Culinary Chemistry: 10 Gluten-Free Tips for the Holiday Meals
by Jenn Oliver
The upcoming festivities are all about sharing, seeing friends and family, creating new memories and reliving old ones. It’s a time of joy, inspiration, goodwill, and laughter that I look forward to each year, while looking ahead to the New Year and the fun and exciting experiences the coming seasons will bring. We stroll around the Christmas markets tasting chocolate, nougat, mulled wine, and roasted chestnuts, flavors and delights not just for the taste buds but all five senses — and has become something I look forward to at this time every year.
But for some — such as those who are gluten intolerant or celiac — holiday festivities can bring about a certain anxiety, a stress caused by imposing dietary restrictions on those doing the cooking, or fear of gluten contamination from the grand holiday meal. Just having had a successful family Thanksgiving dinner that everyone, including the gluten free enjoyed, I thought it might be useful to share some of our tips for surviving, and keeping the holidays fun without stressing out about food. So here are 10 gluten-free tips for surviving the holidays.
- Be involved – The more you are involved in the process of deciding what gets made and from where everything comes from, the better chance you will have to help direct the meal towards foods and dishes that are safe for you. Being proactive from early on rather than waiting til the last minute may save a lot of stress and worry.
- Educate friends and family – It is beneficial for others to know about your dietary needs and what is involved in creating a safe environment. Not everyone fully understands the risks of cross contamination, or that croutons can’t just be picked off of a salad and that a knife can’t be double dipped into the apple butter when spreading on rolls.
- Suggest naturally gluten-free dishes – Recipes abound for a myriad lovely and flavorful courses that never contained any flour to begin with, such as salads, roast meats, vegetables. Feel free to explore/suggest dishes that require no alterations to prepare gluten free.
- Cook from scratch – Processed foods have a tendency to have a long list of ingredients, including some off limits and questionable ingredients, such as barley malt syrup, modified food starch, etc. Cooking from scratch gives one more control over what goes into a dish and is also easier to modify in order to make a food gluten free.
- Offer to host – While hosting is often a lot of work, you know the safety status of your own kitchen with regard to holidays foods, and it may be easier to host than making sure that someone’s kitchen counter that was dusted with flour earlier that day from baking holiday cookies doesn’t end up contaminating your dinner. If you can’t host, offer to cook some of the dishes to help make it easier for the host to accommodate you, or at least to help with the cooking when you arrive so that you can help keep food prep safe for you.
- Make GF versions of your favorites – Many dishes require very simple substitutions to be made gluten free – stuffing can be made by just substituting GF bread; gravy and creamed sauces by substituting GF all-purpose flour, or GF cookies can be used to make your favorite cookie crumb crust for a pie.
- Keep GF foods completely separated from gluten foods – If you are eating at a mixed GF/gluten dinner, make sure that the foods you want to be able to eat are completely separated, so no one mistakes which serving spoons go into which dish and bread crumbs don’t find their way into the GF courses. Another idea is to serve the gluten-free folks first, before anything has a chance to get contaminated.
- Try new traditions and recipes – Holidays are all about traditions, but they can be as much about making traditions as keeping them. Rather than trying to replicate a longstanding favorite dish, why not try something completely different? A new set of flavors perhaps, so you don’t feel as if you are replacing your great grandmother’s heirloom recipe, but more just creating a new tradition for friends and family to enjoy in the years to come.
- Don’t gamble with your dinner – If you are not sure whether or not a dish is GF, it may be best to pass on it. No one enjoys being sick from having a gluten reaction over the holidays or while traveling. Depending on how long you will be there and who you are staying with, it may be a good idea to also bring some snacks just in case.
- Remember, it’s just a meal – There is so much more to the holidays than simply one dinner together – the holidays are also about spending time with friends and family, and sharing those special moments. If dinner doesn’t end up being the idyllic meal you had dancing around with those sugarplums in your head, remember the fun moments and spirit of the season, and the real reason for getting together in the first place.