Making it Gluten Free for the Holidays: Simple Changes to Traditional Recipes

I like it when you like it!

Go ahead... it's gluten free

Okay, you’ve got the whole holiday cooking gluten cross-contamination thing figured out and you are ready to figure out what to bring to a party to stay safely gluten-free and still have fun. Below is a quick list of how to easily make the traditional holiday foods be gluten free, along with suggestions for making these items healthier and even grain-free. Now, of course, not everything is listed here for holiday foods, so if you need a suggestion for how to make something, just ask in the comments and I’ll respond if I have suggestions. I know this list isn’t complete, because I’m not really a traditional holiday-foods kinda girl. Heck, I made homemade grain-free, dairy free pizza for Thanksgiving, so I’m just sharing what is top of mind for traditional…


Yay! It’s naturally gluten free and grain-free, unless the bird is stuffed with a traditional stuffing (makes all the meat cross-contaminated). That said, be wary of commercial turkeys, read to make sure the turkeys haven’t been injected with “flavorings” or fillers which almost always contain gluten (and it’s just plain gross!). Sauces used to baste a turkey can contain gluten so find out what was used for basting. Be wary of seasoning packets, marinades and gravy packets that sometimes accompany turkeys, they usually contain gluten, so don’t use them and make your own!

The healthiest turkeys are turkeys that were free-range and fed their natural diet instead of grains.


soggy bread
Mmm… Soggy bread…

To make stuffing that tastes like your traditional stuffing, simply follow your favorite recipe and substitute toasted cubes of gluten-free cornbread, corn muffins, or a loaf of store-bought gluten-free white bread. Easy! And best of all…stale, dense bread makes stuffing better and gluten free bread tends to be denser than gluten containing breads.

Or make a stuffing without bread, by replacing the bread with wild rice. Or for grain-free stuffing, use sausage in place of the bread. So many options! Personally, I’ve always thought stuffing was disgusting…soggy bread, ugh! But I realize I’m alone, most folks like soggy bread. Personally, I’ll choose bread-free, grain-free stuffing every time!

Mashed Potatoes

When homemade, it’s usually gluten free unless a broth is used in place of dairy. Instant mashed potatoes aren’t always gluten free. Potato Buds and Barbara’s Instant mashed potatoes are GF at last check. But come on! Mashed potatoes, pretty easy to make…there’s no reason to substitute boxed, dried, instant mashed potatoes… Really!

For lower glycemic, use sweet potatoes (yep, tastes sweeter, but is actually lower in sugars) instead of white potatoes or substitute steamed cauliflower for mashed potatoes (much more nutritious and lower glycemic). The great thing about using cauliflower is you can whip it up in a food processor with olive oil, butter, coconut oil or gluten-free broth without any concern of it becoming “gluey”…process away! And it takes and looks similar to mashed potatoes, but your blood sugar will thank you for it. I prefer to add a little sautéed garlic and thyme to my mashed cauliflower.


For thickening gravy, whisk in a tablespoon or two of sweet rice flour or an arrowroot starch slurry. Potato flour is another choice- but be careful you don’t add too much and end up with gooey gravy you have to almost slice to serve or thicken it!

Another option for thickening gravy is to use an immersion blender to blend up some of the onions (and other veggies if you have them in the gravy). The veggies will naturally thicken your gravy with no need for adding a starch.


You can make ‘em or pick up a quick pre-made batch, most natural food stores have a gluten free roll alternative. You may need to use GF hamburger buns or GF English muffins if your store doesn’t have GF rolls for sale.

Of course, even better is to load up on more veggies for your holiday carbs instead of the rolls. Why get filled-up eating rolls, when there are so many yummy holiday foods to eat?  

Cranberry Sauce

The canned, jiggly, weird alien food version with ridges is almost always GF, though making it yourself is much tastier, healthier and surprisingly really easy!

Grab a bag of frozen or fresh cranberries, pour them into a pot, turn the heat on medium and once they have popped, releasing their juices, it’s done. Now of course, if you just ate it like that, it would be crazy sour and rather boring. So throw in some flavors. I like to add the juice and zest of a couple oranges, some dates and/or raisins and apples and let it cook in with the cranberry sauce. Add some warming sweet spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and ginger and you have deliciousness on hand. All of the spices and fruit can be cooked in or add the apples raw for some crunch. Speaking of crunch, nuts are a nice addition. Or if you want it even easier, make it raw, by pulsing it in the food processor with these ingredients, and don’t cook it down at all! You can also add in some honey, maple syrup, coconut nectar and/or stevia to sweeten it up a little more, but remember that sour will help us digest some of the holiday foods so don’t sugar crazy!


