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  • Yvonne Vissing Ph.D.

    How to Prepare a Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

    Yvonne Vissing Ph.D.
    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Autumn 2015 Issue - Originally published October 19, 2015

    Image: CC--Tim Sackton
    Caption: Image: CC--Tim Sackton

    Celiac.com 02/02/2016 - Thanksgiving dinner is one of the culinary highlights of the year. Family and friends join together to share a blessed moment when they give thanks for each other and for homes, jobs, and the opportunity to live comfortable lives. We may give thanks for peace, decent weather, surviving illness, or just making it through another day.

    This is all done around the celebration of a food feast. Food is of central importance to social bonding and sharing a sense of community. As we all eat from the same platters and serve from the same bowls, there is a one-ness, a unity between us. But for folks who have celiac or who can't eat gluten, there is a sense of exclusion when relegated to a "separate but equal" dining system.

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    People who have no problem eating anything and everything often fail to consider how hard it is for people who need to be super-careful about what they consume. When they have gone to great expense to buy festive foods, and after they've expended significant time planning the perfect plates, it is understandable that they get frustrated when others won't eat what they've prepared. What they may not remember is that there is a big difference between "won't" and "can't". Will-not implies a preference—and in food-terms it means wrinkling up your nose over something that doesn't strike your fancy. Can-not implies the hard truth that if one eats something, they could get sick. Won't is a choice—can't occurs when there is no choice. So when people do not eat a festive food, is it because they can't or won't? The usual default is to assume won't. But for people who are gluten-free, the answer is can't.

    Going gluten-free at Thanksgiving can be tough because it's so keenly associated with memories. Some of them are sensory, like remembering the smells of fresh-baked pumpkin pie or roasted turkey wafting out of the oven. Others are emotional, such as laughing with grandma while kneading bread that they family will soon lunge to smother with melting butter, or chopping up onions, celery, and chestnuts for dressing with Aunt Molly. For folks who once weren't gluten-free, certain foods evoke desire. We all have emotional trigger-foods. What's yours? One year we were invited to a colleague's Thanksgiving dinner and the hostess asked everyone, "What is the one food that if you don't have it for Thanksgiving, you would feel sad about?" It was a thoughtful question. After we all confessed she then told us that was the item we were to bring.

    When you're going to a pot-luck type of Thanksgiving dinner where everyone is bringing something, it's dietary roulette for someone with celiac. It's gambling at its finest. What are the chances that you can eat a dish? Does the cook appear conscientious and trustworthy or make you ask "am I feeling lucky?" enough to try that dish? Eating in collective settings lowers the risk of getting glutened when everyone knows you've got dietary issues and they're openly attentive to them. The risk is greater when you're with people you don't know well, or those who aren't as careful as they seem. Culinary posers prevail during the holidays. Some stop at the deli and put the food into their own bowls and cover them with aluminum foil to make it appear they made it themselves (I know—I have in fact done this). We have no idea what's really in the food because we didn't make it ourselves. Others lie about the dish's ingredients. They may innocently fib because they don't know what's safe and what's not for someone who has to go gluten-free—or they could tell only partial truth, like I did long ago about whether I put cream in a pumpkin soup when someone was lactose intolerant. Back then, I wrongly assumed that if they didn't know, they couldn't tell, so they wouldn't put up a fuss and then I wouldn't get embarrassed. I didn't know then what I know now. Even well-intended people may screw up when it comes to telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what's in food or how it was prepared.

    Preparing a gluten-free Thanksgiving dinner that is absolutely safe and delicious for everyone to eat is easy. Here's a menu and recipes that will help you to create a meal that everyone is thankful for! It focuses on foods of the season, especially apples and the family of squashes. It is inclusive and delicious, and will give everyone one less thing to worry about as we instead focus on gratitude.

