Ask Shelley Case: Surviving the Holiday Season… Gluten-Free

Question: The holidays are here and I’m concerned about how to tackle all the parties and get-togethers with my new gluten-free lifestyle. I’m feeling overwhelmed! Do you have any tips, ideas and recipes for me?


The holiday season can be overwhelming for many that are diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. The normal day-to-day consistency of preparing and eating foods that you know are gluten-free and safe from contamination can be disrupted by the parties, get-togethers and holiday traditions that focus around food and eating. It is no wonder that many on special diet feel overwhelmed.

It is important that you first recognize and are aware that during the holidays you are at a greater risk of encountering a social situation that makes eating gluten or allergen-free challenging. But by using your day-to-day tactics of safe eating, and applying them to the situation at hand, you can eliminate any uncomfortable feelings, emotional issues and the chance of ingesting gluten.

Here are a few tips to make your holidays happy and healthy:

Redesign It! Have a favorite stuffing recipe from your Aunty Ruth? A beloved apple pie from your grandma? Redesign it to be gluten-free! Many recipes can be substituted cup-for-cup with gluten-free all-purpose flour, or can be tweaked to become gluten-free by eliminating or substituting ingredients. Other tips for converting recipes to be gluten-free can be found here in my blog post “Converting Recipes to Gluten & Dairy Free”.

A Rule of Thumb: Not Even a Crumb! During the holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Years, there are so many scrumptious temptations. However, celiac disease requires a lifetime commitment to a gluten-free diet. When hostesses or family members offer you a dish that is off-limits politely remind them of your food restrictions. We’ve all encountered those family members, friends or co-workers that just don’t get it and try to tell us “just one bite won’t hurt”.

If this happens stand your ground and remind yourself of this: Your health is more important than hurting someone’s feelings.

Plan Ahead: Before going to a sit-down holiday dinner contact the hostess. Explain in the simplest of terms the food restrictions that you have. Ask what the main-course will be, and suggest any easy ways to make your serving be gluten-free. An example of this would be to eliminate a sauce or roux on a piece of meat, to prepare a single chicken breast without any stuffing, or to prepare a dinner salad with no croutons or dressing.

Many folks that have celiac disease, food intolerances or allergies tell me that they feel they are inconveniencing hosts by calling ahead of time to discuss their allergies. I tell these people to put themselves in the hostess place, and to ask themselves this: Wouldn’t you, as a hostess, rather know ahead of time of any guest’s food restrictions? By contacting the host ahead of time you prevent them from having to scramble last minute to accommodate you, or even worse, to have them feel awkward about not having any suitable alternatives and having you sit and watch everyone else eat. Remember – Most hosts want to know to ahead of time of any food restrictions, and are more than willing to accommodate you!

BYOD – Bring Your Own Dish: When attending holiday open-houses and get-togethers, bring a dish to the party. This way you know that there is at least one dish you can eat. Also, make sure that you bring a copy of the recipe – others may love your dish so much they’ll want a copy! Another tip: I always bring my own serving utensil for my dish too. It helps to prevent people using the same serving spoon with other dishes that my contain gluten.

Here are some delicious holiday recipe ideas:

Glazed Chicken with Rosemary & Golden Raisins Tossed with Wild Rice

Brown Rice Salad with Toasted Almonds, Grapes & Curry Lemon Zest

Herbed Brown Rice & Mushrooms

NY Times Recipes for Stuffing

Appetizers, Main Dishes, Sides, Desserts, Baking Treats, Food Gifts from Canadian Living Magazine

A Catered Affair: When attending a banquet or holiday function at a restaurant contact the host of the get-together, and let them know that you would like to contact the catering department and/or chef several days ahead of time and to explain your dietary restrictions.

And last, and most important…

Always say a gracious “Thank You”: A thank-you note, telephone call or email to the host and/or catering department for accommodating your special dietary needs is all greatly appreciated.

Ask Shelley Case is a feature of It is published the second Tuesday of each month. Shelley Case is a Registered Dietitian, Consulting Dietitian, Speaker and Author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. Visit Shelley and get more gluten-free tips & info at:

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2 Responses to “Ask Shelley Case: Surviving the Holiday Season… Gluten-Free”

  1. Andrea Nero Says:

    Thanks Shelley – have a few people this will be very helpful for.

  2. Janet R Says:

    I bring my own and struggle every year with what to bring it in, where will I cook it, will there be counter space or will I be putting my food on the floor when I prepare from a cooler. Divide casserole dishes are hard to find. I did find a mini 3crockpot for when my family does all appetizers for the holiday, where will I put it. Someone needs to creat a way for a celiac to have a full meal hot when travel.



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