Gluten Free Holiday

Navigating the Holidays

navigatingHoliday
For many, the holiday season is filled with smiles, laughter and lots of merriment. However, for those with dietary restrictions, it can be the complete opposite – fear, dread and lots of worriment.

The risk of getting sick at every meal is a huge source of stress and concern. Now let's pile on the stress of family dynamics. We've got the fixings for an epic family battle royal.
"Let's get ready to rumble!"

“My family puts the FUN in dysfunction”


I'm sure many can relate to the quote above. If you feel your family is the poster child for dysfunction, do not worry. All families are dysfunctional, it's simply a matter of degree.

Since the dawn of time, our existence has revolved around the acquisition and sharing of food. We have evolved and times have changed, but the primal need to gather and share food with members of our clan still remains. Holiday celebrations are a perfect example of that.

If we dig deep inside and look beyond the medical necessity of our food requests, we will find an emotional component. Our requests are an extension of ourselves. When our family and friends fail to acknowledge our food requests, we feel it as exclusion and rejection of us as a person. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Sometimes it's hard to tell what is inside the hearts and minds of our loved ones. I suspect the reasons are many and varied. Perhaps it is fear? Maybe they are afraid to try because they don't want to make us sick? Maybe we've yelled at them one too many times about food selection or preparation? What can we do? We have to talk to them.

tincan phone communication
Opening up a line of communication is so important when it comes to resolution. Having a calm, heartfelt conversation about our health concerns and what it takes for us to be healthy and happy is the best chance we have at getting them to understand. It is up to us to kindly and respectfully educate them on how to do things correctly, no one else will do it.


I invite you to read this informative article on Confrontations vs Conversations from PsychCentral: http://bit.ly/1GQw2q1 It offers some great insights…

Confrontations are usually fueled by anger.
Conversations are fueled by curiosity.

Confrontations have an aura of a judicial proceeding.
Conversations frame a problem as something to be solved.

Confrontations have an element of moral superiority.
Conversations happen between equals.

Confrontations shield the confronter from any responsibility.
Conversations say “we’re in this together.

For us today, gluten-free comes as easy as breathing, but it wasn't always that way. We were frustrated and confused, it's reasonable to expect family members will feel the same way. However, their behavior may appear to us as stubborn, unyielding, or uncaring. Remember, listening is a critical component of communication.

More tips on dealing with lack of support from family members can be found here: http://bit.ly/GIGECW_LackofSupport


Despite our best efforts, we may have to accept the fact that some people just won't get it. This does not mean we can give up, however! Let's face it, we're up against years, decades, or in some cases centuries of traditions. The very definition of tradition allows it to brazenly flip Change, the bird.

Trə-ˈdi-shən: a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time.



"What?! No stuffing inside the turkey? Great-Great Grandma Brunhilde would turn over in her grave if we didn't use her recipe!"

Changing family traditions is downright heresy. Remember, to your family, gluten-free will be the new kid on the block. Situations like this call for the utmost patience. It may take some time for this concept to percolate through their brains and become a newly added family tradition. Don't panic, stay calm, and keep the lines of communication open. Keep up your educational efforts even if its only small tidbits here and there. Sometimes it's best not to flood them with information – ever try to drink from a fire hose?

I wish I had one simple answer that would solve every gluten-free holiday and family situation, but I don't. If I did, my name would be Dr. Phil and I'd have a TV show.

Bottom line – if you cannot resolve any of the food issues, try to put that aside and focus on the people that love and care about you – that is what really matters.

Here are some tips to get you through the holiday season.

  • If you are brand new to the gluten-free lifestyle, it might help to have some basic information. Please see GIG of ECW's Gluten-Free Diet Boot Camp article: http://bit.ly/GIGECW_GFBootCamp

  • Plain turkey is most generally gluten-free. Read the labels to verify. Several brands will now say "Gluten-Free" or "No Gluten". Make sure it has not been pre-seasoned or marinated; seasonings and marinades may contain gluten. Some turkeys will have a gravy packet. Verify the GF status of the gravy before using. Better yet, ditch the gravy packet and make your own...you'll be glad you did!

  • Like turkey, most hams are GF [read the label], however if it has a glaze, it must be checked.


