How to Survive the Holidays with Allergies

By Brianna, bio below

Living with food allergies and intolerances is certainly challenging at times. Food is such a central part of our social activities (not ours specifically, but people in general), that no matter how prepared you are for something, there are times when you’re still caught off guard. If we’re going somewhere for dinner, a birthday party or holidays, I always try my hardest to make sure Ry has meals that are similar to what will be there. For the most part, it works pretty well.

Thanksgiving is honestly one of my favorites. It’s a relatively easy one to make gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, corn-free, etc. It’s been about 4-1/2 years since we first learned of his allergies and intolerances, so I’ve had some time to find or create many useable recipes. I’ve compiled a list of recipes here that are hopefully helpful for you this holiday season. This idea dinner list includes: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, broccoli salad, green bean casserole, rolls, pumpkin spice cake, pumpkin pie, whipped cream and a few other appetizer ideas.

1. Turkey: Of course, the most important part. Jennifer has an excellent post on hidden ingredients in turkey here. We’ve always used free range or organic turkey because, thankfully, the ones we’ve found are purely turkey. The past couple years, I’ve used Safeway ‘O’ Organics brand and our local Safeway stocks them. They are about double the price as non-organic turkeys, but it’s worth it because Ry can eat it. It also tastes significantly better- much more moist and tender. I know there are other brands out there as well, Shelton’s is one. If you live near a Whole Foods or a food co-op, I’d think you’d be able to find one there, as well. Just remember to always double-check ingredients; it can be surprising what people manage to put in their food, when you think it should be as simple as just being turkey!

2. Mashed Potatoes: My favorite! Ry actually didn’t tolerate potatoes for a couple of years, but now has them back. Here’s my recipe for allergy-free mashed potatoes. They are so simple and so, so good. If you don’t tolerate potatoes, we used to mash sweet potatoes or taro root for him.

3. Gravy: I don’t usually make the gravy in our house- it’s usually my dad. So I don’t have an exact recipe for allergy-free gravy, as he mixes, dashes, pours and stirs it a little different each time. It really is a ‘to taste’ kind of thing, so here’s a general idea to get you started: Using the stock from the turkey, pour into a medium saucepan, reserving a 1/2 cup of the liquid. You’ll want to add water, depending on how much stock there is & depending on how many people you are feeding, but about 4 cups should work well. Over medium heat, bring the liquid to a slight boil. While it heats, mix about a 1/8 cup starch (potato, tapioca, arrowroot or sweet rice) with the 1/2 cup liquid. This will be thick, but you want to make sure it becomes smooth, without clumps. When at a slight boil, add the paste to the liquid. Whisk constantly, as it will thicken quickly. Add salt, pepper and other seasonings, to taste. If you want it thicker, add your starch one teaspoon at a time, whisking constantly. It’s also important to note that it will continue to thicken while it’s over heat, so if you like how it looks, remove immediately.

4. Cranberry Sauce: I typically use the recipe on the bag, you can find it here.  If you need one that is sugar-free as well as allergy-free, this one is really tasty, from the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen.

5. Stuffing: This year I plan to use a variation of this recipe for our allergy-free stuffing. Ry is actually no longer gluten-free, but he is yeast-free. I found this recipe for yeast-free bread that is delicious, so I plan to use that. As for sausage, we’ve been able to get Aidells, Open Nature and Applegate at our local grocery store. They’re all dairy-free, gluten-free and egg-free. As usual, though, always check ingredients. They do have some that work for us and some that don’t.

(A note from Jennifer: If you can’t easily find allergy-free sausage, you can go meat-free with your stuffing or add ground pork, which is what we often do.)

6. Broccoli Salad: I came up with a allergy-free Broccoli Salad recipe recently and it’s really, really tasty. I use soy-free vegenaisse, but you could certainly adapt it to work for your dietary needs (if a different mayonnaise or vegenaisse works for you). Also, bacon could easily be exchanged for the prosciutto & the nuts could be omitted, for nut-free.

(A note from Jennifer: Try toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds in place of the nuts for a nut-free crunch. Consider using avocado to replace the mayo.)

7. Green Bean Casserole: This was always our big treat at Thanksgiving. My mom is not a fan of mixing together cream of mushroom soup and green beans, but we’d get it once a year- when my dad would make it on Thanksgiving. I have to admit, I very much like it. Last year, I was determined to come up with a recipe for Ry. I had made this recipe for Turkey Devan, but adapted it to make an allergy-free green bean casserole by omitting the turkey and broccoli and replaced them with green beans. I also didn’t do the french fried onions. Honestly, the casserole is pretty rich and we preferred it without them. I won’t be using hemp milk this year either (our grocery store no longer stocks it), but plan to use plain Coconut milk. It usually doesn’t add too much of a coconut flavor and also helps makes things creamy!

8. Rolls or Biscuits: These are a tasty allergy-free bread roll to accompany your dinner- Pumpkin Rolls. I also found this allergy-free biscuit recipe when looking to make strawberry shortcake last summer, but found the biscuits were really great on their own. Or try the original recipe and have strawberry shortcakes for dessert!

