Surviving Thanksgiving When You Have Food Restrictions


As we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas shortly after, my one concern always leans towards food. While it is traditional to eat loads of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, pies, stuffing, you name it, I can’t help but think about all the other women, men, and children who have food restrictions and how much these comfort foods can wreak havoc on their bodies, myself included.

Whether your food restriction is an intolerance, a mild allergy, or even a lifestyle choice, many of us face certain food items that don’t sit well or simply cannot be consumed. First, let me share that I have no known allergies, but have chosen to eat a specific way because of how certain foods make me feel. *This article is not for those with severe food allergies. That is something I will not touch on and those food items should be very, very closely made and monitored.*

I know tons of moms who struggle with their children having many food/digestive problems and it can be a huge struggle in everyday life, much less worrying about the holidays where we aren’t always in control of the cooking. Dietary restrictions can be very different; some may have a dairy intolerance while others may have gluten sensitivities.

Whatever the food issue is, it can lead to very unpleasant health and/or stomach issues. Thankfully, however, there are many resources for individuals with food restrictions so that they can still have the amazing food dishes they want during the holidays and even eat until unpleasantly full, like most people do.

I remember spending my first Thanksgiving being dairy-free (I had to go dairy-free in order to continue breastfeeding my daughter). It was extremely difficult. Nearly every dish had some form of dairy in it, especially the desserts, and who doesn’t like to eat dessert on Thanksgiving?

I was not prepared, I hadn’t researched ahead of time or made anything special for myself. I was literally able to eat three items; turkey, cranberry sauce and green beans. Yes, it helped my waistline, but who really worries much about their waistline on Thanksgiving? It’s called a feast, not a fast, and we want to be able to indulge in food as much or as little as we want.

So the big question remains, how do we enjoy feeding ourselves, and loved ones, knowing that some people may have food restrictions?

Every year we go to a huge house in North Carolina with about thirty people and typically it is the older generation who spend the day baking and cooking our Thanksgiving meals. This can present a huge struggle. I highly suggest communicating any food restrictions (via email ahead of time) so that people are aware. This may seem like a pain, or perhaps you are embarrassed if it is a choice, but in the long run, it will help.

If you’re not one to cook, then maybe someone else will bake or cook something without adding nuts, without dairy, or even go a gluten-free route, to name a few. If you do love to cook then I still strongly suggest communicating that you will be making a special pie or green bean casserole to bring as extras and that others will be welcome to it (after you’re done of course).

Another suggestion would be to ask whoever is cooking, or if you are, to label the dishes as allergy-free, or whatever it is that you are restricted to eat. This will help so that others know not to eat your food before you finish and that it is important for you to have. *Again, this is not for severe food allergies. Those food items need to be carefully prepared and away from other items due to cross-contamination*.

There are many amazing resources available to those of us with food restrictions via the internet. My favorite is Pinterest because it provides creative and wonderful recipes from people just like us. These could be simple items, or complex, and you can really narrow any choice to your liking.

Two of my favorites include a recipe for mashed cauliflower to swap out for mashed potatoes (dairy-free of course) and one for a cranberry/blueberry crisp that does not have dairy and is even gluten-free!

Pinterest can also help you learn what ingredients you can replace with allergy-friendly items. For example, you can use coconut flour and almond flour in baking dishes and coconut milk or hemp seed milk to replace cow’s milk. There are so many allergy-friendly recipes that are just as enjoyable, if not more, for you to eat.

Don’t fear any food restrictions this year. Go into the holidays feeling confident and proud that you know how to still enjoy any type of meal at Thanksgiving. Who knows, you may find people choose your version of a dish more than the original and maybe it will become a staple at every holiday meal!

How do you handle food intolerance around the holidays?

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Elizabeth resides on Johns Island with her husband and two daughters, Emma (3) and Rowen (baby). A native to South Carolina, originally from Hilton Head Island, she moved to Charleston in 2012 to be closer to family. The four of them love to travel (mostly to Puerto Rico where her husband works) and thrive on learning and educated themselves on any and all health issues. She loves teaching her daughters to garden, going to the beach, surfing and planning their next family adventure. Elizabeth is very naturally minded, having had a successful home birth with her most recent baby girl. In 2016 she went back to school to complete her certification in Holistic Nutrition for which she is very passionate about (she already has a BA in Public Relations from USC). She looks forward to working with other moms and families to help them with their health and nutrition needs.