    A Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

    When folks are milling around before a meal, it's nice to put out appetizers that they can nibble on. Usually these are very sharable, so making sure they are safe for someone with celiac is essential. So don't put out anything that could lead to cross-contamination. Here is our favorite tried-and-true appy:
    Artichoke Dip

    This is so easy and delicious as not to be believed!

    2 -3 cans of artichokes, cut into small pieces
    1 red pepper, diced
    Swiss, Cheddar, Parmesan, Muenster, and other cheeses of your liking
    Salt, pepper, onion flakes
    gluten-free crackers

    Spray a low casserole dish. In a bowl, mix in the cut artichokes, pepper, and pieces of cheeses. Add in the spices; only a little salt and more pepper, as the cheeses are usually salty and the artichokes could have been processed with some. Probably there will be salt on the crackers, so you don't want to kill this dish with it. Pour in the mixture into the casserole and heat until bubbly. Serve with only gluten free crackers or veggie sticks. . Part of the fun is dipping in a bowl together, so make sure if people double-dip that everyone is safe!
    Option: some people like to add spinach or cream cheese to their dip. It's not my way, but the popularity of spinach-artichoke dips conveys that it may be right for you!
    Soup is warm, comforting, and sets the stage for what's to come. Here are two recipes from which you can choose that are sure to whet the whistle of people for dishes to come!
    Apple Kale Soup
    Apples are abundant in autumn, and I created this dish in desperation to use foods that I had in the fridge on a day when the chill started to go through my bones. As a child I didn't understand kale, but now know it's a flexible, healthy and friendly vegetable.


    • 2-3 apples, peeled and sliced and diced
    • 2/3 bag of fresh kale, or a hearty bunch cut into small pieces
    • 1 purple onion, diced
    • 1/3 pound of bacon (maple bacon is an especially good choice)
    • 16 oz chicken broth (have another can handy if you want it)
    • Salt, pepper
    • Olive oil
    • Plain nonfat yogurt

    Saute the onion and bacon in a little olive oil until they are brown and crispy. Add in a little broth, then the kale, which will shrink up immediately. Then add the apples in, along with the rest of the broth. Season with salt and pepper and let it simmer awhile on medium-low heat. I think a creamy looking soup is elegant, so I recommend spooning out the mixture into a food processor to make it smooth. Then return to the pan, adding more broth if you want. When that is done, add in the secret ingredient—plain yogurt. It will give it a creamy consistency and a little zing. You have to play with the amount of broth, yogurt and mixture to create a soup the consistency you like. It is an unusual soup that is tasty and sure to garner compliments.

    Gluten-Free Pumpkin Squash Soup

    In contrast to the previous soup recipe with is savory, this is a sweet soup recipe.


    • 2 cans pumpkin
    • 1 small diced onion
    • 1 medium butternut squash, cubed
    • 3 cups chicken broth
    • 1 teaspoon butter
    • 2 tablespoons gluten-free flour or cornstarch
    • 2 Tablespoon brown sugar
    • 1 cup + half-and-half
    • Salt, pepper, ginger, cinnamon to taste

    Saute the onions and squash in butter. Mash the squash when it is soft. Add to the chicken broth and simmer. Stir in the canned pumpkin. Mix gluten-free flour/cornstarch, butter, sugar, and spices. Fold in cream last. Heat but do not boil. You can garnish with a few slivered almonds if you want.


    While my mama had many culinary talents, the salads she made weren't her specialty, to say the least. Her "green" salad consisted of iceberg lettuce with tomatoes thrown on top, or we might enjoy a Waldorf salad that had red-delicious apples cut up, some celery and pecans that she mixed with Miracle Whip. It took me years to understand that salads could be the best part of a meal. Here are substitutions for what mama didn't know about!

