Healthy, Easy Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Menu

This year I need a healthy, easy gluten-free Thanksgiving menu. In the past two weeks, my family has lost two members. We have traveled to visit relatives in hospice care and to plan and attend funerals. We are weary from the travel, the organizational details, and the loss. When I was a child in a small town, the community would have been feeding us. Now we’re spread out everywhere with no central place to deposit casseroles. At moments, it is hard to function through the sadness. There’s no way I can face a full fledged Thanksgiving production in less than two weeks.

Conventional wisdom might be to buy prepared food, but I still prefer homemade and with four gluten-free and family members, the research to find appropriate prepared food sounds exhausting. My solution is to create a healthy, easy gluten-free menu.

I often use holidays as an opportunity to test a recipe. That’s off the table this year. I want to serve dishes that can be prepped, or possibly prepped and cooked, in advance so that I can do a little each day for a week rather than have a marathon kitchen session.
green beans
With that in mind, here’s my menu:

Turkey – I’m going to stick with turkey because the cooking time may be long, but the prep time is minimal. I use a roasting bag to keep the turkey moist. That means there’s no need for continual basting. I flour the bag with sweet white sorghum or gluten-free oat flour and stuff the turkey with a halved apple, celery sticks, and a halved orange. The only other prep is to remove the neck and giblets, rinse the turkey, pat it dry, and lightly oil it with olive oil. You can add herbs or seasoning as well, but I don’t bother and the result is always delicious.

Green Beans and New Potatoes – Green beans are available during any season. I wash them. Then I break the beans into smaller pieces using three containers (washed beans, prepped beans, discarded ends) and the footstool in front of my couch. The lack of need for other tools means I can binge watch while prepping. That makes it seem less like work. These can be cooked in advance and rewarmed Thanksgiving Day.

Baked Sweet Potatoes – Sweet potatoes are traditional and healthy when served baked rather than candied. Baking can be done in the oven or the microwave. I like to eat these with nothing but butter added, but I will serve them with a bowl of brown sugar in case someone else desires a sweet topping.

Corn – Rather than cleaning corn on the cob, I’ll use frozen corn. It can be cooked in a matter of minutes and only needs a dash of salt and a pat of butter to be ready to serve.

Orange Cranberry Relish – The only ingredients in this are oranges, cranberries, and sugar. My grandmother served it every Thanksgiving and my sister is usually willing to make it.

Rolls – This is not the year for extensive baking. A local bakery sells frozen Brazilian cheese rolls (Pão de Queijo) that we can pop in the oven for 30-40 minutes just before the meal.

Dessert – I haven’t settled on dessert yet, but I’m considering a version of orange pecan cake. It’s simple, low carb, and delicious.
orange cake
Cornbread Stuffing – I live in the South where cornbread stuffing is the traditional version. It’s easy to make it gluten-free and the cornbread can be made days in advance. Nonetheless, I haven’t decided whether it will make the final menu. I’m going to wait a few days and see how I feel. It complements the turkey and we all love it, but with rolls on the table, it isn’t essential.

Appetizers – On a normal year, I’d have appetizers to snack on while we visit before our meal. Those might include stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, sausage balls, party mix or something else that requires cooking. If I offer appetizers this year, they will consist of a relish tray or antipasto with gluten-free crackers.

While I realize there’s no green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, corn pudding, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, or pecan pie on this menu, many of the flavors of the most common Thanksgiving dishes are represented. The preparations I’ve chosen for those flavors are more simple and appropriate for a difficult year.

For me, taking this approach is less stressful than trying to purchase appropriate pre-cooked, gluten-free food. I will order groceries through an online app minimizing my shopping time and further streamlining the process.

Whether you choose an elaborate production or a meal in a restaurant, I wish you a peaceful and happy holiday!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


The Holidays…Already? How About a Cornbread Salad!

Can it really be the holidays…already; how about a cornbread salad? It would be an understatement to say this year has flown by. I’ve been running full speed ahead the whole time so it seems like only 6 months have passed. Now it’s time to get my mind and menu ready for Thanksgiving. I’m not sure I’m prepared, but that’s probably beside the point. I have to get ready anyway.

In my family, the Thanksgiving crowd varies widely from year to year. Some years I’ve hosted 26 and some years there have only been two of us. That means every year requires a slightly different plan. This year my plan is to keep it simple, but I also want to keep it interesting!
Instead of cornbread stuffing, I think I’ll try a cornbread salad. I found this recipe in my mom’s recipe scrapbook. It was cut out of a newspaper and it’s called Mississippi Cornbread Salad. The recipe calls for cornbread mix.

In order to make it gluten-free, I’ll start with a Cooking2Thrive cornbread recipe.

