Hosting a gluten-free holiday meal

The holiday season is upon us. If you are hosting a holiday meal, as I will be, you are probably planning your menu and listing out all the food you are going to need. At least in my case, the No. 1 goal becomes not ruining this festive feast by way of burning, drying out, undercooking or some other culinary crime I could commit. Then add on the extra challenge of serving a gluten-free holiday meal that satisfies everyone! Can you tell I’m not the most confident cook?

With several successful gluten-free holidays in my rearview mirror, I don’t worry as much anymore, and I still love hosting them. I have always wanted my gluten-free daughter to have a worry-free, gluten-free holiday meal. By hosting the meal, I could ensure it was completely gluten free. So what can you do to manage the meal, your guests and their expectations, especially if you’re hosting for the first time? It sounds like a lot, but you can do it—and even reduce your stress level in the kitchen in the process.

benefits of hosting

Hospitality_Tips_Table_Angela_Sackett_010For me, the array of aromas swirling around the kitchen early on Thanksgiving morning signals the start of the holiday season. They feel completely inappropriate for the time of day, but perfect for the time of year. Cornbread—our Thanksgiving bread of choice and easy to make gluten free—is fresh out of the oven, I am finishing up the gluten-free wild rice dressing and beginning to prepare the turkey for the oven. The joy of cooking this meal in a manner that fits everyone’s traditions while eliminating gluten and anxiety about cross-contamination actually lowers my angst over preparing the seasonal spread.

Jessica Murray of Minneapolis hosted her first gluten-free “Friendsgiving” after she was diagnosed with celiac disease nine years ago. “I am sure I was overwhelmed and nervous,” Murray recalls. “I tried to keep everything as simple as possible and as naturally gluten free as I could.” Controlling the menu proved key for the newly diagnosed Murray, giving her the power to make everything gluten free.

Managing guests’ expectations

Bringing guests into the mix can get tricky. Some may be nervous about whether the holiday meal expectations in their minds will be met by the gluten-free spread on the table. To address that concern, ask your friends and family about their favorite holiday dishes or even for favorite recipes so that you can make a gluten-free version of a few dishes.


When guests ask what they can bring, request simple items such as wine, coffee or soda, a veggie or fruit tray, or some corn chips. You could also ask for a bag of frozen corn or green beans that you can make on the spot.

After a few years, your guests will probably learn more about eating gluten free and understand the care involved. Some may want to contribute a side dish. If you’re simply not comfortable with the potential for cross-contamination introduced by a foreign kitchen, politely decline and let them know what else they can bring. In Murray’s instance, “some of the regulars to our holidays have a dish they are famous for that is confirmed gluten free. I graciously accept their offer for their contribution.” Murray’s family supported her gluten-free needs and learned how to cook for her. Now she and her husband no longer host but enjoy being hosted for the holidays by their respective parents, worry free.

tips and tricks for pulling off your meal

The first gluten-free meal I cooked was very traditional—turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, corn, cranberries, cornbread and pie.

Hospitality_Tips_Table_Angela_Sackett_003Up until a few years ago, I had never cooked a turkey before. So whether it was gluten free or not, I had to learn how to clean it out and prepare it for cooking. Don’t forget, you never buy a pre-stuffed turkey, nor should you stuff your turkey with gluten-filled stuffing because it contaminates the meat. A little Facetiming with my mother-in-law was all I needed to get it cleaned and in the oven.


I also had to learn how to make my mom’s gluten-free wild rice stuffing, a fabulous mix of wild, brown and white rice that has been the staple of my family Thanksgiving for years. Remember to take your time on things you are unfamiliar with. I made the stuffing one to two days ahead of time and concentrated on the turkey the day of.

Murray took a different approach. She started by researching recipes in cooking magazines. She looked for recipes that were naturally gluten free and modified other recipes to make them gluten free. That first meal comprised goat cheese-stuffed dates wrapped with bacon and a charcuterie plate for appetizers, then Murray’s turkey and fixings.

gluten-free baked goods

Bread has posed the biggest challenge in our house. Guests expect the kind of bread they eat on a regular basis, but most gluten-free bread just isn’t like that. As I mentioned earlier, we make a gluten-free cornbread to get around the issue all together. It meets people’s expectations better than gluten-free rolls would.


“Gluten-free baking can be tricky,” Murray says. “The first year, I tried to make a gluten-free pie crust from scratch, and it failed miserably.” So she enacted her back-up plan: She went to the store and bought a pre-made gluten-free crust to make her pumpkin-pecan pie. Crisis averted!

If you think gluten-free pie is a tall order or you don’t have time to make it, take a page out of my family’s holiday meal book and make ice cream cake. Slightly thaw vanilla ice cream, add your favorite mix-ins—gluten-free sandwich cookies work great—put it all in a spring form pan, then place it in the freezer for a day. Voila! You have an ice cream cake. It is fast and easy to make, and rates very high on the satisfaction scale in our house.

Still a little nervous? Murray recommends a few practice sessions for unfamiliar dishes to make sure they will come out just right on the big day. Just keep her two keys to a successful meal in mind: don’t be intimidated and keep it simple. You will end up with great food and, because it is all gluten free, your stress level will stay in check.


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Amy Leger blogs on her website, She lives in Longmont, Colorado, with her husband and two daughters, one of whom has celiac disease.

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