5 Things Not To Do on Thanksgiving If You're Gluten-Free

stuffed turkey
Don't eat gluten-stuffed turkey on Thanksgiving.

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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. Unfortunately, get-togethers can lead to the uncomfortable symptoms of gluten exposure soon afterward. Gluten sensitivity symptoms may be felt the next day and can linger for up to a week.

For those who haven't been gluten-free for very long, Thanksgiving may be their first experience attempting to avoid gluten at someone else's house. Complex recipes and cross-contamination increase the chances of gluten slipping into various dishes.

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

To keep you safely gluten-free during Thanksgiving, here are five rules to eat by so you can enjoy the holiday stress-free.

Beware of the Stuffed Turkey

Turkey that's been stuffed with gluten-containing bread can be enough to 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 would mind cooking the stuffing separately.

Remember, unless the recipe has been specifically modified to be gluten-free, gravy may contain gluten. Flour is commonly used as a thickener.

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). The same rule as above applies, and the pie filling is cross-contaminated regardless of whether or not you eat the crust directly. Go crustless or choose a pie with a gluten-free graham cracker crust instead.

Luckily, the ice cream and whipped cream that's usually served with pie should be gluten-free. Double-check the ingredients list and dig in. You could add it on top of fresh fruit or enjoy it with a decaf coffee after your meal.

Don't be Afraid to Ask Questions

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 aren't aware of every potential source of gluten, especially if they don't follow a gluten-free meal plan themselves.

If you're eating out 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're prepared.

Choose Naturally Gluten-Free Options

Luckily, there are plenty of delicious food items that don't have gluten. Instead of focusing on what you can't 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, don't 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 a relative's house, or to follow some of our other tips for a gluten-free Thanksgiving, such as bringing a shared dish (and sticking mainly to that dish).

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. Not everyone is in a position to make a huge meal for a bunch of friends and relatives, but if you are, it's definitely worth considering. You can also pare down your gathering to reduce the stress associated with a large gathering.

A Word from Verywell

It can be challenging to navigate the menu on holidays like Thanksgiving when you're trying to adhere to a strict gluten-free meal plan. 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.

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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.

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