Gluten Free Holidays and Birthdays

Download this section as a PDF (right click, “save link as…”)

Holidays and birthdays can be another anxious time for gluten free eaters. With so much food and so many of the ingredients unknown, it can be a little overwhelming trying to figure out what you can and can’t eat.

Letting Your Extended Family Know

Since our entire immediate family should already know we are on a gluten free diet (and if they don’t, go tell them right now!), we need to let our extended family know about our eating situation as well. No, we don’t need to tell Fifth Cousin Frankie that we only see once every 5 years, but letting all the cousins, aunts, uncles and so on that we see on a pretty regular basis will be better for everyone.

When we are informing our family that we can’t eat gluten, try to explain it in the simplest way possible. We aren’t trying to get them to change the items they are making, we want them to just be aware of the situation so they can direct us towards the recipes that are gluten free. Informing them ahead of time is also being proactive so that no one is offended you aren’t eating a dish they prepared. “oh my gosh, Brian did not even touch the brownies I made, he used to love those! What a jerk!” Yeah, we don’t want that happening. The odds of cheating on your gluten free diet at holidays are much higher with all the delicious food everywhere — let your family know ahead of time so that you have options to eat and don’t end up sneaking a piece of cornbread.

Volunteering to Make Your Own Dishes

The easiest way to make sure the dishes you are eating are gluten free, like usual, is by preparing them yourself and controlling the ingredients. You can make gluten free versions of your favorite dishes and bring them to the gathering. It is actually pretty exciting preparing a cake or casserole that’s gluten free, and not only have your family eat some of it, but REALLY enjoy the gluten free food you made,



Is ham what most people eat at Christmas? My family does, so I am just going to assume at least some others do as well. Ham is naturally gluten free just as all other natural meats are. If the ham is glazed, make sure that the glaze doesn’t contain wheat starch or any other gluten ingredient.

Dinner Rolls

Udi’s offers frozen gluten free dinner rolls that are pretty good. You just heat them up in the oven, and 10-15 minutes later your rolls are ready. I would recommend bringing them with you if a) you don’t cook or b) you are pressed for time and want quick rolls to eat with the family.

If you want to make your own gluten free dinner rolls, try this recipe from Shauna aka The Gluten-Free Girl.


The vast majority of desserts are going to contain gluten at Christmas. Fruits platters, ice cream, and sorbet are all likely gluten free if those are being offered. Check out the link at the end of this section for some unique and tasty gluten free Christmas dessert ideas.


Eggnog – most brands of eggnog are gluten free. If it’s homemade, it’s even more likely to be gluten free than if you bought it in a store.

My suggestion: offer to cook one entree, one side dish, and one dessert to bring to the Christmas dinner. That way the absolute worst case scenario is you have three items you know you can eat, and you can fill up on those even if 100% of the rest of the dishes contain gluten.

If you are cooking the whole Christmas dinner for your family, make all of the recipes gluten free. You can create so many delicious naturally gluten free dishes, and the ones that aren’t normally gluten free, no one will be able to tell the difference! That’s right, I said it – gluten free versions of traditional favorites are just as good.

I put together a little compilation of gluten free Christmas recipes that you will find useful around the holidays (many of them are good for Thanksgiving as well!)



Like the ham at Christmas, turkey will be gluten free unless something glutenous has been added to it. We need to watch for basting solutions that have been injected in the turkey during process. Also, gravy packets are sometimes included with the turkey, so do not use those as they will contain gluten.


No, stuffing is not going to be gluten free because of the bread cubes. But, there are literally hundreds of delicious gluten free stuffing recipes floating around the Internet, so you should definitely cook one up and bring it to your Thanksgiving dinner. Here are a few of my favorites:


Mashed potatoes are obviously naturally gluten free. Make sure no wheat flour has been added as a thickener. Many brands of instant mashed potatoes are gluten free, but some are not. Check the labels. Baked potatoes are gluten free as long as there hasn’t been flour added to make them crispier, which is rare. Potatoes au gratin are off limits, though — unless you make your own gluten free version.


Let’s be real – Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without some mashed potatoes and gravy to go with your turkey. Unfortunately, gravy usually contains flour, rendering it unsafe for gluten free people to consume. On the other hand, creating your own gluten free gravy is incredibly easy.

Simple, but delicious, gluten free gravy recipe from The Gluten Free Girl (makes one quart of gravy):

  • 3 ounces gluten free all purpose flour mix
  • 1 ounce cornstarch
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter
  • 1 quart vegetable stock (or turkey stock)
  • Salt and black pepper

Making the roux: Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and let it fully melt. Then, add flour and cornstarch and stir until all the lumps of flour are smooth. Continue stirring until the flour is fully cooked, about 4 minutes. Be sure to stir frequently, to avoid the roux burning.

Making the gravy: Heat a large sucepan on high heat. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Pour in the roux, a couple tablespoons at a time (estimate this, you don’t have to measure). Whisk the roux into the gravy and continue whisking until you feel the gravy start to thicken. Pour in a little more roux and keep repeating until you are out of roux and have the gravy the thickness you want. Season with salt and pepper. Use on your mashed potatoes, turkey, or gluten free stuffing! (If you want to make it ahead to use on Thanksgiving, just store it in the fridge for a day or two and heat up with more hot stock.)


Birthdays conjour up images of birthday cakes and candles, kids laughing and running around, and just an overall joyous feeling in the air. I see no reason why any child, gluten free or not, should not be able to enjoy all the benefits of his or her birthday (ie. spectacular food). So, how do we give them that amazing birthday without them feeling down about not being able to eat what the other children can eat?

Betty Crocker and Namaste have gluten free cake mixes and frostings, which I have heard are quite good. Gluten free cake can taste just as good as regular birthday cake, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t these days.

If you are throwing a birthday party at home, hot dogs and hamburgers with gluten free buns are always a good idea. Homemade or frozen gluten free pizza is always a hit with the kiddos as well.

If you live in a large city, there will likely be gluten free bakeries that you can purchase a made-to-order gluten free birthday cake. Talk with them ahead of time and ask any questions you might have to make sure you are comfortable with them making your cake. Many of these gluten free bakeries make absolutely delicious products.

Chuck E Cheese is a great place for a gluten free kid’s birthday party, now that they offer gluten free pizza and gluten free chocolate cupcakes. They even cook the pizza in its own sealed bag to minimize the chance of cross contamination. They then deliver the pizza sealed with a wrapped, disposable pizza cutter. Chuck E Cheese is a prime example of how restaurants should be treating the gluten free issue – take note, Dominos!