Traveling for the Holidays? Here are Some Gluten-Free Tips.

gluten free holidays

Traveling for the holidays can sometimes be a drag. Crowded roads. Crowded airports. Crowded house.

No…not that Crowded House.

Traveling for the holidays with celiac? Perhaps a total drag…and then some. But it doesn’t have to be.

I received the following email recently and I figured many in the community are dealing with a similar stress.

I love your blog and feel you will give me the most honest answer. I know how to avoid getting glutened at a party or holiday dinner. What do I do when I am visiting family for a whole week?! Is it okay to bring my own sauté pan? I intend to buy my own GF packaged food such as bars, almond butter, tuna but I am scared. I will be in brain fog and depression for at least a week if I eat cross contaminated food. When you are a house guest, how much is too much when it comes to staying gluten free?

Tip #1: Don’t be scared. Living your life in fear of getting sick is not living your life.

Tip #2: Take the focus off the food and put it on the people. Yeah…I know the holidays revolve around food. Let them have their cake and eat it too. Your goal is to stay safe.

Tip #3: Prepare, prepare, prepare. No, it is not too much to bring your own sauté pan. No, it is not too much to bring your own packaged food. Don’t worry about what others may think of you.

Tip #4: Unless you have a special relationship with the peeps you’re visiting, don’t expect your hosts to cook differently just for you. Nobody wins. They’ll be stressed out, not knowing all it takes to make it completely safe for you. You’ll still be stressed out, not knowing if they truly avoided cross-contamination. What does that add up to? Yep…a stressed out trip.

Tip #5: Offer to help in the kitchen. If your hosts really do want to take care of you and cook for you, jump in the kitchen with them. Gently explain why certain things need to be done a specific way. “What…we can’t stuff the bird?” “Huh…the biscuits can’t go on the plate with the turkey?” “Really…Glenn survived that zombie attack on Walking Dead??”

Tip #6: Have fun. Have fun. Have fun. There is a quote I keep in my home office that speaks volumes to me. It says:

“To insist unrelentingly that the world be different than the way it is, creates a foundation that breeds distress.”

You have celiac. It is what it is. Don’t let it spoil the holidays.

Gobble, gobble.

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16 thoughts on “Traveling for the Holidays? Here are Some Gluten-Free Tips.”

  1. Great article! I am nervous about visiting my family this weekend and this is very helpful. BTW, thanks for spoiling the Walking Dead for me – I was out on vacation for 10 days and haven’t caught up with the Walking Dead yet.

      1. Having just sent my newest members a HELP sheet, a few things I can add. If you know of a store where you can shop when you get to your destination, do that immediately when you get there. Do a bit of research to find one on line,. Buy your own food and whatever you need, even a couple of the new (and good) frozen dinners to carry you through the visit. If you are dining locally and know your hostess well, reassure her she does not have to
        cook for you– then bring a pan, sponge and prepare your own food. Think and plan ahead. Bring or prepare a dish you can eat and that other’s will enjoy- just keep an eye on the serving spoon! Stock up on gf protein bars, single servings of soup, rice dishes, frozen products that only need heating. Above all, relax and enjoy. As important as food is, your health is at the top of the list and, yes, little taste of something will hurt you!

    1. To my knowledge stainless steel is ok to wash (very) well but cast iron and non- stick coatings retain gluten regardless of how well they are cleaned. Easier to have your own small pan.

  2. I have found that it depends on the people. Most people are relieved that you bring your own stuff. It’s really hard for people to know what to feed us. And most people don’t get how careful we have to be, so when you do bring your own stuff and don’t put focus on the food and just ‘be’ with people, it’s actually a lot less stressful for everyone.
    But, I will say this, I do have people in my life (one in particular that’s the worst) that are NOT like that. She is offended every time I don’t want to eat a meal with them. She doesn’t get it, even though she acts like and claims she does. And last Thanksgiving I was SEVERELY ill shortly after eating. Never again. It’s not worth it. If she’s mad at me, so be it. I can’t do that to myself.

  3. Tip #7: Bring a dessert. If you need to, bring your whole meal. I’m bringing multiple small pans of GF stuffing, because it never fails that a spoon from the regular stuff will end up in it somehow. This way, I just set that pan aside and start on the next pan if need be.

  4. I needed this a couple years ago, if for nothing else to send to my in-laws. We visited them for the holiday (cross country) and it was awful. I was ill the entire time. They don’t get it, even though we’ve tried to explain it to them. My MIL kept insisting things were gluten free because she made them vegetarian (I think she was confused and thought meat was gluten, not WHEAT). She refused to allow me to help in the kitchen. I ended up only eating salad for dinner and still ended up sick, even though I dished up first. Honestly, it was such a miserable experience that I haven’t been back. Next time we go back, we are staying in a hotel with a kitchen and I’ll just eat on my own for every meal. We should have done that last time, but holiday travel is so expensive and things were right back then.

  5. My family “gets it”, fortunately. I am so sensitive I can’t be around all the gluten smells without getting very ill, so my sis and I do all the cooking. She brings some of the food, cooked ahead in her kitchen, and cooks GF for the day. I can’t eat anything from her kitchen as it’s not made in a GF environment, but the other GF members in the family can. Our turkey is either unstuffed or stuffed with GF bread. Turkey is cooked in a new pan (the one-use kind) or in one I bring. I make sure I bring enough food so I don’t feel “left out” at the table.

    If I am going to an event where there is food I don’t trust (pretty much everywhere) I carry a cooler of my own food, and don’t touch ANYTHING from anyone else’s kitchen. I don’t care what anyone thinks. It’s how I stay safe and healthy. Happy Holidays and good luck everyone!

  6. You have to take care of yourself. I’ve been through several years of the family being so nice and wonderful, trying to make sure I have gluten free options at the holidays even when I tell them they don’t have to go through the trouble. But even with their good intentions, every year I feel sick after a large family dinner. The unintentional cross-contamination gets me every time. So it’s up to me to take care of me. I am bringing my own dressing, sweet potatoes, and broccoli casserole this year. I feel confident I can eat their turkey, but the family’s other dishes are either baked in stoneware (which may retain some gluten), strained in a strainer (which gluten sticks to from their last pasta dish), or stirred with a wooden spoon that I no longer trust. It’s hyper-vigilant, but necessary for me. I still looked forward to eating well and enjoying family! And it is a relief that I will not worry about unintended consequences for later. I’m free to just enjoy!

  7. This has been successful for me so far…

    Small boxed triple washed salad that I can add chickpeas, tuna, olives, whatever to – good to have lots of small snap lock containers for your fixings and condiments.
    Prepare your own food/meals and label them. Threaten bodily harm if anyone touches them (just kidding but only a little).
    Buy yourself some of those Rubbermade divided plates with lids and before anyone else touches the GF food, make yourself a couple of leftover plates for later meals.
    Bring your own pans (you really only need two), fold up steamer, colander, roll up cutting board and knife.
    Make up a travel kit (small Nalgene travel kits work great) with olive oil, mixed herbs, dried garlic, salt, pepper, etc.

    We tried the watching-over-the-shoulder and cooking together thing but unless I bring my own ingredients and dishes, I get sick. This was the compromise and my family and I can still sit down to eat together which is the whole point anyway and I don’t get sick. I tried not hurting other peoples feelings for a long time. Now I make no apologies for protecting myself and I shouldn’t have to. Just be firm in your resolve but kind. They will get over the hurt feelings much faster than you will heal.

  8. I bring my own toaster (BYOT) wherever I’m staying too, be it friend, family, or hotel. Just be careful to not burn the toast in hotel room and set off the smoke alarm… at midnight…

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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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