Surviving the holidays without gluten

Nadine Kalinauskas
Shine On
Holiday classics (like shortbread) can be made gluten-free with a few modifications.

It’s not easy being gluten-free — nor is it always easy figuring out what to serve guests who can’t, or simply don’t, eat gluten. 

We asked registered holistic nutritionist Sarah Maughan to help us navigate a gluten-free holiday meal. 

Shine On: For readers hosting gluten-free guests this holiday season, what do we need to know as we menu-plan and prep (other than just ditch the flour)?

Maughan: When hosting guests who require gluten-free diets, it’s important to have a conversation with them first and share your menu thoughts with them so they feel confident and comfortable about the meal. It also gives them a chance to have a conversation about cross-contamination — because you’re right, it’s not just omitting flour that’s important, it’s about sauces, and contaminated utensils that often create the most reactions.

Make sure you ask your guest about cross-contamination and how to avoid accidentally adding gluten to a gluten-free dish — for example using the same mixing bowl for a gluten-free and non-gluten-free recipe without proper cleaning. Your guest may even want to bring a safe dish to share with everyone, so I find collaboration is great. That way, both parties know what food to expect and to ensure everyone is on the same page with information. Team work!

Are there any sneaky/hidden sources of gluten we should be on the lookout for?

Yes! It’s quite rare for someone on a gluten-free diet to eat a slice of glutinous bread without knowing it — it’s all those hidden and not easily seen ingredients that catch people off guard and can create a lot of anxiety. For example: soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bouillon, casseroles thickened with flour, sauces that use beer/whiskey/vodka, tiny pieces of stuffing leaking out into the gravy, and any sauce/spread that has had an unclean knife go into it.

Butter is a big example of that — newly opened butter is gluten-free, but if you take a look at butter once it’s used, it’s often slathered in breadcrumbs from buttering toast, so this is a huge source of cross-contamination.

If you’re unsure about a food item/brand, ask your guest or look online to see what the company says — never assume. If you plan on using gluten-free oats, make sure to have a conversation with them as not all people requiring a gluten-free diet can tolerate them. 

Another good reminder is that wheat-free does not mean gluten-free (GF) — so be sure something says gluten-free if you are purchasing any products.

Which traditional holiday dishes are already gluten-free, or can easily be adapted to make them so?

I find that pretty much any dish can be transformed into being gluten-free, but maybe that’s because I’ve had 10 years experience with it!

Every family has different traditional menus, but in my family, the recipes we didn’t need to adapt were the mashed potatoes & sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, cranberry sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts and parsnips, the gravy (because we already thickened it with cornstarch, not flour) and the outer flavouring of the turkey. The recipes we did need to alter were the stuffing (just swapped in GF bread), the casserole (swapped out canned mushroom soup which had flour, and used potato leek GF soup) and all the desserts. 

What would you suggest as swaps/alternatives for some common gluten-packed dishes: bread stuffing, dinner rolls, croutons, desserts, etc.?

For the stuffing, I just swapped out glutinous bread for GF bread, and it was surprisingly an easy swap because GF bread is often very dry.

If you want to replace the dinner rolls, I would opt for a store bought version if you have never made any at home, because they are quite delicate and finicky. Ask your guest if they have a favourite company because quite often the store bought rolls can be hit or miss with flavours. Just ensure you place it in a different dish than the glutinous ones.

For croutons — they do sell gluten free croutons — however, I usually just add something else that provides a crunch like pecans or walnuts (ensure they’re gluten-free) if it’s for a salad.

For desserts, the best thing to do is look online for a simple cookie. If you have never done GF baking before, ask around for tried and tested recipes. I would opt for cookies, bars, loafs, or cakes if you’re a newbie, rather than pie crusts and delicate pastries. Start with a recipe that uses a gluten-free, all-purpose blend like Allergic Solution or Bob’s Red Mill because they tend be more mistake-proof.

Anything else we should know about surviving the holiday season without gluten?

Communication is your best tool. Make sure everyone is on the same page about ingredients, cross-contamination and recipes. If you’re unsure about anything, never guess, always ask. I try to focus on enjoying the company I am around and on the food I CAN eat, rather than focusing on what I CAN’T eat. I hope everyone has a safe, happy and delicious holiday season!

Maughan’s Gluten Free Herb & Vegetable Stuffing

Ingredients

  • 8 slices of gluten-free brown rice bread – try to use stale/dry bread
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced small and thin
  • 2 large carrots, sliced round and thin
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 2 – 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ tsp fresh chopped marjoram leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 1 ½ fresh chopped thyme (1 tsp dried)
  • 1 ½ tbsp fresh chopped sage leaves (2 tsp dried)
  • ¼ tsp sea salt and pepper

Directions

1. Sauté onion and vegetables in olive oil until onion is soft and clear.

2. Slice bread into small cubes and toss with onion, veggies and fresh herbs.

3. Put Stuffing in the Turkey after you have removed the giblets, and cook according to Turkey instructions (roughly 15 – 20 minutes per pound at 325 – 350F), and if not all the stuffing can fit you can put it in a small covered baking dish for 25 – 30 minutes until moist. Enjoy!

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced – see first step
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Cinnamon sticks for garnish (optional)

Directions

1. Peel the sweet potatoes very well, make sure a lightish coloured film has been peeled off and they are all a unison orange colour to ensure the potatoes don’t have a “stringy” effect to them. Diced them into small quarters.

2. Add diced sweet potatoes to a pot of boiling water and boil until very soft – approx 10 – 12 minutes

3. Drain the water and immediately add the coconut oil and spices so they oil melts

4. Using a hand blender, mix until fully combined and desired texture is reached – I’ve had mine a little chunky before and very smooth and both were great! Depending on the size of the potatoes, you may need to add extra coconut oil to reach the creaminess you desire.

5. Garnish with cinnamon sticks (optional)

Find Maughan’s recipes for Gluten-Free Wholegrain Shortbread Cookies and Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookie Mix here and here

What are your favourite gluten-free holiday recipes?