My first year being gluten-free wasn’t all that tough until I hit the holidays. It was, in that moment, that I hated being gluten-free. Though I’m sorry in a sense to admit it, I was and still am at times as I watch relatives enjoy family favorites that are completely off-limits for me. I say this all because I know that you understand how this feels, or else you might not be reading this in the first place. Suffice to say, holidays and being gluten-free can be tricky, but they can go hand-in-hand.
Now I know what you’re thinking – “Jen, your crazy! Holidays make me feel so left out. My family doesn’t totally get why I can eat what they always make, so I just don’t even want to go this year.”
Please understand, I know the sentiment. I come from a traditional Italian family (my grandparents were the first generation on both sides to be born on US soil), so much of what we do is still steeped in customs that great-grandmom or grandpop used to do. Everything is made by hand and there’s so much pride and love poured into the food, but pasta is usually always there. And bread. And whatever else that’s been battered or stuffed. It’s a tough cycle for one person to break out of, let alone an entire family.
Make no mistake, many of my family members have been unbelievably supportive and considerate. They’ve gone out of their way many times to make sure that I was taken care of. One Thanksgiving, my Aunt went out of her way to hunt me down a frozen single-serving of gluten-free lasagna and made GF gravy for the Turkey. I never asked for it and honestly never expected her to do that, but she did and it almost made me cry. To this day, I’ve never forgotten her kindness.
But it hasn’t all been roses. Holidays seem to exacerbate tension and seem to best illustrate the ups and downs of eating differently than everyone else. Others in my family were outright irked by the sheer fact that SOMETHING about our shared family experience had changed without their approval. No one prepares you for the tough experiences which involve near confrontations and showdowns intended to paint you as the ‘bad’ person for messing up the dinner.
I’ll never forget one Thanksgiving when a relative carefully watched me as I looked over the various dishes laid out and asked what was wrong. After my quick response of being intolerant to gluten, he bluntly told me that I was being picky, not to buy in to any of that nonsense and just eat like everyone else. Though I can’t speak to his intention, I can tell you that I didn’t exactly feel thrilled about my Gluten Free lifestyle in that moment.
Ultimately, I learned that these sort of unpleasant events happen simply because food is SO personal. You can’t always pinpoint who will or won’t be supportive since eating is such a powerful personal and communal part of life. A shared meal is one of the most intimate experiences that bind people together since it makes up a large part of distinct and unique cultural experiences. Thus, being the one to upend the normal flow of family meals can create tension and drama. It can make others feel that you are rejecting the family and your shared heritage solely by rejecting the food.
Below are nine tips I’ve learned that can truly ease many tensions that you’ll most certainly encounter during this time of year, especially if you go to someone else’s home for dinner. Remember, the most you help out the host, the more likely you’ll end up being able to eat a larger percentage of the meal with everyone.
9 Tips to Navigating thru the Holidays Gluten-Free
1) Keep the birds unstuffed (unless you use a GF stuff) when roasting them.
2) Offer to bring naturally gluten-free side dishes that closely mirror what your family is use to.
3) Bring a dessert – 99% of the ones provided will probably have gluten in them.
4) Explain your situation to the host from the perspective of your health being harmed should you consume gluten accidentally.
5) Offer to go over their menu and recipes with them and help them make substitutions.
6) Consider hosting the meal so you don’t have to worry about explaining anything to anyone.
7) Do NOT argue with anyone who feels they need to pick a fight or make a point with you. It’s not worth it.
8) Remember that holidays are about spending time with people you love, so focus on that!
9) Gluten-free can carry a stigma of tasteless food. Don’t announce what’s gluten-free before the meal begins. The people who need to know for health reasons should obviously be ‘in the know’, but everyone else can wait until they are sufficiently stuffed and pleased with the meal to learn that – Oh, by the way! -the meal was gluten-free.
Do you have any pointers to share that have helped you?