How to Survive (and Thrive) the Gluten-Free Holidays

gluten free holidays

I loved the holidays growing up. And I mean I LOVED the holidays…everything about them.

I loved the anticipation.
I loved not having to go to school.
I loved watching tons of football.
I loved spending time with my family.
I loved the presents under the tree (and hopefully loved them just as much when opened).

And oh…how I loved the food.

As I grew up and matured (well…grew up anyway), some of that LOVE got lost. I realized how much work my parents put in to make the holidays so awesome for my three brothers and I. They made it seem pretty darn effortless when I now know how much behind-the-scenes work goes into everything.

But you know what? I still strongly like the holidays. I get some much needed time off from work. I spend more time with my amazing family. My life, which normally moves at breathtaking speed, just seems to slow down a bit and I revel in every single second of it.

As Ferris Bueller says: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

So I truly try to “look around once in a while” during the holidays.

gluten free thanksgiving
Gobble, gobble from the Mrs. and I.
Let’s circle back to something that most everyone seems to enjoy most about the holidays…the food. When I think of the holidays, I think of one main staple in our household and that is STUFFING.

Turkey? There’s a reason we only have it once a year.

Mashed potatoes? Nothing too exciting.

Veggies? Yeah right.

But the stuffing?? The “stuff” that dreams were made of.

My parents made a very basic stuffing: bread, celery, butter, broth, onion and some spices. Nothing crazy but my oh my, I would have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As I entered my teen years, I would volunteer to make the stuffing. I’d set my alarm because I needed to stuff the bird before it went into the oven in the morning because for some reason, even though we always ate dinner at around 6:30, Thanksgiving dinner would start at 4. Don’t ask me why.

Anyway, I have such fond memories of making, smelling and then of course eating the stuffing. And those memories continued into my adulthood as we would always host Thanksgiving. I loved the tradition. Absolutely loved it.

Then celiac struck. Not only did it strike, but it struck in October, right before the holidays kicked in. There were four things that I knew immediately that I’d miss. Beer, pizza, bagels and my stuffing.

But then I had a thought. “They make gluten-free bread. The rest of the ingredients are all gluten-free. I’m totally good!!”

So Thanksgiving rolls around. Mrs. Dude makes sure we have all of the necessary ingredients to make my kick-booty stuffing. I don’t remember the actual brand of gluten-free bread we used, but remember in 2007, the options were limited. Pre-celiac when I made stuffing, we’d use bread that was slightly stale. When I made stuffing in 2007, even though I used fresh gluten-free bread, it still had that same stale, dry feel to it. I know…kind of gross but I figured I was golden.

So I make my stuffing. I stuff the heck out of the bird. I put it in the oven and all day long I’m salivating. Everyone is going to LOVE my gluten-free stuffing.

Pop…the turkey is ready. I get a big spoon and excitedly start digging the stuffing out. Hmmm…not the same texture but I’m sure it will taste just great.

Wrong! It sucked. And I don’t mean just “not the same”. It was truly disgusting. Can the bread make that much of a difference? Apparently so.

So that’s my stuffing story. I’m sure you’ve got your own “now I’m gluten-free” horror stories too.

But what else do we celiacs need to be careful of during the gluten free holidays? Here is some free advice. It comes from the heart.

  1. Cross-contamination: Holidays usually means lots of people. And lots of people means lots of food. And lots of food means lots of hands digging into that food. Do yourself a favor. Keep your food separate. Having a bunch of appetizers? Make a plate for yourself and keep them away from everyone else. All it takes is one slip up and your toast…no pun intended.
  2. Eating at someone else’s house: We almost always host Thanksgiving but then do Christmas at my brother’s house. And I must say I am blessed. My sister-in-law totally gets what gluten-free means, from preparation all the way down to the food itself. I’ve eaten there dozens of times over the years since my celiac diagnosis and I’ve never gotten hit once. But I know others out there aren’t as fortunate. So what do you do if you are going to someone’s house who may have the best intentions but is still not educated enough to prepare a completely safe meal? Well, if I were in your shoes, I’d bring my own food. Yeah…I know…total drag. But at the end of the day, it’s only food. Put the focus on the people and all the sudden the food doesn’t seem as important.
  3. Overeating: I don’t care if you have celiac, allergies, diabetes, gout, crabs or amnesia. STOP eating before you get too full. Your entire being will thank you for it. Load up on water and raw veggies and then just dabble in the sweet stuff.
  4. Getting caught up in the festivities: All it takes is one infraction and you can be down for the count. With all of the excitement and all of the food, there may be some opportunities to let your guard down and cheat “just this once”. Don’t do it. Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.

My last piece of holiday advice is simple. Be thankful.

I know it’s hokey. But the older I get, the more thankful I am every single day for who and what I have in my life. If you go around the table saying your thanks, don’t say what everyone else will say (my family, my health, my iPhone). Dig deep. I’m sure you’ve got a lot to be thankful for, even if you’ve got celiac disease.

Happy Holidays from the Gluten Dude family to yours.

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29 thoughts on “How to Survive (and Thrive) the Gluten-Free Holidays”

  1. As we gather this Thanksgiving, we will have 4 people with Celiac among us. My daughter has just tried the new Trader Joe’s gluten free stuffing and said it was great! Last year I bought a very expensive brand of GF stuffing. Don’t remember the brand, but it was fabulous (although very expensive where I bought it and I needed a LOT!) They have the texture down!

  2. Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? 🙂

    This is one of those times where being in the south comes in handy. Here, it’s not stuffing – it’s cornbread dressing. And with corn being naturally gluten free, the taste is going to be a lot closer as long as you have a good gluten free, non-cross contaminated cornmeal (insert plug for Sam Mills brand here). My gluten free cornbread was still a work in progress last year. The dressing turned out just ok. Not horrible but not great. Now that I’ve had time to perfect it, my cornbread is pretty darn tasty if I do say so myself. This year I’m looking very forward to my dressing – and to being a little more relaxed about the meal in general.

  3. My weakness was always the pumpkin pie. I could eat an entire pie myself. (I’ve always had a hearty appetite.) I’m off next Wednesday, though, so I’ll likely make my own food for the big day. Better than starving.

  4. I’d add one thing: if you don’t trust your relatives’ gf cooking (in this case, my mother’s), find a good gf restaurant and have Thanksgiving there. No hurt feelings when you don’t want to eat the sides, or you’re asking to check labels.

  5. We’re taking the year off this year. No east coast driving. No five day home siege. No having to adore the Detroit Lions game. No preparations and shopping. No fighting shopping traffic. No GF BS for everyone else. No current events BS.

    Come on, admit it, it’s joy.

    ps I’m not getting the Kramer hair

  6. Thank you so much Dude for always informing us and sharing your knowledge. I am so glad I found your blog because it has truly helped me. Celiac has been a challenge because I am carb queen and I hate having to constantly pay attention to what I put in my mouth. I have taken it very serious. It is challenging when people just do not get it! Fortunately my family is very respectful and wants me to feel better. This is my first gluten free Thanksgiving and I am trying some new recipes, stuffing included! Thank you for sharing your wisdom it is greatly appreciated by this celiac 🙂

  7. I mean this is the nicest way possible but you look like Rob Schneider with that turkey hair! Happy Turkey Day to the Gluten Dude family (wife and daughters) and family (your most loyal fans)!

  8. GD-

    That picture is creepy. Sorry. But you know I have a problem holding back what I feel.

    But, more importantly, I want to say thank you. I am truly thankful for your blog and the many times I have come to it for comfort, rage and laughter.

    Screw the Turkey (not literally), Birds versus the Boys are on and Philly is going to kick some ass!

    Jersey Girl

    “It’s Goooooooood!!!!!!!!!!!”
    Merrill Reese

  9. Haha! That pic gave me a needed laugh. Thankful for many things this year, and finding your blog is on that list. I am lucky in that I cook the dinner. And I make a fabulous pie crust, so don’t miss out on that homemade pumpkin pie at all. Hope you and your family, and all of your readers, too, enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.

  10. So, Dude, you weren’t born in April 1969 in the Los Angeles area because I’m pretty sure we may be twin separated at birth. My mom would make us a special dinner for our birthday-my choice? Thanksgiving dinner….in April.

    I figured out a way to make her stuffing GLUTEN FREE! It took 3 years (I was diagnosed in an October as well). Her recipe sounds a lot like your family stuffing. If you are interested please let me know if you’d like to test her recipe. It is as good as her regular stuffing and I feel like we can hardly ever say that about most GF substitutes.

    Thanks for your great post wish I had had it four years ago!

