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Gluten Free Thanksgiving: A Time to Share

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The Holidays: A Time to Share

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. And for the past 19 years mine has been a gluten-free Thanksgiving. I love all the foods, but more, I love that time with family. It is about sitting around a table, sharing a meal with those I love.

But what if you can’t share the meal. 

As I shared in part 2 of my Emotional Side of Gluten Free series, food is a memory. And for me, there is no warmer food memory than Thanksgiving. 

My Gluten Free Thanksgiving

I’ve hosted Thanksgiving for the past 19 years. I have control of the food. Now-a-days, I roast the turkey, make the stuffing, gravy, rolls, and desserts, and everyone else brings a side. They understand mine and my son’s gluten-free needs and they keep each item gluten-free safe. 

But What If You Are The Guest (not the host)?

Not everyone can take control by hosting their own gluten-free Thanksgiving. Not everyone wants to. Participating in a meal at someone else’s house takes on some challenges for the person with strict dietary needs.

In many, many cases, the simple fact is, you will most likely need to bring your own food. (You may WANT to bring your own food. The risk of expecting someone else to understand something that only someone who needs to be gluten free needs to understand, can be too high.)

Without an understanding of ingredients, labels, lack of clarity on labels, and—-the BIG one: cross contamination, a host most likely won’t provide a meal that is safe for the person with celiac. There are wonderful exceptions, however. . .  ♥

*(But please don’t avoid an event just because of the food. Bring your own and enjoy the people and the experience.)

Using a Children's Book to Help Others Understand Gluten Free

Many Thanksgiving dishes are super easy to make gluten free. Many are naturally gluten free. The biggest concern can be cross contamination. 

Several years ago, I had an idea for a children’s book (for adults). This book follows a child through various school experiences and what he/she faces as a student with celiac. I wanted to help the reader understand these situations in order to help avoid times when a child is left out completely. Sure, a food item may need to be different (it often has to be), but all children should be safe and included. 

This book can also help family members understand for the person who needs to be gluten free (no matter their age).

Below is an excerpt from Adam's Gluten Free Surprise

By the middle of November, the students were getting ready for Thanksgiving.

“Boys and girls,” said Mrs. Brown. “Be sure to bring this note home to your parents. Everyone has chosen an item to bring for our Thanksgiving feast. This is just a reminder that we need everything tomorrow.”

Mrs. Brown and Adam
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She leaned in a little closer to Adam and said, “I talked to your mom. She will bring a plate of food for you so you can eat with us.  I just don’t know how much of our meal will be safe for you.”

It Can Be Hard to Smell Food You Can't Eat

The day of the feast was exciting for everyone. The turkey was roasting in a big electric roaster in the cafeteria, filling the air with wonderful smells.

It made everyone’s mouths water as they walked past the door on their way to the computer lab. They could hardly wait to eat.

students walking past cafeteria
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Explaining Gluten Free to Others

While the boys and girls were with the computer teacher, some moms and dads helped Mrs. Brown prepare for the feast.

The parents asked Adam’s mom why she brought his food separately and why she kept the rolls she brought for everyone so far from the rest of the food.

She talked about Adam’s special gluten-free diet and about how careful he needed to be, because just a few crumbs could make him sick. She told them that even if he didn’t seem sick on the outside, gluten hurt him on the inside, causing problems the next day or even a few days later.

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The Issue With Cross Contamination

One of the moms said, “My friend has celiac. I know how important it is to keep her foods safe when I cook for her. If I knew Adam had to be gluten free, I could have made the vegetable casserole safe for him to eat.”

Another mom said, “Well, he can have the corn I brought. It’s just plain corn from a can.”

“OH!” exclaimed another helper. “I wish I knew! I would have made sure the mashed potatoes were gluten free. I think the butter I used touched a knife from some regular bread though.”

The dad who baked the pumpkin pies said, “And if I knew, I could have put some pumpkin pie filling into a small dish without a crust so Adam could enjoy it too. I would have been very careful that everything was gluten free, separate, and safe.”


Mrs. Brown put her head down sadly when she realized how much of their food Adam could have enjoyed if everyone knew how to prepare it and if they knew they had to be very careful.

After talking to Adam’s mom she realized that if she cooked the stuffing in a separate dish instead of roasting it inside the turkey, or if she asked Adam’s mom for some gluten-free bread, Adam would be able to eat the turkey with everyone else.  And she realized that if she made the gravy with cornstarch instead of flour, he could have eaten that too. She knew she had a lot of learning to do.

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No Need For Guilt

Adam’s mom put a hand on her shoulder.  “That’s OK Mrs. Brown. It took us a long time to learn about his diet. And we are still learning! As long as you keep being very careful that he stays away from the wrong foods at school, we can do the rest. People with special diets have to learn that they cannot enjoy all foods that others can. There is a lot to learn.  Adam gets a little sad sometimes, but he understands how careful he needs to be.”

It was lunch time before they knew it. The boys and girls were back from the computer lab. They had clean hands and they were ready to eat.

Everyone talked and giggled, in quiet indoor voices of course, while they enjoyed their feast. Most students went back for second helpings of their favorite foods.

As Ben took the last roll that Adam’s mom brought, he said, “Wow, these rolls are great! I thought gluten-free food would be yucky!” Everyone laughed.

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Check out the Celiac Stories page for dozens of stories.
Be sure to request celiac tests before removing gluten from your diet.

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