Make some cornbread

1/4 cup shortening
1 cup yellow corn meal
1/2 cup white corn meal
1/2 cup sweet white sorghum flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup buttermilk

Place shortening in cast iron skillet & put in oven to melt while you mix batter. In a medium bowl, mix together white and yellow corn meal, sorghum flour, sugar, and salt. Add baking powder and mix thoroughly. Add egg, milk, and buttermilk. Stir just until mixed.

Remove skillet from oven. Swirl melted shortening around in skillet until sides are coated. Pour hot shortening into batter and stir. Place batter in hot skillet. Place skillet in oven and bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove skillet from oven and place on rack to cool. Turn cornbread out of pan.

Gather the salad ingredients
Once the cornbread is cool, I’ll crumble it. In the meantime, I’ll gather the other ingredients:
bell pepper
One envelope of Ranch style dressing mix. (Hidden Valley does not currently contain gluten)
8 ounces sour cream
1 cup gluten-free mayonnaise
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup chopped orange or red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green onion
4 cups cooked pinto beans, drained (or 2 16-ounce cans)
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
3 1/2 cups whole kernel corn, cooked & drained (frozen, canned, or fresh)
10 slices bacon, fried and crumbled

Make the dressing
In a small bowl, make the dressing by combining the dressing mix, sour cream, and mayonnaise until blended. Set the dressing aside.

Combine tomatoes and peppers
In a second bowl, combine the tomatoes, bell peppers and green onions and toss gently.

Assemble the salad
I’m going to assemble the salad in a large trifle bowl, but any 3-quart bowl will do. Place half of the crumbled cornbread in the bowl. Top with half of the beans, the tomato mixture, the cheese, the bacon, the corn, and the dressing. Repeat with a second layer. Cover and chill for 3 hours.

That’s it. The salad is done. Now, since I haven’t tried this yet, I can’t tell you if it’s going to be good, but all of the ingredients go well together. My only question would be one of proportion. When I make a combination like this, I eyeball it and add veggies until it feels right to me.

I’m fine with preparing a dish for the first time and serving it to guests. That doesn’t mean the recipe always turns out perfectly. It just means that I don’t worry too much about a failure. I’ll have plenty of food on the table even if I have to throw one dish in the trash. If it’s good, but not great, I’ll improve it next time.

So, let’s give this simple, interesting recipe a try and see whether we should make it a tradition! Join me?

Follow-up note: I made this salad for Thanksgiving. It was good enough that I have plans to come up with a Cooking2Thrive version that we’ll tweak and test until it’s better than good. After all, we always aim for superior deliciousosity!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

An Easy Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Menu

Looking for an easy gluten-free Thanksgiving menu? You may be surprised how similar it can be to your family’s normal holiday menu.
table setting

Let’s start with my grandmother’s regular Thanksgiving choices:
Cornbread Dressing
Cranberry Orange Relish
Black Eyed Peas
Green Beans
Candied Sweet Potatoes with Pecans

This is about 2/3 of her menu. Up to this point, the only change required to Gran’s menu is to make the cornbread without using wheat flour. Two-thirds of the way through the menu with one minor substitution seems pretty easy to me. And we all love how the cranberry orange relish dresses up a tall glass compote. Besides that, it’s delicious!

My mom makes it using the recipe straight from OceanSpray®:
1 unpeeled orange, cut into eighths and seeded
One 12 oz package fresh cranberries
3/4 to 1 cup sugar

Place half the cranberries and orange slices in a food processor and evenly chop. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat to chop the other half. Stir in sugar. Store in refrigerator or freezer.
The rest of the meal isn’t hard to make gluten-free either. My grandmother always served brown-n-serve rolls. We just leave those out and eat more dressing since we like it better anyway. If one of us is really craving bread, but we don’t want to go to the trouble of making yeast rolls, we whip up some biscuits. Truth is, we prefer biscuits to rolls pretty much any day anyhow.

Another change I make is to simplify the sweet potatoes. This isn’t required to make them gluten-free. It’s just a preference. Ben & I like baked sweet potatoes with butter or mashed butternut squash better than anything candied. I think that’s pretty much it for the required alterations to the main meal. Once we’ve digested these changes, we’re suddenly hungry for dessert!
My grandmother served pecan pie, cherry pie, and pumpkin pie. We still serve pecan pie with fresh whipped cream, but our tastes run more to sweet potato rather than pumpkin. We’ve found that we can use traditional sweet potato and pecan pie recipes for the filling. Only the crust has to change. For that, we use a Cooking2Thrive gluten-free crust recipe that takes less than 10 minutes to make.

