Hosting Thanksgiving is about making everyone feel welcome and included, so it's nice to serve an allergy-free spread that everyone can enjoy. There are lots of ways to have an allergy-friendly Thanksgiving that will be just as tasty and still feel totally traditional.
Several people in my extended family have Celiac disease, which means they can't have any wheat or gluten. At first, we thought this meant that our old stand-bys were off the table (so to speak), but it turns out you can turn almost anything gluten-free. Same goes for almost any allergy or sensitivity, including dairy, tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, fish, or shellfish. Here's how you make this work and make sure everyone feels welcome (and safe).
Start by Asking About Allergies (in a Totally Inclusive Way)
You can't have an allergen-free Thanksgiving if you don't know what foods you need to avoid. As you're getting ready to plan the menu, take some time to talk to everyone about what they can and cannot eat. This can be as simple as a group text or email, or you can call people on the phone and have a more in-depth conversation.
We like starting off with a focus on inclusivity, since people with food allergies can sometimes feel excluded from social events surrounding food. A simple text like this can make everyone feel like part of the party planning: "Just wanted to make sure our Thanksgiving dinner will be safe for all the people we love. What are the food allergies we should know about?"
Identify Dishes That Might Have an Allergen
Once you know what everyone is allergic to, it's time to spot the potential issues in your menu. Then you can rework those recipes to avoid certain ingredients.
- Fish and shellfish - Thanksgiving doesn't have a lot of traditional foods involving fish, but skip any stuffing recipe that has oysters or any broth that might include fish.
- Wheat - It's actually pretty easy to go gluten free for Thanksgiving. The big challenges are stuffing, rolls, pie crust, and recipes that call for flour.
- Dairy - You'll need dairy substitutes for the milk or cream in your mashed potatoes, the whipped cream on the pie, and any other dairy ingredients. If someone is sensitive to dairy, be sure to ask if you should use margarine instead of butter.
- Tree nuts and peanuts - That cheese ball that's rolled in nuts will need a little modification, and you will want to scrap any pecan pie plans (plenty of great alternatives, though).
If you're making an allergy-free Thanksgiving, it's important to review every single recipe and every ingredient that goes into it. For example, the cream of mushroom soup that goes in the green bean casserole has dairy and wheat flour, even if you're not actually adding straight milk or cream to the recipe. People with food allergies have practice with this, so you can also ask their advice about what they might need to avoid.
Try Some Allergy-Friendly Thanksgiving Recipes
You can still have all (or at least most) of those traditional Thanksgiving foods. You just need to tweak your recipes a little bit or try variations on the standard ones. We like these allergy-friendly twists on classic dishes.
Gluten-Free Turkey and Stuffing
Turkey doesn't contain any gluten on its own, but if use soy sauce in your marinade or add a wheat bread-based stuffing, it's an allergy bomb. Make a delicious gluten-free turkey and stuffing by using gluten-free cornbread instead of traditional wheat bread and making your own marinade for the turkey.
Dairy-Free Mashed Potatoes
Dairy is a big part of most mashed potato recipes, but it doesn't have to be. This simple dairy-free mashed potato recipe substitutes non-dairy milk and vegan butter for the standard dairy versions, and you still get that rich, comforting flavor. Hint: we love Miyoko's Creamery plant milk butter for a super buttery-flavored substitute.
If you're a gravy family (and who isn't?) you can make it gluten free and dairy free by substituting any gluten-free all-purpose flour for regular flour and using non-dairy ingredients like vegan butter and rice milk.
If you can't find a dairy-free recipe for your favorite Thanksgiving foods, try a vegan version. A vegan diet is dairy free, so there's a ton of overlap.
Nut-Free Thanksgiving Desserts
Nuts don't show up in a lot of Thanksgiving dishes, but they are a part of some of the classic desserts. Although pecan pie can't be made without nuts, there are lots of things that can. Thanksgiving desserts like cranberry cheesecake and pumpkin-ginger trifle are totally festive and don't have peanuts or tree nuts in them.
Watch Out for Cross-Contamination
If you're cooking an allergy-free Thanksgiving, you should try to avoid cross-contamination while you cook. Basically, this means accidentally getting a tiny amount of an allergen into something because the allergen is already nearby (think flour floating in the air or a little bit of peanut butter on a cookie sheet). It mostly comes down to identifying all the places the allergen might sneak in and then changing your cooking process to keep it out.
For example, when I'm cooking for my family with Celiac, I always clean my counters really well and only use non-porous food prep items (no wooden cutting boards or wooden spoons). I cook everything gluten-free before anything that might have gluten, too, and if I can't be sure the pan I'm using won't have a tiny bit of gluten on it, I line it in foil.
Ask for Tips From Your Thanksgiving Guests
People who have food allergies get really good at knowing where to find great substitutes for common ingredients and how to avoid what they can't eat. There's no shame at all in asking guests for advice about how they best avoid the foods they're allergic to. They may even have favorite recipes or tricks to share.
Asking for advice can also help your guests feel safe. Some food allergies are very dangerous, and it takes a lot of trust to eat food someone else made and know it won't contain allergens. If you talk to your guests about the best ways to avoid the allergens, you're showing them this is important to you, and that you're making their health and safety a priority.
Make Guests Feel Comfortable and Included
Hosting an allergy-friendly Thanksgiving is really all about making people feel comfortable and included. A lot of Thanksgiving foods are already allergy-free or pretty close to it, so it's really about making small tweaks and substitutions and reading all the labels to check for possible allergens. You've totally got this.