a gluten free thanksgiving

November 21, 2011

The first holiday season I had to spend gluten free was a difficult time for me. As someone who has always looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, I knew my experience would be much different than it had in the past. On Thanksgiving in 2009, I had only been gluten free for a little over a month, and everything was very new to me. I was overwhelmed, uninformed, and had no idea how I could survive the holiday season without my favorite dishes.

I would be lying if I told you my first gluten free Thanksgiving wasn’t spent pouting and crying a little bit because I couldn’t eat anything that was served. While childish of me, I was still in a stage of “mourning” (for real.) of not being able to eat gluten, which made me stubborn and uninterested in solving my own stinkin’ problems.

I wish I had the knowledge I have now about a gluten free lifestyle back then — and I do have to tell you my holiday season last year was much easier than the previous year. I did, however, have to be proactive and realize that I was going to have to figure out a way for myself to eat instead of waiting for someone to volunteer to make a whole gluten free Thanksgiving just for me.

Wondering how to make your first gluten free Thanksgiving a success? Here are some thing that helped me out over the past few years.

Be willing to put in some extra work: While my aunt is usually in charge of all things Thanksgiving, I figured there was not time but the present to start helping her out in the kitchen each Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I put in the time helping her so I am able to eat some dishes at the dinner table on Turkey(less) Day. I also don’t want to be left without anything to eat at dessert, so I always plan to make a gluten free dessert (be on the lookout this week for one to bring to your celebration!) for my mom and I (and anyone else!) to share.

Make your old favorites gluten free: The worst part about that first gluten free Thanksgiving was watching everyone else eat all the things I loved to eat the most. There is something so comforting about eating the same meal at Thanksgiving every year — the foods I grew up eating bring back so many memories of laughs shared with family members around the dinner table. Instead of being upset, I now bring ingredients to my aunt’s the day before to make gluten free stuffing, gluten free/vegan gravy, vegan mashed potatoes, and gluten free/vegan broccoli “cheese” casserole. It might not be “the same”, but my meal options are pretty darn close to the real thing, and I savor every bite.

Introduce your family to new dishes: A lot of times families, including mine, eat the same dishes each year at holiday meals. However, if you’re willing to make something — try bringing a new dish that could become part of the tradition! I have made a few Thanksgiving worth dishes in the past few weeks that could work to bring to a family get together.

Autumn Salad with Chickpeas, Apples, and Golden Beets

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Maple Roasted Squash Rounds with Rosemary

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Maple Infused Butternut Squash and Apples

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Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash with Balsamic Maple Glaze

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Creamy Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dip

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Just Be Thankful:
When it comes down to it, Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks (obviously) for the wonderful family and friends you have and for the time you are able to spend with them. While the food is a huge part of the day (at least for my family!), it is second to the time and love you get to share together.  Focus on the laughter and the reminiscing as much as you can.

Question: How do you and your family make the holidays memorable? Do you look forward to a family favorite dish during the holidays?

{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

Lyn @ FueledBySalad November 21, 2011 at 6:07 am

I’ll be honest and admit that in this corner of the world, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Shocker!

But whenever it’s a special occasion for the family (like Chinese New Year!), my grandparents prepare loads of dishes and I particularly love the steamed pomfret, which is a kind of fish. My grandma makes it with ginger and shiitakes and tomatoes and it’s amazingly delicious.

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:49 am

That sounds delicious! I love ethnic foods!

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Khushboo November 21, 2011 at 6:10 am

I find that the biggest help is putting in the work yourself! For a long while, my friends/family weren’t going to go out of the way to healthify a recipe. As much as I am all for indulging, I don’t want to go overboard and realised that bringing a dish or 2 is the only way to do it- plus everyone enjoys it and glad someone made the effort to contribute!

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Savannah @ Sweet and Savvy November 21, 2011 at 6:44 am

This will be my first GF holiday season… and this post is amazingly helpful! Thank you so much. I have been pretty scared and bummed about not being able to eat gluten this Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:49 am

Just put in some work and you’ll be thankful you did! Good luck!

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lindsay November 21, 2011 at 6:46 am

yes yes yes! i am all about this. The hubs and I are the only ones that eat GF, but its so worth the effort. Love these tips Chels.

