Holiday dinners can be wonderful or they can be minefields for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. For some reason, some families are unwilling or unable to accept the need for some people to eat a strict gluten free diet, especially when it comes to altering family traditions at holiday times. Suddenly it is a huge issue to thicken the gravy with potato starch instead of wheat flour or for you to not eat some of your husband’s grandmother’s lasagna.
Even if they tell you that they understand your food restrictions, somehow they will forget that you can’t eat gravy made with wheat flour or the green beans if they are covered in crunchy fried onions.
There really is no way to change your families beliefs or behavior toward you – all you can really change is the way you react to events and treat them with kindness. Sometimes if you don’t make a huge fuss about negative statements made at the dinner table or “mistakes” that are made in food preparation, those statements will become less frequent and the mistakes will stop happening over time.
As always, you need to make plans in advance. If your family meals are potluck, make sure you take safe food for yourself and make sure that you will have enough to eat and won’t feel tempted to cheat. If some relatives are sympathetic and helpful, work with them to create more safe food. If you know that minor changes in your family’s standard dishes can make them gluten free, like choosing a particular type of soy sauce, or leaving the candied pecans off a green salad, ask about having these changes made a few days before the holiday. Suggest alternative brands of problem ingredients, and suggest that items like croutons be served separately so that everyone can prepare their salad as they want it.
If at all possible ask your questions in advance of sitting down at the table. Take a look at the ingredients on the packages in the kitchen. Talk quietly to the people who brought various dishes about the ingredients and any cross-contamination concerns.
Pick your battles carefully. If turkey is the most important part of the meal focus on having it stuffed with gluten-free stuffing or cooked without stuffing and just skip the green bean casserole. If lasagna is main focus of your family dinner, volunteer to cook it and make it for everyone using gluten-free lasagna noodles. If that is not acceptable, make a dish for yourself with gluten-free lasagna noodles and take it with you. Special cookies and cakes are often a very important part of holiday meals. If not having them will make things very difficult for you, focus your efforts on making a wonderful gluten-free version of them. Search the web for gluten-free recipes for your favorites and try the recipe at least once before the holiday.
One thing that is very important is that you don’t use the holiday as an excuse for cheating. Your family will get even more confused if you tell them you cannot eat anything made with wheat, rye, barley, or oats and then they see you eating regular shortbread cookies or fried chicken. It also won’t help if your family gathering escalates into an argument at the dinner table. If you end up sitting at the table eating raw vegetables, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, everyone at the table is likely to be distressed by the end of the meal.
One thing that is important is that people come first. You can have a great holiday without mince pie, Grandma’s lasagna, perogies or babka, but you can’t have a great holiday with people missing from your family table.