Hosting a Food Allergy-Friendly Thanksgiving (Tips, Tricks and Recipes)

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From nut and dairy allergies to celiac disease, food concerns are growing at an epic rate, making it fair to say that most family events have a special diet or two to contend with. Rather than panic, grab this arsenal of tips and tricks and prepare a fun-filled holiday.

Tips for the Free-From Table

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Dazzle with Décor – Imagine the smiles as everyone enters your home and sees a cornucopia of festivity. The atmosphere will bring more joy to your event than just the food, so have fun with it. Strategically stash mini pumpkins and squash, use rich harvest colors for candles, tablecloths and floral arrangements, and give each person a special place at the table with these easy homemade placeholder cards.

Unload the Burden – Release some of the responsibility by asking if your food allergic guest(s) can bring a dish or two. See if they have a specialty that everyone can enjoy, or pick the item that is overwhelming you most (perhaps that gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free pumpkin pie?) and ask them if they can tackle it.

Create New Classics – Sure there are some typical traditions, but nothing is written in stone about what you serve at Thanksgiving. If you typically make pecan pie, but a loved one has nut, dairy, and egg allergies, consider an apple pie. If gluten is a concern, don’t fuss over pie crust; simply make it an apple crisp! A crumbly gluten-free topping is much more forgiving than a delicate crust, but no less tasty with a scoop of dairy-free ice cream.

Double Up – Serving an allergy-friendly dish for the first time can be daunting. If you’re nervous, prepare two versions: your traditional recipe and the allergy-friendly variety. Allergic guests will appreciate the effort, even if it bombs, while other guests will be none the wiser. If the new recipe is a success, you may only need one recipe for next year. Just remember to isolate allergen-free food and serving utensils from other food to avoid cross-contamination.

You Have Permission to Cheat – These days you can buy certified gluten-free dinner rolls, stuffing mixes, and pie crust. There are even dairy-free and nut-free pies and nogs. If you hit a wall, head to the natural food store (where many of these products are found) and fill in the blanks. There’s no need to feel that everything has to be made completely from scratch when there are some great allergen-safe helpers at the store.

Give Thanks – Remember what this holiday is really about. It’s easy to focus too much on the food when so much of the population calls it “Turkey Day,” but Thanksgiving really is about family and appreciation. Be grateful for the time and company, plan fun activities and games, and don’t fret if your dairy-free mashed potatoes aren’t whipped to perfection.

Tricks on the Side

Mushed potato

The main dishes, turkey and ham, can seem fairly straight forward for food allergies (just beware of additives!), but the side dishes are a stumbling point. Here are a few easy fixes to help these accompaniments shine:

Mashed Potatoes – Butter, milk, and sour cream are synonymous with Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, but even dairy-loving family members devour my dairy-free mashed potatoes. If that hint of tang is a must in your mix, then dairy-free sour cream can be purchased at the store. If you like your mashed potatoes simple, like us, then use dairy-free margarine or coconut oil (we prefer the latter!) in place of the butter. If using coconut oil, a pinch or two of additional salt may be in order. For the milk, we like unsweetened coconut milk beverage, but many non-dairy milks will work just fine.

Stuffing – This is probably the most forgiving allergy-friendly side dish. For a top eight-free stuffing, start with a recipe that is naturally egg-free and nut-free – many are. Gluten-free bread lends itself well to stale bread cubes, so don’t be afraid to make a swap with this main ingredient. For the butter, use a non-hydrogenated dairy-free margarine. Olive oil may be used, but I would add a touch of salt.

Casseroles – This can get a little more complicated since the base of most casseroles relies on gluten- and dairy-based ingredients. For the infamous green bean casserole, skip the chow mein crumble, and use sliced almonds (if nuts are okay) or pan-fried shallots as your topping. For that condensed crème of mushroom soup, I make my own. The recipe is simple, flawless and works miracles in many dishes.

And for those of you who are ready to break away from the norm…

Unconventionally Good Recipes

Baking Muffins
Here are several unique and tradition-worthy recipe ideas to introduce to your food allergic family and friends this Thanksgiving. Each recipe is free of gluten and top allergens:

  Food Allergy Thanksgiving - Giving Thanks

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