  • If the turkey has been stuffed with gluten stuffing, do not eat the turkey, it's been contaminated.

  • Stuffing [gluten-free or not gluten-free] made inside the turkey is a food safety concern. If you cook the turkey long enough to properly cook the stuffing [to a temperature of 165], the turkey is dry and over done. If you cook the turkey until it's done, the stuffing may not have reached the food safe temperature of 165. Either way, it's not good eats. Make the turkey and stuffing separately.

  • Cooking bags are commonly used to help keep meats moist. However, the instructions state a tablespoon of flour should be added to the bag and shaken. The flour prevents the bag from exploding. Ask your host about this ahead of time. FYI - cornstarch or gluten-free flour will work too. [I never knew about exploding bags, we always use a bag and never put flour in it.]

  • Mashed potatoes, a GF piece of cake, right? Not so fast, some recipes call for a bit of flour [oh the humanity!]. Scalloped Potatoes is another dish that more than likely has wheat flour. FYI, some potato salad recipes also call for flour. If you don't know how the host prepares their potatoes, it's best to ask.

  • Mainstream "cream of" soups are not gluten-free and so are any dishes made with them, [think Green Bean Casserole].

GF alternatives from Pacific Natural Foods:
Cream of Chicken: http://bit.ly/1xlcraE
Cream of Mushroom:
http://bit.ly/1tpZIxc


  • Progresso offers their Cream of Mushroom soup, but it's not quite as condensed as actual condensed soup, but with some slight recipe modifications it can be used.

  • Cornbreads or corn muffins often times have a mixture of cornmeal and wheat flour. There several mixes that are available. Krusteaz brand has a pretty good cornbread mix that's available in mainstream grocery stores. http://bit.ly/1pAUT9P

  • Veggie & fruit trays are always popular. Be sure to survey the neighboring foods and assess cross contamination risks.

  • Stay away from the butter dish. It's a crumb magnet!

  • Be wary of communal chip or veggie dips. They might not be GF and they could be contaminated due non-GF snacks.

  • BYOF (Bring your own food). Bringing a dish to pass ensures you'll have something you know is safe. We may feel a bit guilty about asking others to go out of their way to accommodate our requests. Good news! We have the ability be part of the solution instead of the problem. Politely ask the host what you can bring. Ask them to allow you to help. Let them know you want to ease their work load and worry-factor - not add to it - when it comes to making something safe for you. It helps to know what's on the menu so your dish will fit in with the others. Tip: Make sure you bring plenty for yourself and others.

  • Open a line of communication early. It's a delicate topic, but you have to discuss GF food selection and cross contamination concerns with the host if they are not familiar with preparing gluten free dishes. Because they are not immersed in the gluten-free lifestyle, they'll need your help to educate and guide them. The education process is not a "once and done" event, it occurs over time. This is not on their radar 24x7x365, so they will need gentle reminders. Sometimes it's hard for people to grasp, so please be patient if they don't get it right away.



  • Enlist the help of an ambassador. Sometimes it's easier to have another person to be an advocate for you. Ask a brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, uncle, or cousin that you trust to help the host find gluten-free options for you. The more family members you have on your team the easier it will be.

  • Make sure the hosts know that you appreciate their efforts. Thank them, thank them and thank them again.

  • Eat [at least something] before you leave home, it takes the edge off of your hunger.

  • If you like to cook, host the celebration yourself. This gives you ultimate control. If the guests ask to bring something, request things that are naturally gluten-free. Veggie tray, fresh fruit tray, an undressed salad, a bottle of wine or other beverages (not beer unless it's GF), vanilla ice cream (suggest a good brand). Don't be afraid to suggest non-food items: festive napkins, folding chairs, family favorite tableware, etc.

  • If guests do bring gluten items, have a designated area for GF and NGF dishes.


Inspiration for this article goes to:

Quick Guide to Holiday Family Dining
Celebrate Gluten-Free Newsletter Fall 2014
Gluten Intolerance Group of North America
https://www.gluten.net/product/gig-membership/

25 Tips for handling a GF holiday
Gluten-Free Living - December 2014
http://www.glutenfreeliving.com/


Al Klapperich – GIG of ECW Branch Manager