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:50 am

Thanks Lindsay! I hope you and your husband have a great Thanksgiving!

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Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga November 21, 2011 at 6:48 am

“I wish I had the knowledge I have now about a gluten free lifestyle back then”– YES! Although I am not strictly GF, for 5+ yrs, I was. No gluten period. Now, I am very mindful of how much I have, as in a few bites of a dessert with gluten, that’s it. I would not be sitting down to stuffing and dinner rolls and pasta salad at Thanksgiving either.

Realizing that plants are GF and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; just cook more plants and cook them simply was the biggest gift..something that helped see me thru those moments of ‘why me’ that I think anyone who has to make radical lifestyle/dietary adjustments goes through.

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:50 am

Realizing plants were GF was a big one for me as well!

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Katie @ Raisins&Apples November 21, 2011 at 6:53 am

This is my first GF Thanksgiving! It also happens to be the only time my
Mom enjoys cooking. This year, I just sent her a few recipes that are now becoming a part of our meal!

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:51 am

How nice that your mom is cooking a few things for you!

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char @ char on a mission November 21, 2011 at 7:20 am

I would have totally pouted, too, but you’ve obviously overcome that and created some amazing things! Now the pouting happens when these new dishes are gone…totally understandable ;)

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Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers November 21, 2011 at 7:34 am

Stuffing is one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving, but since I also love wild rice pilafs, like the one I made last night, I could fairly easily swap it out… but only if I **neeeeeded** to make a swap! GF living isn’t easy.

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:51 am

Oh I can’t live without stuffing. It is my favorite part too! That’s why I bring a loaf of GF bread to my aunt’s the day before and say “pretty please make me some”.

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Lauren @ What Lauren Likes November 21, 2011 at 7:35 am

Great tips! Love the recipes too :)

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Lindsay @ Lindsay's List November 21, 2011 at 7:38 am

Love that last one….focusing on being in the present and reminiscing. YES!

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kathleen @ the daily crumb November 21, 2011 at 7:47 am

really good tips! we have a gluten free and a vegetarian guest at thanksgiving this year and it has forced me to think outside the traditional menu box… which has been fun!

we make thanksgiving special with our signature dishes, a pre-dinner flag football game, post-dinner scattegories, and lots of wine!

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:52 am

We are scattergories players too!

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Julie H. of Spinach and Sprinkles November 21, 2011 at 8:34 am

During Thanksgiving I look forward to the family time- for some reason, nothing strikes my fancy (only because I eat sweet potatoes allllll year round, otherwise that would excite me!) ……Christmas- oh the special sugar cookies that my aunt makes. I’m already looking forward to those!
Being thankful is the best gift you can give yourself!

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:52 am

Yeah, but when your aunt makes sweet potatoes with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, it just makes everything right in the world. And yes, I’ll still eat them. :)

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nicole marie November 21, 2011 at 8:47 am

the holidays are just so peaceful. although i’m two months short of turning 30 years old, santa clause leaves his footprints at my parents’ house every year. :) christmas mornings are my favourite. and now, my sister has a baby, both of my sisters are married, and i have my adorable puggle. so it’s a mad house of fun, yummy breakfast, and holiday cheer. the innocence of christmas morning is definitely my favourite. and thanks for reposting the creamy pumpkin peanut butter dip. i know you’re secretly challenging me to follow through on my thanksgiving culinary commitment! i promise to try really hard! :) x

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:53 am

I love Christmas morning as well – last year was so weird with it being just the Husband and me, but I am coming to love our holiday mornings together.

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Heather @ For the Love of Kale November 21, 2011 at 9:23 am

“Just Be Thankful” – AMEN SISTER! You are so right. It shouldn’t be all about the food but we’re creatures of feasting. Haha. Regardless, I still look forward to spending time with my family the most. If they weren’t around, the food might still be there – but the great company wouldn’t!

I make a killer sweet potato tzimmes (a Jewish dish). Everyone gets so excited for it every year! <3

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Cara @ EAT. PRAY. RUN. November 21, 2011 at 10:50 am

I can only imagine how hard that would have been making the transition…I’m sure I would have sulked and been a brat about it for a while too. Good thing you have faced it and now have some delicous recipes to suffice. I sampled a scoop of gluten free stuffing at the local market yesterday and it was so tasty…couldn’t tell it was rice bread at all!

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:53 am

Stuffing is the BEST!

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Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles November 21, 2011 at 11:37 am

Great advice. I think all of this can apply to a vegan Thanksgiving with an omnivore family, and I’m planning on making a few vegan dishes for my sister and I to eat (and share). Enjoy your short week!

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Anna @ The Guiltless Life November 21, 2011 at 11:57 am

Ever since going vegetarian our holiday meals have been less traditional – no turkey, no gravy. We instead try to make a unique, complex main dish that we wouldn’t regularly make and then we add in mashed potatoes and some of that good stuff, which is all thankfully gluten-free. I was never really much of a stuffing girl, so I don’t have to worry about that too much!

I’m also not sensitive to gluten, so it’s not as big of an issue for me if I go to someone’s house to make sure that there isn’t any gluten in anything, but I do try to avoid it, so it’s definitely good to have these tips if I get in a situation where I’m not in control of the meal! Thanks!

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:54 am

My mom and I are the only vegetarians in our extended family, so we still have turkey/ham on the table. Even when I wasn’t a vegetarian, I never really ate the meat – I wanted to load up on all the other good stuff!

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Lisa @ Healthy Diaries November 21, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I look forward to the sweet potato casserole and have been in charge of making it the past few years. Last year I made it healthier and everyone loved it! :)

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:54 am

That sounds delicious! Gotta use up those sweet potatoes we got last week!

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elise November 21, 2011 at 12:28 pm

im not allergic to gluten, but i am wheat sensitive. its ok in small amounts, but my family is so great im not worried about having good food. ill bring some yummy eats and if nothing else, ill get to spend time with people i dont see often enough. hooray for holidays! i just wish i got them off. :(

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:55 am

:( The life of a nurse!

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Jen@FoodFamilyFitness November 21, 2011 at 12:31 pm

This is going to be my first vegetarian Thanksgiving, since I do most of the cooking, it will be easy to have some things for me (and anyone else) to eat, but there are some items that some people refuse to let me “vegetarianize”.

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:55 am

I feel like vegetarian Thanksgiving is pretty doable – unless your family puts meat in everything!!

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Jen@FoodFamilyFitness November 22, 2011 at 6:35 am

Pretty much! But there are some things that I’ll be making veg friendly, so it will be pretty doable, just a big change from what I’m used to!

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Katie @ Peace Love and Oats November 21, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Your 2009 thanksgiving sounds like my thanksgiving this year… I have a feeling it’s going to be a bit rougher than I’m letting myself believe. I wanted to try and bring a gluten free pie, but with flying home, seeing everyone I need to see and my 5K that morning, I just don’t have time! Haha maybe afterwards I’ll make it.

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:57 am

Why don’t you try to make little bite sized pies in a muffin tin? That way it can travel with you!

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Katie @ Peace Love and Oats November 22, 2011 at 6:21 am

that is a cute idea! I’m hoping I have a little time Thursday after the 5K to figure something out…

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Candy @ Healthy in Candy Land November 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I love this post! This will be my first gluten-free Thanksgiving, and while I am bringing a few dishes I can eat, it has made me shift my focus to being less excited about the food, to being more excited about the people we get to share the day with. I think that is the way it should be anyway.

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:58 am

Agreed! (Although I do get pretty excited about the food)

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Amber K November 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm

My first gluten-free holiday season was last year and it was definitely a learning experience. I basically have to make all of my own food if I don’t want to be contaminated with anything. It’s a huge bummer, especially since the food was the main thing I liked about the holiday. I assume it’s easier to concentrate on getting together with family if you actually get along with your family. It’s easier with my husband’s family because they don’t seem to mind too much when I contribute dishes to the overflowing table. It just usually leads to a whole conversation about what I can and can’t eat.

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:59 am

Oh gosh. It definitely draws attention to what I can and can’t eat – and the first year was the hardest with everyone asking me all kinds of questions. Everyone’s used to it now!

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Andrea (Run. Learn. Repeat.) November 21, 2011 at 1:23 pm

I’m gluten free as well. Those recipes looked delicious. I’ll have to try some.

