Are you hosting Thanksgiving this year and wondering what to serve family and friends who have food sensitivities or food allergies? Or, are you the guest with food sensitivities or allergies, nervous about navigating the Thanksgiving shindig to which you’ve been invited?
Whether it’s dairy, wheat, gluten, grains, or nuts, everyone seems to be managing a food sensitivity or food allergy these days. Including myself. After doing a food sensitivity test in September, I discovered that I had a moderate to severe intolerance to 50 foods. That’s right—fifty! There were the usual suspects, including wheat, gluten-containing grains (rye, barley, spelt, malt, oats) and dairy. And some very unexpected culprits, including “healthy” foods such as chicken, broccoli, bok choy, lemon, vanilla and black pepper!
As a foodie, I was initially devastated to learn about this long list of food sensitivities, especially with the holidays on the near horizon. But, after dragging my feet for two weeks, I decided to commit to eliminating the offending foods from my diet now—rather than to wait until the New Year (when I could potentially develop even more food sensitivities)! It hasn’t been easy, but my symptoms—fatigue, hives, digestive and sinus issues—have subsided, and I shed five pounds simply by omitting the foods to which I was sensitive.
Understandably, Thanksgiving can be a challenge. There’s the nostalgia factor (eating your favorite childhood dishes can induce a sense of pleasure, comfort or safety), as well as social and emotional pressure from well-meaning family and friends…
When food = “love”…what to do?
1. Be upfront about your food sensitivities. As a host, ask guests if they have any food sensitivities or allergies. Take note and accommodate them as best you can. If you’re a guest, be upfront with your host when you accept the invitation. A friend recently invited me to a dinner party, and I was immediately upfront about my food sensitivities. No problem. No hurt feelings.
2. Stay the course. ”One little bite won’t kill you!” is what you’ll likely hear at holiday gatherings. The fact is, however, that with food sensitivities, there is often a delayed reaction, so you may feel the effect of that “one little bite” anywhere from 2 hours to 4 days later. You’ve come this far…is it worth it? If you’re the host, understand that “one little bite” may be the one bite trigger to a week (or more) of uncomfortable symptoms. If you’re a guest, get a good night’s sleep and eat a real food meal so that you”re not starving upon arrival—and tempted by your trigger foods in a moment of weakness, a.k.a., low blood sugar.
3 Read labels. If any part of your Thanksgiving meal is coming out of a box, bag or can, read the label. Know that marinades, broth, soy sauce and bouillon may use wheat or barley in flavors and seasonings. Unless you’re making your own sauce, seasoning or gravy from scratch: read the label.
4. Explore dairy alternatives. My top pick is coconut milk, which has a creamy, thick texture and is ideal for baking or for dishes like gratins or creamy mashed potatoes. Organic soy milk and almond milk (thinner texture) can also work.
5. Keep it simple. In general, as the cook, I like to plan an easy, stress-free Thanksgiving menu. That is, the focus is on fresh, quality ingredients (which are cheapest when bought at the farmers’ market) and straightforward cooking techniques that don’t involve spending hours in the kitchen. Click here for Thanksgiving cooking tips and healthy upgrades.
Gluten-free, dairy-free recipes for Thanksgiving
For a simple, fuss-free but delicious, whole foods-based Thanksgiving meal that is also gluten-free and dairy-free, try these recipes: