5 Things to Help Make Thanksgiving Safe if You Are Gluten-Free

stuffed turkey

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Thanksgiving takes many people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity out of their comfort zones by placing their plates into the hands of well-intentioned—but sometimes uninformed—relatives and friends. While never intentional, this can sometimes result in accidental gluten exposures and uncomfortable symptoms soon afterward, which can linger for up to a week.

For those who haven't been following a gluten-free meal plan for very long, Thanksgiving may be their first experience attempting to avoid gluten at someone else's home. Complex recipes and cross-contamination increase the chances of gluten slipping into various dishes. To keep yourself safe and gluten-free during Thanksgiving, here are five things you can do so you can enjoy the holiday stress-free.

Beware of the Stuffed Turkey

Turkey that's been stuffed with gluten-containing bread can potentially cause an issue. Even if you try to choose the meat from the outside of the bird, the juices flow throughout the turkey and can carry gluten proteins throughout.

Unfortunately, this may mean skipping the turkey entirely if it's been cooked with bread stuffing. Ask your host in advance if they plan to cook the stuffing in the turkey. If they are, you may wish to bring an alternative with you. If you are comfortable with it, you also can ask if they would be willing to bake the stuffing separately.

You also should remember that unless the recipe has been specifically modified to be gluten-free, gravy also may contain gluten. Flour is commonly used as a thickener in gravies.

Avoid Wheat-Based Desserts

On a similar note, avoid pie with a crust made from wheat pastry flour (or any flour derived from grains that contain gluten). Additionally, you should not eat the pie filling because it is cross-contaminated even if you do not eat the crust directly. Look for a crustless or choose a pie with a gluten-free graham cracker crust instead.

Fortunately, the ice cream and whipped cream that is usually served with pie should be gluten-free. Double-check the ingredients list before digging in, though. Consider adding the ice cream or whipped cream to the top of fresh fruit.

Ask Questions When You Are Unsure

Ask how the food was prepared if you're unsure about a particular dish. Instead of just asking if it's gluten-free, find out which ingredients were used. Many people are not aware of every potential source of gluten—especially if they don't follow a gluten-free meal plan themselves.

If you're eating at a restaurant or buffet, let your server know about your dietary restrictions before you order your meal. Gluten-free eating is becoming more commonplace, so you shouldn't have trouble finding someone to answer your questions and help guide you in the right direction. You can always call the restaurant ahead of time or review the menu in advance to make sure you are prepared.

Choose Naturally Gluten-Free Options

There are plenty of delicious food items that don't have gluten. Instead of focusing on what you cannot have, explore creative ways to enjoy a gluten-free Thanksgiving.

Roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cheese plates, deviled eggs, salad, and plenty of other Thanksgiving items are unlikely to contain gluten. While it's always smart to be mindful of cross-contamination, do not automatically assume there won't be any safe options for you at the table.

Do Your Part

Many people who are particularly sensitive to trace gluten find they simply can't eat foods made in a shared kitchen without reacting. If this is the case for you, it's not too late to make yourself some gluten-free food to take to the host's house. You also can bring a shared dish or two and stick mainly to those dishes at the meal.

One surefire way to avoid getting sick following Thanksgiving is to host the holiday meal yourself and make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner that's completely gluten-free.

While not everyone is in a position to make a meal for others, if you are able to you might want to consider it. If the thought of hosting causes a lot of stress, consider paring down your gathering or sticking to a basic Thanksgiving meal.

A Word From Verywell

It can be challenging to navigate the menu on holidays like Thanksgiving when you are trying to adhere to a strict gluten-free meal plan. But communicating with your friends and family about your dietary needs in advance and contributing to the party by bringing some safe dishes to share will help set you up for a successful day with loved ones.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Silvester JA, Graff LA, Rigaux L, Walker JR, Duerksen DR. Symptomatic suspected gluten exposure is common among patients with coeliac disease on a gluten-free diet. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2016;44(6):612-9. doi:10.1111/apt.13725

  2. SIU School of Medicine. A registered dietician's guide to a gluten-free Thanksgiving.

Additional Reading

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.