Each family has their own holiday meal traditions. Whether it’s ham, mashed potatoes, pies, and more, these feasts are likely anticipated all year. This makes hearing the words “food allergy” or “dietary restriction” that much more intimidating as you try to determine the best way to adjust your menu to accommodate special diets.

Learning that Aunt Agatha can’t eat wheat can increase your pre-existing meal-planning stress. How can you know what allergens are in common holiday dishes and what can you make instead? Thankfully, information and resources are readily available!

Although there are many different food allergies, three of the most commonly avoided culprits are gluten, dairy, and tree nuts.

Gluten is found in more than just bread products. The good news is that grocery stores carry many alternatives:

  • Gravies – Wheat flour may be used as a thickener but can be substituted for cornstarch.
  • Salad dressings – Dressings may contain malt vinegar, soy sauce, or flour. When selecting a dressing, keep an eye out for those labeled gluten-free.
  • Fried foods – The breading on fried foods often contains wheat flour. There are many gluten-free flour alternatives, including coconut, chickpea, and sprouted flour that may be safe to use instead.
  • Casseroles – Casseroles often include noodles, bread ingredients, or cream of mushroom/chicken soup, which uses wheat flour. Look for ingredients that are labeled gluten-free, including alternative flours.
  • Alcohol – Beer often includes malted wheat. Hard apple ciders, vodka, rum, and tequila are all libations that are safe for individuals with gluten sensitivities.
  • Baked goods – Wheat is in most breads, cookies, muffins, cakes, and piecrusts. With minimal effort, most ingredients are easily swapped for gluten-free premade goods or recipes.
  • Crackers – Crackers are often served with cheese platters and spreads during the holidays. Look for gluten-free options that don’t contain wheat flour.

Dairy can be found in:

  • Milk and cream – Milk is used in many festive, creamy drinks like eggnog and is the main ingredient in ice cream. Get creative and seek an alternative that is best for your dish! Almond, hemp, cashew, rice, or coconut milk are all dairy-free options that work well for various seasonal recipes.
  • Cheese products – Watch out for cream cheese and all varieties of shredded and sliced cheese. Many grocery stores offer vegan alternatives to cheese that are made from various non-dairy ingredients. For optimal results, research which alternative works best for your dish!
  • Yogurt – Yogurt is included in many desserts and Greek yogurt is increasingly utilized in recipes of all types. Look for vegan alternatives, including soy, coconut, and almond yogurt.
  • Baked goods – Pies, breads, cookies, and more usually include dairy. Vegan cookbooks and blogs often list delicious recipes for dairy-free baked goods.

Tree nuts can be found in:

  • Sweet potato casserole – This tasty dish is often topped with pecans. Opt for a nut-free version of this dish to ensure all guests can enjoy it.
  • Desserts and baked goods – Some are obvious like pecan pie, some use nuts as a topping, and others have nuts baked into them (like banana and pumpkin bread). Steer clear of pecan pie, and bake nut-free versions of the other desserts.
  • Salads – It’s common to find nuts sprinkled on a salad, so double-check that your guests can have walnuts, pecans, or other nuts before adding them atop a bed of greens.
  • You may find it easier and less expensive to opt for alternative foods rather than search for a substitute. Consider these dishes for tasty, allergy-free sides:

    • Roasted vegetables like zucchini, squash, mushrooms, and potatoes
    • Steamed broccoli, green beans, or asparagus
    • Brussels sprouts
    • Baked apples
    • Fresh fruits
    • Brown or white rice
    • Quinoa salad made with fresh veggies
    • Roasted or baked meats instead of fried meats

    With a little prep, you’ll be set for festive and healthy holiday dishes that can be enjoyed by everyone!


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