-free fare.
Not sure where to start for a Thanksgiving Sans Gluten Feast? Here are some pointers:
- Buy a fresh turkey if you can and be cautious with packaged or frozen turkeys as many are injected with broth to make it juicy – unless it is labeled gluten-free, assume it is NOT.
- Make your own gravy with homemade stock, (or if you choose to buy one, select a package that is clearly labeled gluten-free) added slowly to a roux made from equal parts butter and corn starch and/or gluten-free flour. Note that traditional gravy is thickened with flour, which doesn’t affect the flavor at all. Replacing this ingredient with gluten-free flour or cornstarch is just as effective.
- Give veggies a starring role. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, green beans, Brussels sprouts are all naturally gluten-free and easy to prepare. A simple vegetable dish can be a great foil to the rich components of the meal and full of flavor, nutrition and everything good. If you can, go farm fresh with your side dishes, or be sure to read the labels on any cans, boxes or frozen packages to ensure they are safely gluten-free.
- Stuffings and dressings go gluten-free beautifully. Think about it – regular stuffings and dressings are made with dried out bread cubes. The soft, elastic qualities that characterize glutenous bread are not necessary. Gluten-free bread never had such a perfect purpose! Simply cube up some gluten-free bread and let it dry out a bit, either overnight or in a 200 degree oven and VOILA! perfect stuffing stuff. The great flavors in stuffing come from “add ins” like sautéed onions & celery, bacon or sausages, or a touch of sweetness like dried cherries!
- Delectable desserts. Please the crowd with homemade gluten-free deliciousness. This may take some effort but is totally possible with advances in gluten-free baking. There are even Certified GF pie crust mixes that are easy to make and could likely leave the gluten-lovers at your table forgetting that the apple pie is gluten-free. Experiment with holiday baking in the weeks leading up to the feast, as you may find that a pumpkin chocolate chip loaf or cherry cheesecake is the perfect accompaniment to your Thanksgiving table.
- Have favorite holiday dishes from your gluten-full days? It’s a question only you can answer, but if Thanksgiving to you just won’t be the same without this favorite item, then it’s worth the time and effort to modify it to be gluten-free! Start the process well before the holiday rush, so you’re not adding to any holiday stress. Having an old favorite at the table may help keep away any tinges of regret about missing out on Aunt Susie’s homemade (gluten-full) pie crust.
- Plan Ahead.
a. Plan the menu plenty in advance and make sure you’ve got all the needed ingredients on hand.
b. It’s usually a big meal, both in terms of people and in terms of items on the table! there’s just no disputing this fact. This means more prep work, and just more to do in the kitchen. To be able to enjoy the day to the max and not be overly stressed, do as much prep work and cooking ahead of time as you can. Cranberry sauces can be made days in advance. Pies and other desserts can be done a day or two ahead. Vegetables can be prepped, and bread can be cubed ahead of time too.
All this advice works well if you are the Thanksgiving dinner host, but what if you are an invited guest and already feeling stressed? Call your host today, tell them about your dietary needs and ask to be involved in the planning and the prep work. This conversation may feel uncomfortable, but it certainly is better than not communicating ahead. Most Thanksgiving dinner hosts spend a considerable amount of time planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking in order to give their guests a remarkable meal. Most dinner hosts would not want their guest to become sick after dining. To get your prep day off to a great gluten-free start, show up at your host’s with these fabulous pumpkin French toast cups (www.glutenfreeandmore.com/recipes/pumpkin-french-toast-cups-maple-braised-apples-3207-1.html). They’ll find out for themselves right off the bat how delicious gluten-free can be!
So don’t stress this Thanksgiving! Make this sans gluten feast a great one, get involved, make memories, enjoy a delicious holiday meal and give thanks because being gluten-free on Thanksgiving is actually very manageable.