They announced, “I can’t imagine having Thanksgiving without rolls.”
There are so many strong emotions and expectations surrounding holidays – especially ones associated with the food. For example, I grew up with a giant bowl of canned fruit cocktail on our Thanksgiving table. Even though I know it was gross, Thanksgiving feels weird without it.
We can’t deny the connection between food, tradition, and emotion. However, in the face of food allergies and health issues, some of these need to change.
Not all change is bad. My kids have no idea what canned fruit cocktail is, and I’m grateful that the food they associate with Thanksgiving features a lot more real food and robust flavors.
If you are facing the possibility of an allergy-free Thanksgiving, here are some tips to set you up for success!
First, let’s be honest. No, it’s not the same. Yes, we miss rolls. But navigating food restrictions has forced us to choose what is really important about the holidays.
Celebrating with family is important.
Gathering at the table is important.
And honestly, our food now is amazing – the best I’ve ever had for Thanksgiving!
How to Make Your Thanksgiving Menu Grain-Free & Dairy-Free
Keep in mind that this is not going to work with every family. Maybe you have significant family members who will blow a fuse if you suggest an allergy-friendly Thanksgiving. That’s okay. Remember what Thanksgiving is about: family, gratitude, and avoiding as much family drama as possible.
Maybe for you, this means bringing your own food. Try to do this grace and patience. I know it’s hard.
A grain-free and dairy-free (and mostly egg-free) Thanksgiving worked for our family because the vast majority of us have food sensitivities. We didn’t all have the same ones, but we tried to be as accommodating as possible because we all understood the struggle.
Tips for an Allergy-Friendly Thanksgiving
So how to do you cook a grain-free, dairy-free (and mostly egg-free) Thanksgiving meal that actually tastes good? Here are a few tips.
1. Focus on Flavor
Americans tend to rely heavily on bread and dairy products to flavor their food. There is a whole world of spices ready to make your meals amazing. It just takes a little spunk.
One of the best things we did was make a really delicious turkey that was rolled with turkey sausage and other traditional seasonings. This gave us all the flavors of turkey and stuffing with none of the dairy or grains.
A few other dishes that helped us enjoy the meal:
- Roasted brussels sprouts with cranberries
- Homemade cranberry sauce
- Roasted garlic mashed potatoes (the roasted garlic adds such rich flavor you don’t miss the milk and butter)
- Autumn Spring Mix Salad
- Deeply Flavorful Baked Sweet Potatoes
2. Split the Work
Like most family gatherings, we all volunteered to bring certain dishes. We also knew that this meant making 1-2 varieties of some dishes. For example, when I volunteered to bring pumpkin pie, I knew that meant making at least one egg-free version. They all had to be gluten-free and dairy-free. But I also made an egg-free one for my nephews and sister-in-law.
Whoever brings sweet potatoes needs to bring plain baked sweet potatoes and can also bring a dairy-free sweet potato casserole.
We roasted two turkeys: one had all the traditional seasonings, and one was simply seasoned with salt and pepper to accommodate allergies.
3. Know Your Substitutions
Family holiday dinner is not the time to experiment with ingredients you aren’t used to using. Test that egg-free, dairy-free, naturally-sweetened pumpkin pie first!
I tried 2-3 different egg-free pumpkin pies before I found one that worked.
And I’ll save you some time here: don’t try to make grain-free, egg-free, dairy-free rolls. Just don’t. Instead, enjoy those deeply-flavorful baked sweet potatoes and garlic mashed potatoes and call it good.
4. Decide Where to Compromise
After a few years without dressing or stuffing, I decided that was my compromise. Stuffing just makes Thanksgiving for me. So in addition to the dish I share with the whole family, I make a very small batch of stuffing for the few of us who can eat it. Everyone’s happy.
5. Don’t Try to be Healthy
I know that’s counterintuitive to real food eating, so I’ll explain. Holidays are special occasions. It’s okay to use real sugar in order to make an allergy-friendly dish more palatable for Uncle Jim. Work with your sensitivities, but remember that a healthy balance is knowing when to indulge. Thanksgiving is the perfect time for that.
6. Be Grateful
That’s the whole point, right? We all work together and give each other grace. In the end, our family feasts and laughs with people who normally can’t eat most of what is served to them. We are grateful and blessed, and it is worth it.
Whether you are juggling a variety of allergies or trying to make Thanksgiving better for one person, I hope these tips help you. I hope you remember to be gracious, adventurous, try something new (but test it first!), compromise a little, and most of all, remember everything you are grateful for this Thanksgiving.