9. Pumpkin Spice Cake: I always have my allergy-free Pumpkin Spice Cake at Thanksgiving dinner…actually at any dinner that involves a dessert. It’s so tasty and easy. You can also make it the day before; I actually think it’s better after a day, as it just gets moister. I used to always glaze it, but I must admit I prefer it covered in a white frosting. I don’t really measure anymore, but basically do a variation of this one. Sometimes I’ll add a splash of dairy-free milk or flavoring, like peppermint. Okay, no peppermint for this cake, but if it’s going on a chocolate cake, that’s a tasty combo!

10. Pie Crust: There are many variations of fillings to use on Thanksgiving, so I thought I’d start by sharing a allergy-free pie crust recipe. I really, really enjoy this one.  

11. Whipped Cream: Allergy-free whipped cream is surprisingly easy to make. Just chill a couple of cans of full-fat coconut milk in the fridge, at least overnight but a few days is even better. Remove from fridge, without shaking. Pour off liquid (reserve for smoothies or cooking). Scoop out the firm milk into a metal mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer, mix until it becomes whipped cream. You can also add a tablespoon of sugar & a dash of vanilla, if you’d like to sweeten it up just a bit. I also found this recipe for Pumpkin Whipped Cream. I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds delicious. Lexie’s Kitchen also has a recipe for Whipped Cream, using an Isis Whipped Cream bottle. It looks tasty, too! You could omit the almond extract, if you’re nut-free.

(A note from Jennifer: I tried making allergy-free whipped cream with coconut milk recently and it’s super easy and delicious! Believe it or not, the coconut flavor is not over powering if you add a dab of sugar and vanilla as Breanna suggests.)

12. Pumpkin Pie: Because if you have a pie crust AND whipped cream recipe, of course you need a pumpkin pie filling recipe for an allergy-free pumpkin pie! I use this one and it’s delicious! It’s taken me a few years to finally find one that Ry can have and that actually tastes good. This one is a real winner. I didn’t use the pie crusts recipes that go along with it, but I used the one listed above (which is gluten-free).

13. Butter Alternatives: We use either coconut oil, palm shortening or Earth Balance- they have different dairy-free options, but also a soy-free option that we use.

14. Side Dish & Appetizer ideas: Vegetable tray with ranch dressing (delicious and dairy-free, egg-free, and gluten-free), crackers with humus (we like Edward & Sons Rice Snax) and a variation of these fruit turkeys would be really cute.

Want more allergy-friendly food ideas? Check out my Pinterest boards. I’m always looking for inspiration, so check it out if you’re looking for holiday ideas or food ideas for any time of the year! There’s Allergy-friendly sweet treats, Allergy-friendly dinner, Allergy-friendlysnacks/lunch, among others.


Bio: Breanna is a full-time mom to three and part-time portrait photographer in Kodiak, Alaska. Her oldest son has eczema, asthma, multiple food and environmental allergies. She attempts to blog about that at Allergic Adventures.


  1. Anissa M on November 15, 2012 at 10:42 am

    What a great post! Do you mind if I link to you to share it with our readers? I’m sure lots of allergy moms will get great ideas for Thanksgiving from it!

    • Jennifer on November 15, 2012 at 12:41 pm

      Hi Anissa – Of course not – please share with them. Thanks! Wishing you a safe and happy holiday! Jennifer

  2. Spanish Key on November 15, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I like the idea of using coconut milk but doesn’t the FDA classify coconuts as tree nuts? We have been avoiding coconut products for that reason.

    • AHomemakersHome on November 15, 2012 at 3:44 pm

      I wasn’t aware of this. My daughter has tree nut allergies (among others) and we get coconut milk/cream into her at least once a fortnight. Never had any problems.

    • Jennifer on November 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      Hi – Ah, the million dollar question. There are alot of concerns about shea butter and coconut oil and whether or not they could trigger a food allergy. That’s a definite yes, as anything can cause an allergy really. BUT, the verdict is really still out on if coconut is a tree nut or not. I wrote a post on it here. Basically, no one can agree what a coconut really is. But, true coconut allergies are rare and it’s even more rare to have a reaction to coconut due to having a tree nut allergy. With our son, and in many cases that I’ve seen, people aren’t allergic to all tree nuts, although it’s certainly possible. It’s also possible one tree nut that causes an allergic reaction could contaminate another normally non-threatening tree nut. But with coconut, I believe cross contamination would be relatively rare. If you’re nervous about it, why not do a food challenge next time you visit your allergist? Bring some shredded coconut, coconut oil, and some coconut milk and have your child consume very small amounts under the Drs. supervision. Coconut is extremely healthy, if bought in the right format without a lot of additives, so it would be a shame to miss out on all the nutrients if your child doesn’t actually have an allergy to coconut. Don’t you think? My son can have coconut one day, but not two days in a row. He doesn’t react the first day, but a 2nd day of eating coconut would make him itchy and would probably cause his eczema to flare. The same goes for red tomatoes.

  3. Kathryn @ Mamacado on October 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Such a helpful post in planning for the holidays! Definitely going to save this one for my planning!

    • Jennifer on October 4, 2013 at 10:58 am

      Thanks Kathryn! I thought Breanna had some great tips and recipes as well!

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