When people first go gluten free, they often go to great lengths to create celiac-friendly Thanksgiving meals as close to a traditional spread as possible-even if that means spending countless hours in the kitchen for just a few guests. After a while, however, many of us decide to pare it down and make our holiday meals smaller, simpler, and less conventional. After all, a little variety is never a bad thing, and ditching some of those traditional dishes makes it much easier to stick to the diet that's giving you great health results. As a bonus, you get to spend a lot less time in the kitchen and a lot more time with your guests!
If you're looking for ways to simplify your gluten-free Thanksgiving this year, try a few of these ideas:
- Plan a tasty, uncomplicated meal appropriate for your guest list. Come up with menu ideas that work around guests' food intolerances or eating preferences, such as dairy-free or GMO-free, in addition to gluten-free. And think about favorites that you can either buy pre-made or make fairly easily.
- Pick your side dishes carefully. Trying to put together a bunch of complicated sides simultaneously with your entrée is difficult and stressful. Plus, dishes such as mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce are high in carbohydrates, and overloading on carbs is what makes people feel bloated and uncomfortable. To feel better after your meal-and to make preparation a whole lot easier-prioritize the higher-carb, labor-intensive sides that you most enjoy, and make only one or two of them.
- Make healthy food preparation as easy as possible. Look for convenience foods that can help, such as Amy's Mushroom Bisque with Porcini or mashed root vegetables from the prepared foods section of your health food store. And don't save all the cooking for Thanksgiving Day. Dishes such as homemade cranberry sauce, soups, pies, and even some stuffings-including our Crimini Mushroom and Onion Stuffing (p. 62)-can be made ahead of time and reheated.
- Celebrate Thanksgiving in your own style. One client of mine, for instance, decided to ditch the mashed potatoes and stuffing and serve roasted cauliflower and eggplant with her turkey. Sure, it's unconventional, but roasted cauliflower and eggplant are her (and also her husband's) favorite veggies, so why not? The idea is to make a meal that you and your guests enjoy, even if it doesn't conform to tradition.
- When in doubt, simplify, simplify, simplify-especially if there are other stressful circumstances in your life. One client of mine who was caring for her ailing father simply didn't have the energy or time to make a pie from scratch, and her father preferred ice cream anyway. I suggested autumn sundaes made with gluten-free (and dairy-free if necessary) vanilla ice cream substitute topped with sliced pears, toasted pecans, cinnamon, and a drop or two of pure maple syrup. It was a hit with her dad-and everyone else at her gathering!
Crimini Mushroom and Onion Stuffing*
This healthy, lower-carb alternative to gluten-free bread stuffing can be prepared a day or two ahead of time and quickly reheated on Thanksgiving Day.
¼ cup organic extra-virgin olive oil
5 pearl onions, peeled and cut in half
4 small shallots, peeled and cut in half
1 large fennel bulb (white part only), cut in half, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide sections, with extra big pieces cut in half again
¾ cup organic gluten-free chicken broth
1 tsp. ground thyme
½ tsp. rubbed sage
Salt and black pepper to taste
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, ends trimmed, cleaned with a damp cloth, and quartered
½ cup chopped pecans
2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley leaves
- Heat oil in 10-inch deep sauté pan. Add onions, shallots, and fennel, and brown slightly on medium a few minutes, turning so vegetable pieces are well coated in oil. Add chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pan, and simmer 20 minutes.
- Remove lid, and season with thyme, sage, and salt and pepper. Add mushrooms, cover, and simmer 7 minutes more, stirring as needed. Remove cover, and cook down to reduce any excess liquid (leave some liquid if planning to reheat).
- Stir in pecans, cover, and keep warm-or refrigerate, reheat the next day, and add pecans to warm dish. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley leaves just before serving.
PER SERVING: 159 cal; 2g pro; 14g total fat (2g sat fat); 8g carb; 1mg chol; 130mg sod; 3g fiber; 2g sugars
*Adapted from a recipe for Savory Stuffing in Gluten Free Throughout the Year (2010) by Melissa Diane Smith
Melissa Diane Smith, a nationally known writer and holistic nutritionist who specializes in personalizing the gluten-free diet, offers long-distance telephone counseling and coaching services to clients across the country. She is the author of Going Against the Grain and Gluten Free Throughout the Year: A Two-Year, Month-to-Month Guide for Healthy Eating and a non-GMO educator and speaker. To learn about her books, nutrition coaching programs, long-distance consultations, or speaking, visit melissadianesmith.com and againstthegrainnutrition.com.