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Stephanie November 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm

We are going to try some new recipes this Thanksgiving because of my recent obsession with cooking and baking. Your acorn squash recipe looks amazing. In fact, my husband and I are going to Chicago for Thanksgiving. I grew up in Hinsdale and went to Loyola University Chicago for college. Where did you grow up?

I love your blog. I started eating clean about three years ago, and I have not looked or turned back. It is easy and fun!

What do you teach? I taught elementary school for 6 years but am trying to get into the health and wellness field now. I am excited to follow my passion.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 6:00 am

How fun! I grew up in the Frankfort/Orland Park area – not too far from Hinsdale! We actually used to have a swim meet at Hinsdale South every year. I teach 5th grade – love it!!

Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.

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Evan Thomas November 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm

This is my second Thanksgiving being gluten-free and my first as a vegetarian. I’m looking forward to cooking for my family. They’re always willing to try anything and I try to make things that are familiar enough that they’ll be able to recognize and enjoy it.

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 6:00 am

You’re lucky you have such open minded family!

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Kit-Kat November 21, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Yams for sure! We peel the yams, slice them into circles, and layer them in a large dish. Then we squeeze juice from a lemon or two on the sliced yams, cover the dish in foil, and bake untill tender. It is so good, and SO much better than the traditional, brown sugar and marshmallowy sweet potato casserole.
So yams, homemade mashed potatoes (or little baked Yukons… don’t know yet), cornbread stuffing (it’s for my family, because it is not vegan), dinner rolls, a sallad, homemade cranberry sauce, Green bean casserol (not vegan, my grandma is making it), a Turkey for the family, crackers, cheeses (sigh…), pumpkin pie, apple crisp, sugar cookies, and “whip” cream make up the menu….. and this is all traditional stuff for our family. I might want to add making another vegan dish to make it more enjoyable for me, like Chocolate Covered Katie’s breadless stuffing…….

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Nadine November 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm

My mother in law eats gluten free and the few thanksgivings we spent together I made it all GF, and we all ate GF stuffing, and gravey and no one knew the difference! I didn’t even tell my father in law until after he tasted it and declared it to be good, I am the deceitful chef.

I so wish we celebrated two thanksgivings, I envy the big American thanksgiving that signals the beginning of Christmas.

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Baking Serendipity November 21, 2011 at 9:49 pm

This is such an awesome post :) I love reading about the change in your attitude…and you totally nailed the meaning of the holiday. I think we all need to be reminded of it more often. PS: Peanut butter pumpkin dip?!? Yes, please! Wishing you a great Thanksgiving!

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:48 am

Thanks, you too! And the pumpkin dip is one of my favorites!!

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Lauren November 21, 2011 at 10:40 pm

I totally let go of all my food issues on the holidays. If I have to eat boxed stuffing and Kraft mac and cheese so be it. As long as it’s with family and friends I’m okay with anything :) But then again, I always bring something so there’s a guarantee I’ll like something.

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 5:48 am

woohoo! that’s what I like to hear!

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Ali Oldershaw November 21, 2011 at 11:40 pm

We dont have thanksgiving over here, but are already trying to work out how we are going to do Christmas this year- vegan, gluten free, and with children attending who are unable to even be in the house with nuts(there goes my nut roast idea!).
Any suggestions more than welcome!

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Maria @ Beautiful Busy Bee November 22, 2011 at 6:10 am

Well this is my first wheat-free Thanksgiving so I’m a bit nervous. I’m making pumpkin pie with gluten free crust tomorrow and I’m also going to make a single serving of stuffing (to be baked in a ramekin) that is with rudi’s gf bread. :) Happy Thanksgiving!

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peacebeme November 22, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I struggle with at Thanksgiving. My favorite thing is the stuffing and I have yet to find any decent bread crumbs that work.

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peacebeme November 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm

with gf eating* sorry left that part out

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cleaneatingchelsey November 22, 2011 at 8:48 pm

I always use homemade bread – I let it sit out for a few days and then cube it up! It works pretty well!

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Jen November 28, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I’ve only been gluten-free since May and I think you did a really good job describing the “mourning” stage. We already had our Thanksgiving in October and it was small (only 6 people), but these will be really good tips for Christmas when I have to tackle the big family dinner with >20 people!

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