    Diversity Salad

    Salads are most enjoyable with they contain a mixture of ingredients. You are the artist in the kitchen and get to decide what ingredients in what proportions. Here are our suggestions of items to consider: Baby spinach, romaine lettuce, and spring greens are the base of the salad, but don't rely on this to be the biggest ingredient. Using plenty of other vegetables will make every bite an experience, each mouthful different than the bite before. Add liberal amounts of carrots, tomatoes, onions, cucumber, and peppers, cut in various shapes and types. We love radishes, celery, sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and fresh mushrooms, but not everyone agrees. Avocado, beets and asparagus are other vegetables that may be questionable; while we like them, not everyone does. We are sensitive to the palate of our guests and modify the salad ingredients to please them. Leafy vegetables like kale, arugula, cabbage, chicory, watercress can make a salad interesting. Likewise, using fresh basil, cilantro, parsley and other herbs create tastes that give each salad a different flavor. Do you like roasted red peppers? Artichoke hearts? Banana pepper slices tossed into a salad can be delightful if you like that kind of spiciness. Olive varieties are endless. We recommend putting out different types of dressings so people have choice. For examples of easy and delicious dressings, there is a list for you to consider in our book Going Gluten Free.

    Waldorf Salad

    This salad can be anything but boring!

    The base:

    • Toasted walnuts or pecans – toasting gives them a nice crunch that adds to the texture of the dish.
    • Apples—I like flavorful crispy kinds, unpeeled so the color shines out. Red? Green? Combination? You choose! You also get to choose how to slice them. Hunks, thin slivers, slices—you're in charge. I rather like them slivered—they seem more delicate for an elegant meal.


    Celery—Cut it in slender shreds.

    Seedless Grapes or Dried Cranberries—Historically, grapes were the ingredient selected in the original Waldorf Astoria recipe. You can certainly keep tradition and use them. I like grapes to eat but not as fond of them in salads, so I prefer dried cranberries. I live in New England and using them at this time of year seems right. The dried berries add another texture and bright color to the dish.

    Optional: Some folks like to add thin sliced red or green peppers or even a few scallions.

    This is the make-or-break part of this salad. Mayonnaise is traditional, but today has been sidelined by the use plain yogurt or sour cream. Many people use a combination. I veer away from mayo in preference is a thinner, lighter dressing. Others add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice mixed with a little honey. If you're into mustard, you may want to add a teaspoon, but no more or you will kill the dressing. It will need a little salt and pepper. Have handy some fresh mint leaves or parsley for garnish. Don't forget to serve it on some leafy lettuce. The lettuce bottom helps make the rest of the salad work even better!

    Main Dishes

    Turkey is by far the main dish at most Thanksgiving dinners. Every year, recipes seem to get more complex, like Turduckins or deep fried turkeys. Here is our recipe—it's simple, delicious, and healthy.

    Roasted Turkey


    • Turkey
    • Salt, pepper, paprika
    • Butter
    • Can of turkey/chicken broth

    Choose your turkey to your liking—some people like 20 pound birds with legs attached, others prefer a turkey breast and forgo the dark meat. Whatever you pick, you must decide whether to live the skin on or off. I always pull it off. It's an emotionally wrenching thing to do, but it's much healthier and makes for a tastier and prettier dish (in my opinion). I put the bird in a roasting pan that has some broth on the bottom. This keeps the bird moist as it cooks and it catches the natural juices and becomes the base for awesome gravy later on.

    Then I butter the bird a bit to enhance flavor and to help the spices stick. Heavily salt, pepper and add paprika to the exterior of the bird. There are many different types of paprika and some are quite spicy, so judge accordingly. Paprika makes the bird brown beautifully. Put a lid or aluminum foil over the bird and bake at 425F degrees for an hour or several more, depending on the size of the bird. This will enable the bird to cook through (nothing worse than raw poultry!) and not over-brown on top. After it appears that the bird is done on the inside, then remove the foil/lid and let it brown on top. You can baste it with some of the broth to keep it moist. When the bird is golden brown, you can take it out and eat it steaming hot. Add some corn starch, salt and pepper to the broth, whisk over medium heat, and make gravy to go on mashed potatoes if you like. This is a simple recipe that is sure to please!

    I was a vegetarian for two decades and know how awesome non-meat holiday dishes can be. Tofurky never quite worked for me. Here is one of our favorite dishes - but it's not safe for vegans because it contains both eggs and cheese. Sorry about that! We can't be all things to all people—but at least we are honestly transparent.

    Holiday Cheesy-Nut Delight


    • 30 oz. cottage cheese
    • 1 purple onion, diced
    • 5 eggs
    • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
    • 1 cup chopped walnuts
    • 3-4 cups gluten-free corn flakes or rice krispies
    • Butter

    Salt, pepper, A-1 sauce, optional dried minced onions or dried parsley

    Saute the onion in butter until transparent and lovely. In a bowl, add cottage cheese, eggs, cheddar, walnuts, a tablespoon of A-1 sauce, and spices to your liking. Then stir in the cooked onions. Finally, add in the cereal. The mixture should be moist but not runny. Poor it into a greased pan—you can make them into a loaf, muffins, or cook in a casserole pan. The size of the pan you use determine how long you will cook this dish. It should take around a half-hour for most size pans. The dish will be firm and browned, but don't overcook it or it will be dry. It cuts nicely when cool. If you want to make it look even fancier, you can drizzle a bechemal sauce over it with parsley garnish. This is a family favorite, and we hope you will enjoy it too.
    Chop 1 onion sauted in butter, add to mixture of eggs, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, walnuts, salt, pepper, a T of A-1 and mix in 4 cups of gluten-free Corn Flakes. Baked in a greased pan at 350F degrees for an hour. Let sit 10 minutes uncovered before cutting.

    What's Thanksgiving dinner without stuffing? Here's our version—tweak to your heart's content!

    Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Stuffing


    • Leftover gluten free bread, any type, torn into small pieces
    • Olive Oil
    • Celery and Onion, cut into small pieces
    • Chicken/turkey broth
    • Salt, Pepper, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley
    • Butter
    • Optional: Nuts (your choice), dried fruit (apricots, apples), sausage, or vegetables

    I gave up cooking the stuffing in the turkey ages ago. It turns out much better if you bake it in pan of its own. Saute until soft onion and celery in butter. Spray a cooking dish. In a bowl, mix the bread pieces, pour in the celery/onion mixture, add spices, and enough chicken broth to make it very moist. Add in whatever other ingredients you want. Personally, the simpler the better. Sometimes too much is overkill. Bake at 350 until it is firm with a light crust on top – then enjoy!


    Let's face it—the sky's the limit when it comes to making amazing gluten-free vegetable dishes. I learned that color was important for a festive meal, so ours is white (potatoes), yellow (corn), orange (pumpkin), and red (cranberries or tomatoes in the salads). Instead doing green beans, broccoli, or asparagus—all that are awesome—we've given you a less familiar Brussel sprout recipe.

    Mashed Potatoes
    What could be easier? Scrape clean potatoes, cut them into hunks and toss them into boiling water until soft. Then mash. Add butter, milk, salt and pepper. Make more than you think you're going to need—they are going to disappear.

    Baked Corn
    Take 2 cans of gluten-free creamed corn, a can of whole kernel corn, drained, and mix them together in a bowl with 2-3 eggs, 1/3 cup corn starch, dried minced onion, salt and pepper and a smidge of butter. Pour into a greased casserole and bake until it is bubbly.

    Bacony-Delicious Brussel Sprouts


    • Bacon
    • Brussel sprouts
    • Olive oil
    • Salt/pepper
    • Balsamic vinegar
    • Parmesan cheese

    Cut the bacon into little pieces and fry them in olive oil. When brown, toss in the sprouts—slice the bigger ones. They will brown beautifully—you may want to put a lid on them for a few minutes to make sure they cook through and become soft. Then add salt, pepper, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with parm cheese. These are bound to be a hit!

    I'll be honest with you—as a child I learned to bake some of the most fantastic yeast wheat bread imaginable. gluten-free bread has, by far, been the hardest thing for me to recreate with satisfaction. My solution? Don't try to do it in a way that recreates child memories. Find a new way. You may be pleased with the result.

    Pumpkin Muffins

    This is my own concoction. As you may recall from our cooking model described in our book, Going Gluten Free, I don't measure ingredients. I work with them in a zen method until they seem to be right. So I'll give you my recipe, with the recommendation that you tweak it as your intuition dictates!


    • 1 can pumpkin
    • 1 1/2 c. gluten-free flour
    • 1 c sugar
    • ½ c. canola oil
    • 2-3 eggs
    • 1 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp baking soda
    • Cinnamon
    • Chocolate chips

    Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl, then pour into greased muffin tins. Make sure the tins are gluten-free safe. We have a special pan that nothing else goes in, and recommend you do the same. It's better to spray the muffin cups instead of using papers—the muffins actually come out much prettier. They rise high and are beautiful and tasty. These are our autumn delights!


    • 3 c. gluten-free flour
    • ½ c. canola oil + oil for cooking
    • 1-2 eggs
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • Salt
    • Optional ingredients: sliced scallions, cheese, herbs, or whatever pleases you!

    Mix the ingredients together in a bowl while the oil heats in a skillet. Drop a large spoonful of the batter into the oil, and flip when it browns. When both sides are golden, remove and add more fritter batter into the pan. Serve hot with butter. They satisfy the need for bread without having to feel dissatisfied with trying to make a loaf and expect it to be like traditional wheat bread. Maybe one day the recipes and products will be there for that, but not today. This is a satisfactory substitute, to be sure!


    Every meal needs to end with a food that ritually signifies the meal is over. By this time, bellies are usually full and dessert needs to be symbolic more than substantive. It should look pretty and taste sweet. Here is the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert.

    Pumpkin Pie

    This is the traditional dessert and so easy to make.

    Gluten-Free Pie Crust:

    • 1 can pumpkin
    • 2/3 c. sugar
    • 3 eggs
    • 1 can evaporated milk
    • Cinnamon, nutmeg
    • Butter
    • A tsp of corn starch

    The nice thing about making a gluten-free pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner is that all the ingredients in the pie are naturally gluten-free, except for the pie crust. So follow the directions on the can for pie, or use the directions here. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and then put into a gluten-free crust (your choice of frozen or homemade) and bake until it is firm and beautiful. Don't burn it! It will firm up as it sits for a few minutes. Top with ice cream or whip cream, and maybe a garnish of chocolate or glazed nuts. Serve with coffee or tea, and enjoy the closing conversation.

    This meal should leave everyone feeling satiated and satisfied. What most people are grateful for at Thanksgiving is to just sit together with loved ones and share good conversation, laughter, and connection. What they eat isn't nearly as important as eating together. But with a menu like this, everyone can eat together and feel treated to a gourmet meal fit for a king. And it's fun to show nonbelievers how scrumptious Going Gluten Free can be!


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  • About Me

    I have just finished writing the book, Going Gluten Free, and it is receiving rave reviews! I wondered if you would be willing to put up an announcement somewhere on your web page about it. I would also be happy to write for you or do other things to promote the importance of going gluten-free. I’m a medical sociologist at Salem State University who co-founded the Association for the Study of Food in Society. My son is Celiac, only we didn’t know it for years, and then when we figured it out, it took us a long time of doing everything wrong before we were doing everything right. The book is a comprehensive book for any gf people, but especially for those just starting out. Here is an Amazon link about it.  We have a flyer on the book that I uploaded for you. I can also send you a pdf of the book or hard copy if you want. My website is www.yvonnevissing.com Let me know how we can become partners in the pursuit of everyone having a positive gluten-free lifestyle! Looking forward, Yvonne Vissing

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