Wood rolling pins will cause pie gluten cross-contamination so make sure to put parchment paper between the pie crust and the rolling pin if it’s wood and has ever touched a gluten-containing flour. For a classic cookie crumb pie crust use Midel’s Gluten-Free Gingersnaps or Pamela’s cookies (Lemon or Ginger or Chocolate, depending upon the filling) processed into crumbs. Then simply replace the cookie/cracker crumbs in the recipe with gluten-free cookie crumbs. Need a GF pie crust? Try this Epicurean recipe

That said, that’s waaay too much work for me and I like a high-protein crust that will make-up for the sugars in a filling, dropping the glycemic level some. I always make nut crusts, which couldn’t be easier. Just food process nuts and/or seeds down to the size you like, from completely powdered (flour) to still big pieces of nuts. Add some dates to hold it together. Add a little water until it starts sticking and wa-lah! Press it into an oiled, pie pan to the depth you want and done, no rolling out messy crusts that break and fall apart. Sometimes I add coconut oil instead of dates to help hold it together. Sometimes I add shredded coconut. All delicious and all grain-free, gluten-free and egg-free. If it needs to be nut free, just use shredded coconut and seeds. So easy.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Streusel and marshmallows are the real danger in traditional casserole. To make GF, use GF marshmallows or use GF flour in the streusel, or replace both with chopped nuts for a healthier, blood sugar balancing casserole. Or heck, leave off the topping all together. Sweet potatoes are yummy, why add all the other stuff?


Other great sources for Gluten Free Holiday Recipes:

What foods are you feasting on this holiday season? Need more ideas? If you are interested in learning to cook without recipes and honing your creativity in the kitchen, please join me in Denver for one or more of my cooking classes.

I like it when you like it!

15 Replies to “Making it Gluten Free for the Holidays: Simple Changes to Traditional Recipes”

  1. This is a great and fun article Katie!  I had no idea that sweet potatoes, which we eat more of than white potatoes in our house, had a lower glycemic index than the white ones. How wonderful! I was feeling guilty because they were sweeter and I thought had a higher sugar content. Now I can eat them guilt free!
    Thanks Katie

    1. I’m with you Lynn! I LOOOOVE sweet potatoes and they are so much healthier (and lower glycemic) than white potatoes, so yes, indulge away! Sweet potatoes are not related to regular potatoes at all–completely different family. The nightshade family, that regular potatoes are a member of, is very inflammatory and is often connected to arthritis. And as though the delicious taste weren’t enough, sweet potatoes are very, very high in beta carotene, just make sure to consume them with a fat to make the beta carotene more absorbable.

    1. Oh my gosh!!!! I so hear you Robine. Oven roasted sweet potatoes are the best. I feel okay about the energy efficiency, as I always throw some other things into the oven at the same time.

  2. Great info, Katie. I particularly like the info on cranberry sauce and the pie crust. I don’t really bake pies, but I do occasionally use a wooden rolling pin and I would never have thought of gluten contamination from that.

    I have a question about potatoes that you can probably answer. I know sweet potatoes are better than white potatoes, but what about the yellow, red, and purple ones? Are they also better than white potatoes? I roast the colored ones sometimes for a treat. Thanks so much!

      1. Joyce–Great! Let me know how your cranberry sauce turns out! I like my apple cut small and raw in the cranberry sauce to provide a texture difference from the rest of the cranberry sauce, but cooked in is good too.

    1. That’s a good question Dorine! I know that most of the nutrients that are in potatoes are in the skin, so you need to eat the skin to get much of any benefit from potatoes (unless they aren’t organic in which case the skin will have higher concentrations of pesticides). So roasting potatoes with skins on will be much healthier than without.

      Different colored potatoes have different types (or levels) of antioxidants depending on the color. There was a study conducted at Colorado State University that tested 100 different varieties and found higher antioxidant levels in the pigmented potatoes. Also, just ran across this 2010 study in the Czech Republic that studied phenolic content of potatoes and seems to have found that purple and red varieties have the highest content: The effects of pigmented potato consumption on biomarkers of oxidative stress, inflammation and immune response were reported in Oct 2010 in the Journal of Nutrition: A sample of healthy adult males who received daily doses of either white, yellow or purple-fleshed potatoes daily. The results indicated that consuming pigmented potatoes can reduce inflammation and DNA damage as well as modulate immune cell phenotype in healthy adult males. It also reported that purple potatoes have extremely high levels of anthocyanins and other phenolic acids. Yellow-fleshed potatoes have high levels of certain kind of carotenoids (especially lutein and zeaxanthin).

      Potato varieties can be differentiated by their starchiness. Floury, or mealy baking potatoes (think Russets) have more starch at about 20–22% versus waxy boiling potatoes (think Yellow Finn potatoes) at about 16–18% starch. The higher the starch, the higher the glycemic level. Also, the smaller the potato, the lower the starch level and therefore the lower the sugar content as starches develop more the larger the potato gets. The colored varieties do tend to be smaller than the big ‘ol white russet potatoes!

      So overall, yep, I’d say the colored varieties of potatoes are healthier than the white ones (especially if you eat the skin).

  3. So many different people offer you healthy alternatives to your Thanksgiving meal but want to cut out all the normal parts of the meal. Instead of letting you have those rolls and potatoes and gravy they want you to have different options instead. But a lot of people want to stick to the traditional menu. I love that this menu has all those same staples of a good Thanksgiving meal but they’re made healthier.

    1. Thanks Lyn!!! I really appreciate that. Options are always good and people can choose how healthy they want to go. Thanksgiving is so simple gluten free (a little more tricky grain free and low glycemic), but they get overwhelmed with the idea of it before even trying to take it on. There is no reason to fall into eating gluten on the holidays with a little pre-planning.
      Katie Bauer recently posted..Holiday Gluten Free Party Planning: Tips for Attending and Hosting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge