Updated:

November 8, 2022

7 Ways To Accommodate Allergies For Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is coming soon, and it's time to start thinking about what you're going to bring to the table. As one of America’s biggest holidays of the year and perhaps the biggest food holiday, the menu is key, as it not only takes careful consideration but preparation as well. While Thanksgiving is known to bring full bellies and a lot of leftovers, it can be stressful if you have a food allergy or sensitivity.  

A food allergy is a potentially life-threatening medical condition in which the immune system reacts to certain proteins in food. Symptoms of a food allergy can range in severity from mild symptoms, like itching to severe reactions like trouble breathing or swallowing. This is the time of year when it's particularly important to be aware of all the hidden allergens in your Thanksgiving dinner. But with a little bit of planning and research, you'll have an amazing holiday that everyone can enjoy!

What is the Big-9?

The Big-9 is a group of the nine major allergenic foods which are responsible for about 90% of all food allergy reactions. The traditional Thanksgiving table is known to hold everyone one of these in some form or another:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat 
  • Soy
  • Sesame

 

If somebody at your Thanksgiving table has a food allergy or food sensitivity, it can be difficult to find a safe and tasty replacement.

The good news is that there are plenty of recipes out there that can help you create an allergy-friendly Thanksgiving meal. Here’s a list of common allergens to watch out for and our favorite replacement dishes:

 

Turkey:

While no one at your table may be allergic to turkey - it’s important to ask yourself the following questions before preparing or eating the Thanksgiving meal:  

What's it cooked in?

  • Turkey is often cooked in broth, which commonly contains soy or spices with soy as an ingredient (like bouillon cubes). If you're eating a deep fried turkey, be sure to check and see if it was fried in peanut oil. While refined peanut oil is generally safe for those with peanut allergy, some allergic individuals may not feel comfortable with a turkey fried in peanut oil. 

How is it prepared?

  • If you're having someone else prepare your meal, ask how they will prepare it and what they’ve used as seasonings or spices. Most people are aware of gluten-free diets but not everyone is aware that some seasonings contain soy or other ingredients that may cause a reaction.
  • I know what you're thinking - what about the gravy? Gravy can also contain wheat from the flour or even spices/basting broths from the turkey. Try making gravy using gluten-free flour or try out this easy & flavorful allergy friendly gravy

Allergy-friendly Thanksgiving side dishes:

Did somebody say green bean casserole? Vegetables are a well known staple for the Thanksgiving table, but many popular Thanksgiving side dishes can include hidden allergens such as tree nuts, gluten, soy or dairy products, so it's good to be cautious of any glazes or sauces on whatever vegetables you have on your table.

Mashed Potatoes - Some say the potatoes are the best part of the meal. If they're mashed potatoes, double check to see if milk, butter, cream, or cheese have been used in them. If you're looking for a simple allergy friendly replacement for mashed potatoes, try making these dairy free garlic parsley mashed potatoes! They’re just as creamy as real mashed potatoes, but they’re allergy free!

 

Sweet Potato Casserole - Sweet potatoes are naturally gluten-free and have no dairy ingredients. However, the topping of the sweet potato casserole can vary, and may include egg if marshmallow creme is used as the topping. This Sweet Potato recipe is gluten free, dairy free, and egg free as well! 

Green Bean Casserole - This classic side dish traditionally uses “Cream of'' canned soups which contain wheat and sometimes dairy, so be sure to watch out for this ingredient. This dish can be made gluten-free by swapping out the traditional flour heavy cream sauce for a gluten-free all-purpose flour and dairy free margarine, and using gluten-free all-purpose flour and cornmeal in the topping. You can use coconut milk to make a great creamy dairy-free sauce as well! 

Stuffing:

The amount of varying stuffing recipes are next to none. Stay on high alert and ask for the recipe (no secret family recipes, sorry) to be sure that no wheat, nut, egg, or soy is included in the stuffing. Typically, stuffing is a blend of many things including wheat and anything else found in the pantry. Remember that even cornbread stuffing often contains wheat flour.

If you're looking for a stuffing that's completely gluten-free, consider using quinoa or rice breadcrumbs as a substitute for breadcrumbs. You can also add dried fruit such as cranberries or raisins to your recipe to give it a little extra sweetness. This quick and easy gluten-free stuffing can also be made dairy-free and vegan!

Rolls:

You can’t miss out on the warm, soft rolls! While this may be an obvious food allergy red flag, as rolls typically contain wheat and dairy, there are some great recipes for allergy-free rolls. Rolls sometimes have an egg-wash on the top, as well, which poses a problem for egg-allergic individuals. Our favorite allergy free rolls are these pull apart style rolls!

Desserts:

While desserts are delicious and maybe even the best part of Thanksgiving dinner, they often are not allergy friendly. The classics like pumpkin pie or pecan pie can contain almost all of the Big-9, including nuts, dairy, wheat, and egg, making it difficult to find something that everyone can enjoy.

But have no fear - we've found some of the best recipes that your Thanksgiving guests will love. From gluten-free pumpkin pie to dairy-free pumpkin cheesecake, we have something for everyone!

This 10 ingredient pumpkin pie recipe is gluten-free and can be made dairy free as well! 

And this amazing dairy-free cheesecake is everything you could want from a cheesecake: rich, thick and creamy!

As the host of Thanksgiving, there are a few key precautions you can take to avoid any mishaps:

  • Ask your guests if they have any food allergies or food sensitivities. If a guest has any food allergies or dietary needs, make sure that they inform you of these and all potential dishes they will eat, especially if it is not known. You can personally call and speak with each family member directly beforehand, or you can speak with a restaurant manager or chef. Just be sure to verify each individual's dietary needs for all invited guests.

  • Plan to make an allergen-free menu. This can be done by simply adjusting the recipe to not include the allergen or check out these recipes in this article.

  • Don't assume anything. If there's something that seems like it might be off-limits for someone with allergies or sensitivities, don't assume they'll be fine with it. It's better to ask than risk making someone sick or worse!

  • Don't let anyone touch your food unless they wash their hands first - especially if they're sharing utensils or dishes with other people who may have allergies/sensitivities on the table. This goes for cooking as well as serving. A quick rinse with hot, soapy water should do the trick!

  • Make sure there are plenty of options available so people can customize their plate according to their needs (or just because).

  • Keep allergen free food in separate containers and away from other foods. Don’t try to keep everything in one container, especially when serving and cleaning up leftovers.

  • Make the food allergen plate before the meal is served to avoid cross contact. This is a great way to avoid using the wrong utensils or dishes if people with food allergies can serve themselves beforehand!

If you’re attending a Thanksgiving dinner with a food allergy be sure to:

  • Call in advance to learn about the menu. 


  • Bring a meal that you trust. When in doubt, make something at home and bring it to eat. Try preparing well known dishes that you or your child already like, and you know will be allergy-friendly.
  • Eat something before you arrive to avoid nibbling on food that you haven’t confirmed if it's safe or not. This can go against the tradition of waiting the whole day to eat, to fill yourself up on Thanksgiving dinner, but hunger can lead to desperate snacking. Even if it looks safe, it could contain something potentially triggering. 

  • Bring two epi pens with you always. Make sure to check that your epi pens aren’t expired and are functioning properly. 

Regardless of whether you have a food allergy or food sensitivity, no matter what you are serving for dinner, please be careful about cross contamination between dishes, ingredients and desserts. Enjoy the holidays! 

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About The Author:

Katie Larson, PA-C

Katie Larson, PA-C, graduated at the top of her class from Baylor College of Medicine with a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. Katie also holds a master’s degree in teaching and was an elementary school teacher before becoming a PA.