  11. The stuffing! I agree…my first Thanksgiving sucked. I was so depressed. Everything..I’m pretty sure every item served was off limits to me so I brought my own pathetic attempt at a gluten Thanksgiving dinner for myself. It was a lot of work and didn’t turn out like I hoped it would. But, I hadn’t tried many brands or knew what worked yet. Plus luckily I live in the South, even though I was born a Yankee. So we make cornbread dressing instead of stuffing. I’ve now had a couple years of practice and last year I found a gluten free cornbread (Glutino) that made a fantastic gluten-free dressing. I do add a little bit of Udi’s bread chopped up (instead of my mother-in-law’s recipe that calls for day-old biscuits..and no my bread wasn’t day-old either. It was “fresh”). My daughter (who can eat gluten) likes my dressing better than the dressing served at the family dinner (I bring my own). And we too, eat dressing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a few days. I feel bloated just thinking about it. But it won’t stop us from eating it anyway. So have a wonderful Thanksgiving! And it’s true, be thankful for your loved ones and friends. You never know when this will be the last holiday you get to spend with them so appreciate it! Life is good!

  12. My 8 y.o. celiac daughter won’t let me show her that picture any more because it’s creeping her out. Me? I love it.
    Does anyone want to share their awesome stuffing recipe, Dude? Erica? I made my own last year and it was just okay for me, dawg.

    1. Yeah…the pic is pretty disturbing 😉

      We are actually purchasing our stuffing this year from a gluten free bakery near me. Less work. Better taste. A win-win all around.

  13. Perfect timing, (well duh… Thanksgiving is in a few days!) Last year was my first GF Thanksgiving… I was worried about the stuffing (can’t have Thanksgiving without it!) and still navigating the sometimes murky waters of GF cooking when it involves replacing gluten products with non-gluten products. At that point I hadn’t found a GF bread that I really liked. So I spent $25 on pre-made stuffing from a local GF bakery – it was delicious…. but TWENTY FIVE DOLLARS!…. So this year having found a bread I love (Thank you Canyon Bakehouse!) and more confident in cooking I decided I would try and make my own.

    I started saving all the extra end slices from the Canyon Bakehouse bread, and then I saw that Udi’s has a new bread that’s in the bakery area(not freezer) I saw some reviews and people were loving it so I had to try it. It did have a decent flavor and texture but still dry and not about to win me over from Canyon, but I thought hey, this will work good for stuffing! So stuck that loaf in the freezer too.

    I love apple raisin stuffing so I found a good recipe and decided to make it ahead of time and freeze it in case it was horrible I could come up with plan B (not sure what that was going to be – maybe another $25 tray of stuffing?) So yesterday I pulled out all the saved up bread and diced it up, let it sit for a bit to dry out a little then made the stuffing….. it came out excellent!!! I let it cool then put it in the freezer for Thursday. Bonus, I had lot of bread cubes left so I can make more stuffing when I want!!! I found a GF flour that is cup four cup that I really like, and made their recipe for buttermilk biscuits yesterday as well, they came out great so popped them in the freezer for Thursday as well. Was going to attempt to make a pie crust (never even did that with regular wheat flour) and make a dutch apple pie but I decided to just go with an apple crisp instead – husband doesn’t like pumpkin pie 🙁 .

  14. Hi Sara: here is a copy of my mom’s recipie with the substitutions noted. It’s pretty basic. But I do have to “eye” the ratios of the stuffings as well as the chicken broth. Nothing worse than soggy stuffing. Except that picture of Dude’s head on a turkey.

    I do not stuff the turkey because we do not like turkey stuffing. If you do, you may want to 1 ½ times the recipie.
    Good luck!

    Kiki’s Stuffing
    prep 0 hr 0 min ∙ cook 0 hr 0 min ∙ makes 8 ∙ source Kiki


    24 oz. cubed seasoned stuffing mix* see below
    14 oz. crumb style seasoned stuffing mix* see below
    *the original recipie calls for 2 pkgs. (12 oz. each) of Pepperidge Farms cubed seasoned stuffing mix and 1 pkg. of Pepperidge Farm crumb style stuffing.
    Cubed Stuffing: substitute Whole Foods GF Stuffing cubes-I am not sure what measurement they package their cubes in. I just did the math)
    Crumb Style Seasoned Stuffing: substitute Glutino Corn Bread Stuffing (8 oz. pkgs- again i just do the math) but i also crunch up these packages to make it “crumb style”
    4 cubes of butter
    6 brown onions, chopped
    1-2 bunches of celery, sliced in crescent shape
    1 1/2 lb mushrooms (optional)
    2-4 cans chicken broth
    2-3 cans whole water chestnuts, sliced thin by hand
    1/2 -1tsp dried thyme

    Melt 3 cubes of butter in large pan. Sauté onions until soft, about 20 minutes.

