Gluten-Free Holiday

An Easy Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

At Thanksgiving, food is priority one. Of all American holidays, Turkey Day seems to be most focused on the traditional meal. Although which foods are a favorite pastime vary from family to family—perhaps Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without Aunt Millie’s sweet potato pie—there are common staples that appear on almost everyone’s holiday menu.

However, for those on special diets or with food intolerances or allergies, not being able to enjoy these tasty traditions with family can be a source of frustration and disappointment.

Imagine you’ve just been diagnosed with celiac disease—how do you face a Thanksgiving dinner? Do you bring your own food, ask the host a million questions, or eat before you arrive? It’s safe to say that all hosts want everyone to enjoy the meal, and not having food for a guest with special dietary needs or accidentally making someone ill can ruin an otherwise perfect day. However, simple planning and basic understanding of gluten-free foods and drinks can make the Thanksgiving meal safe and enjoyable for everyone. The following are tips for ensuring those who must eat gluten-free have something to enjoy at every point in the meal.

Sodas, juices, and most distilled liquors and wines are gluten-free. Some beers and ciders are gluten-free; however, there’s been some controversy over gluten-free beers made with gluten-containing ingredients. If you want to be extra careful, buy only those made with gluten-free ingredients (see’s list of gluten-free beers). Finally, tea, coffee, and most after-dinner drinks are gluten-free.

Many appetizers can easily be made gluten-free. For example, hosts can offer shrimp cocktail*; cheese and gluten-free crackers (such as Mary’s Gone Crackers, Glutino, and Two Moms in the Raw Soul Sprout crackers; veggies with gluten-free dips (such as hummus, peanut butter, and guacamole); stuffed mushrooms and other items made with gluten-free breadcrumbs (such as Ian’s and Aleia’s); antipasto platters with meats and cheeses; and grilled veggies (watch marinades). Salads can be made minus croutons (check dressings carefully), and soups can be thickened with rice flour or corn and tapioca starch. Plain potato and corn chips and most nuts are gluten-free as well.

If nongluten-free crackers and breads are laid out by the dips with their gluten-free versions, gluten-containing breads and crackers may contaminate the dips with gluten. To prevent this from becoming a problem, keep some extra dip on the side for gluten-free guests.

* If buying precooked shrimp, determine what the fish were boiled in. Some restaurants use beer.

Ensure the turkey and any other broths are gluten-free. Thicken gravies and other sauces with rice flour, a gluten-free flour blend, or corn and tapioca starch. Gluten-free corn bread, Italian bread, or bagels can be used to make stuffing. Use gluten-free breadcrumbs on casseroles and other dishes. Many traditional Thanksgiving vegetable dishes such as sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, turnips, and squashes are naturally gluten-free. Another common side dish, cranberry sauce, is gluten-free as well.

If setting up a buffet with both gluten-containing and gluten-free foods, don’t place them next to each other and use separate serving spoons for everything. This helps to reduce the possibility of cross-contamination.

Gluten-free cookies, cupcakes, donuts, and mini frozen pies are available. Fruit, ices, and most ice creams and sorbets are gluten-free. There are many gluten-free sundae toppings, including whipped cream, and gluten-free ice cream cones (such as Edward & Sons Let’s Do … Gluten Free and Goldbaum’s) are available as well.

If serving pies such as pumpkin, pecan, or apple, bake some of the filling atop gluten-free cookies in a mini casserole dish so guests can have similar desserts. Take care in the fillings to use gluten-free flours.

Cheesecake, pudding, and gelatin desserts can be made gluten-free. There also are many dedicated gluten-free bakeries where hosts can pick up some special treats for the day. 

Be sure to label all gluten-free choices and let guests know about their availability. Placing labels next to gluten-free choices not only makes the eating easier but also alerts others to be careful about cross-contaminating.

Have a Happy Gluten-Free Thanksgiving!

— Marlisa Brown, MS, RD, CDE, CDN, is an award-winning dietitian, chef, and public speaker. She’s president of Total Wellness, a private nutrition consulting company specializing in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, gluten-free diets, culinary programs, corporate wellness, and medical nutrition therapies, in Bayshore, New York, and is author of Gluten-Free, Hassle-Free and Easy Gluten-Free. Marlisa blogs at and

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