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The Holidays are coming! WHAT DO I EAT?!? How to navigate through the holidays.....

The Holidays can be intimidating for many people for various reasons. Whether it’s meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time, the hustle and bustle of the holidays, stressful family situations, trying to lose weight and being surrounded by all this yummy food, or having allergies/food sensitivities and being tempted to have a bit. Just one bite won’t hurt…will it?

Well, I can’t really help with the meeting the significant other’s parents or change the hustle and bustle of the holidays (unless you are able to have a getaway this year and avoid it all) or stressful family situations, but I can help you with navigating through the eating.

I’ve been dairy free and gluten free for the better part of 15 years now, and the good news is now it feels second nature. I am also now mostly sugar free; I use maple syrup and honey but avoid all processed sugar 99.5% of the time (it is hard to avoid completely, especially when you eat out).

When I began my gluten free and dairy free journey it was a little overwhelming at first. I didn’t know what to eat, didn’t know how many sauces and condiments contained gluten and diary - and I would have to say about 98% of them carry added sugar. The best thing is to plan!!

I find people genuinely want to help you and accommodate where they can. My rule is I never expect anyone to accommodate me, as it is my choice to eat the way I do. But I am forever thankful when they do, or you can see that they are trying! It means the world to me.

When I go over to someone’s house for dinner, I check my calendar. Great I can come! Then I ask two questions, what can I bring? And what will you be serving that evening? Christmas is generally easy, people serve appetizers, turkey, mashed potato or a form of potato, stuffing, salad, a type of bread, cranberry sauce, gravy, and a dessert.

Appetizers – this is another tricky one as most of them are some form of bread and cheese. I know whenever I go to a restaurant this is one area I can never order from unless it is a salad with a few adjustments. At someone’s house I am thankful for fruit and vegetable platters, I eat the fruit and vegetables and leave the dip. I tend to eat before I come, or bring a few snacks to tide me over until dinner.

Turkey – usually fine but depending on how sensitive you are to wheat/gluten some people can’t deal with the stuffing being cooked in the turkey. Especially if you are celiac. Make sure you ask what spices they put on the turkey. For the most part, turkey spices shouldn’t have gluten or dairy in them. Depending on how close you are to the host, you might want to see if they could cook the stuffing separately if possible. If not, depending on how sensitive you are, you may opt to bring your own meat or just eat vegetables. Now for me, Christmas isn’t Christmas without stuffing, and if you don’t know how to make your own, there are boxed gluten-free mixes such as

Mrs. Crumbles Home Baked Sage and Onion Stuffing Mix.

Potatoes – At my family functions they generally serve mashed white potatoes. I just ask them if they wouldn’t mind putting some aside for me prior to mixing in the milk and butter. This is such an easy thing to do and I’ve never had anyone turn me down yet

Salad – Another easy fix, just ask whoever is bringing the salad to put some aside for you prior to putting on any cheese, dressing or candied pecans or wontons, or croutons depending on what type of salad it is. I always bring my own dressing as well as there is a lot of “special” hidden ingredients in salad dressings. I generally make a balsamic dressing. It’s super easy – equal parts olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, maple syrup and a tsp of Dijon mustard (which acts as an emulsifier). I add salt and pepper to taste and maybe some garlic, and voila! Super easy and tasty salad dressing.

Bread – Unless the host is gluten free, if you want bread you generally have to bring your own. I don’t expect someone to spend 6 plus dollars on some bread for me at a function, or I do without, which is the route I normally choose as I don’t eat a lot of bread.

Cranberry Sauce – I generally avoid this as it is usually from a can and loaded with sugar. I haven’t tried it yet but I just found this cranberry sauce on Amazon! I really want to try this. It is sweetened with apple juice and has no added refined sugar! Can’t you tell I am a little excited about this one?

Gravy – this one is hard, as there is mainly glutinous flours that are used to thicken the gravy. Also, if the stuffing was cooked in the turkey, it might contain traces of wheat even if there wasn’t a glutinous flour added to make the stuffing. If the turkey was cooked without the stuffing, just get some of the au jus to it prior to be thickened. Or just check what they are thickening it with. Sometimes it is tapioca flour, rice flour etc.. which is gluten free. I generally eat it plain if it isn’t gluten free, one less thing to bring.

And dessert… In the case I always offer to bring the dessert as that is the hardest thing to alter at someone’s home. I find at this time of year people generally bring pies. Some people opt to eat the filling and leave the crust. However, this isn’t always a good idea as a lot of people put flour in the pie center to thicken the juices of the fruits. When I make a gluten free, dairy free dessert with honey or maple syrup for us (my kids and myself), I will bring enough to share. But generally speaking, I will bring two desserts - a ‘healthier option’ and then a traditional option as I never want to force other people to have to eat like I do. If they want the healthier option great, I am happy to share, if not that is okay too!

When you are gluten and dairy sensitive, or sensitive to any another food, it is best to ask questions to the hostess or whoever is bringing that dish. You will get to know who is more than happy to accommodate.  If they are the one who loves cooking and making items from scratch, sometimes they won’t mind switching out one ingredient or putting some aside if it means that you can eat it. As I get older I find people are reacting to more and more foods so gluten and dairy sensitivities are becoming more common.

When I started to eat this way, I was the only one in my family doing so. I was 21 and there wasn’t as many items available to purchase/substitute back then. As time passed, people in my family have become more knowledgeable and are realizing that they feel better eating this way. So now I am not alone in this, which makes family get togethers easier. We have several other people that are gluten free, dairy free, vegan, gaps, etc. in our family which makes family get togethers interesting, but everyone “gets it”, and I am lucky they are accommodating. When I was younger I had to bring most of my food, and today I just have to bring the dish I volunteered to bring.

- Always pre-eat if you aren’t sure what they are having, or to get you through the appetizer phase.

- Prepare, ask questions as to what is for dinner and bring food to fill in the gaps if necessary. Never expect someone to accommodate you, but be thankful if they choose to!

- Bring snacks just in case you are getting nibbly before dinner is served.

- If you get tempted… Ask yourself what are the consequences if I eat this? Will I get a migraine and mess up my family get together tomorrow? Will I be in the bathroom all night? Will I feel exhausted? Is it really worth it? Is that one bit of cake worth it to you? If it is, enjoy. If it isn’t, then remind yourself to be kind to your body and eat what you know your body can handle.

- If you end up going out for Christmas dinner, make sure you plan ahead. A lot of restaurants are getting informed about gluten sensitivities and dairy sensitivities. While they cannot guarantee it hasn’t been cross contaminated, they try. Ask to speak to a manager or the chef if possible - I find they are more versed in the menu and what the ingredients are than the servers. If it is a good restaurant, they know everything that is in their food. If it is more on the fast-food side, everything that comes in should have a list of ingredients on the box/tub etc. Be wary of sauces and dressings - those are the two areas that will more than likely have the gluten and dairy.

- And although tempting, try not to overeat. This doesn’t do anyone any good. I have to admit I can be guilty of it too as the food is so delicious around this time of the year, but your digestion usually pays for it, and you regret it after.

Do you have food sensitivities? How do you survive the holidays? We would love to hear from you!

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