    Add celery and mushrooms and sauté about 2 minutes.

    Add stuffing cubes and crumbs.

    Add water chestnuts, thyme, salt and pepper and enough chicken broth to moisten bread but not wet.

    Place in casserole dish and when ready reheat in oven at 350° until warm.

    Sent from Paprika Recipe Manager

  15. I was diagnosed on Oct. 30th 2008 right before the holiday’s too. That was the most rotten terrible no good Thanksgiving and Christmas of my life. I was still sick and unable to be proactive to cook for myself and no one in my family helped make it a safe gluten free experience either. Oh well. Moving on.

    There were several years that I made Rice Stuffing. Then I tried to make gf bread stuffing which was a total disaster (just like yours). Then last year……finally, I made this recipe from Udi’s and it turned out wonderful. My entire family loved it and said we never need to make “gluten” stuffing ever again. Trial and error takes a long time, but eventually you get it.

  16. I was diagnosed shortly before my April birthday in 2009, so we had lots of time to adjust. My youngest son and daughter were also diagnosed with active celiac disease following my diagnosis. Once I learned about the strong genetic component, we had them screened. Blood test came back positive for both and endoscopy confirmed inflammation and damage to the villi. They were not yet exhibiting any clear acute symptoms. They are both grateful it was caught early so they didn’t have to go through what I experienced. My son even wrote about it in an essay he did for something his senior year of high school. (Strong plug here. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, your first degree relatives need, NEED, *NEED* to be screened. And since celiac can activate at any age, unless they want to do the genetic test to determine if they have the genes, they need to be periodically screened for life. The blood test is both sensitive and specific. It’s not perfect. No screening test is. But it’s a really good one.)

    Anyway, as others have noted, we’re Southerners so it’s cornbread dressing all the way. We make our own cornbread from scratch. My wife’s family cornbread recipe includes some flour, which took me a bit to get used to. I used to make my recipe early on, but gave up because the kids preferred hers. 😉 Her family recipe for cornbread dressing also includes biscuits. I think that first year she switched to a pure cornmeal cornbread. (Since then, we’ve found different flours. Jules Gluten Free delivered was an early one before there were decent blends available in stores.) And Bob’s Red Mill biscuit and baking mix makes drop biscuits that have exactly the right consistency and flavor to work in her dressing recipe. (She actively dislikes their flour blend. But still uses that biscuit mix.) Her gluten free dressing is perfect now. Everyone loves it, whether or not they have celiac disease.

    My younger son’s wife was also diagnosed with celiac disease while they were engaged. Our entire Thanksgiving is completely gluten free. We don’t have to worry about cross contamination. It’s been that way since 2010. That makes life so much simpler. My wife and I both cook from scratch extensively so adapting post diagnosis was not as huge a challenge for us, even given the relative sparsity of processed options in 2009, as I’m sure it has been for many. And by now, it’s second nature. We still check the label every single time we buy something, even if it’s something we bought a thousand times before, but other than that it doesn’t intrude much into our life at home. Out and about, of course, that’s another story.

  17. I’m still just a few months past my diagnosis, and I was so mad-sad (that should be a real compound word) about not having the stuffing I love for Canadian Thanksgiving that I made Thanksgiving poutine instead. Everyone said, “You can use gluten free bread” but I was not ready to not have it the way I remembered it. Like Gluten Dude, stuffing was my favourite part of the meal–I don’t even eat turkey so it was always about the stuffing! We used the same spices as we would have for stuffing in the gravy, added celery, and it was fantastic. I even put cranberry sauce on top of it, just because I could. For pie, I used shortbread-style pie crust that I made with gluten free flours for our pumpkin pie, and it was great. So I’d say it was a defiant win: Take that, Celiac–I got to have poutine!!!

    Also–that crabs comment was the best. I am still laughing.

  18. My Celiac struck in November so I at least had Thanksgiving that year. I spent all of Christmas and nearly all of New Year’s cleaning my kitchen, that was my first two weeks of totally gluten free life. Honestly it’s very memorable. My oven’s self cleaning didn’t work so my hubby and I are on our knees wiping toxic spray out of it for hours. LOL I never knew how much work it is to clean an oven with that spray. If it wasn’t the holidays, we would’ve given up and bought a new stove/oven. Hey it’s memories, right?

    This year we made stuffing with home baked GF bread for the first time. It was delicious, but a bit too wet. We’ll have to make dry croutons of it first next time.

    Happy Holidays and thank you for all you do.

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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