Several of my neighbors include mac & cheese in their tradition. I think they call it a vegetable, although for the life of me I can’t figure out why. If it’s on your family’s menu, there’s plenty of ready-made gluten-free pasta to be had. Just make sure to pair it with a cheese sauce thickened with something besides wheat flour. I have used sorghum flour or besan as a substitute in sauces and gravy.

My sister likes casseroles so she gets excited when I vary the menu to include a corn soufflé or a green bean casserole made with fresh onion topping and a brown butter sauce. She’s also a big fan of mashed potatoes made with real butter and cream and left a bit chunky.
Ben votes for Brussels sprouts as an added bonus every time we take a vote. Here’s how he likes them:
2 tbsp bacon renderings
1 lb Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed, and halved
2 spring onions
1/2 manzano chile pepper, sliced thin
1/4 tsp salt
7-8 grinds of black pepper

Heat bacon renderings in cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add Brussels sprouts cut side down. Sauté without stirring until sprouts begin to brown. While sprouts are cooking, chop the green tops of the onion into 2 inch long strips and rough chop the head of one of the onions (both if bulbs are small). Add onion tops, chopped onion, and chile pepper to pan and cook for about 2 minutes (save unused onion bulb for another recipe). Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir. Sauté for two more minutes. Turn off heat. Cover pan and allow to sit for 8-10 minutes.

As you can see, you may not need to reinvent the wheel in order to have a gluten-free Thanksgiving. Sometimes a simple tweak to the routine fare is all that’s required for a satisfyingly traditional meal.

Here’s looking forward to a delicious holiday!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”,-Sides-Salads/Fresh-Cranberry-Orange-Relish.aspx

Ten Steps to Becoming a Gracious Gluten-Free Guest on Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving holiday can present unique dilemmas for the gluten-free because its primary activities center around food. Many of you will soon be a guest at the table of a friend, relative, co-worker, or in-law who you may not know well and who is not aware of your gluten-free lifestyle. Some of you will be asked to attend a gathering in the home of a close relative who believes you are simply following a fad.

If you are feeling uneasy about the possibilities, you may be wondering: Should I politely decline and stay home? Should I not worry about eating gluten just for this one day? Should I suggest everyone change their plans and come to my house? Should I just eat in advance and pretend to eat along with everyone else? Is there a way to be a gracious guest and avoid eating gluten?

While each situation is unique, following these five guidelines will allow you to remain gluten-free and help make the day go smoothly:

1)Before agreeing to any invitations, take time to sit still and make a list of things for which you are grateful. The list doesn’t have to be lengthy – 5-10 things would be ideal. This will set the stage for you to let your best self step forward. Having trouble getting started? Perhaps an example from my list will help…Today, I am grateful for: Really good coffee; the unseasonably warm weather we’re having that means my utility bills will be lower; spicy foods that make my nose run; the generosity of a friend who is providing me a free airplane ticket for a visit next week; my son for removing my security door to rescue the keys I couldn’t get to so that I can use my front door again (yes, I managed to lock the keys in between the inner and outer door and then jam the lock so that I couldn’t get to them from the inside or the outside without removing the door); I am safe and my neighbors are safe even though we heard a gun battle outside Monday night; the one remaining teeny tiny tomato on my vine that I can’t wait to eat. Your list can include anything and you can add to it all day long if you feel so inspired.

2)Once you have set the stage, think about your boundaries and intentions for this holiday. One of your boundaries can be to avoid all gluten. One can be to remove yourself from the room if you feel you are being treated with disrespect. One of your intentions can be to receive with joy. One intention may be to give your children an opportunity to spend time with extended family. One can be to attend your grandmother’s dinner because you appreciate the affection she shows you. One of your intentions can be to be respectful of the host and other guests. Another intention might be to stay present in the moment and feel how you feel without attaching meaning from the past or from how you felt at another occasion with the same participants.

Setting clear boundaries first will allow you a safe space in which to stand as you follow your intentions. Good boundaries allow us to begin to release ourselves from the confines of our defense mechanisms and old patterns of behavior. Good boundaries are especially important when we relate to family since many of our defenses originate during time spent with family. As we begin to trust and feel safe in the space good boundaries create, we will increasingly be able to feel our emotions in a clear manner. Starting from this point allows us the best opportunity to remain true to our intentions.

If you come from a difficult family that does not respect boundaries, it is perfectly okay to politely, without blame and without a false excuse, decline an invitation. Before you choose to do so, please make sure you are prepared to accept responsibility for any unintended consequences. This does not mean you have to join in any resulting drama or feel responsible for other’s hurt feelings or bad behavior. I am simply reminding you that it will not be a gracious act to decline an invitation and then throw blame back in the host’s face if they happen to take offense even if the words you’re saying may feel true. It is okay to calmly, quietly, and confidently honor yourself, your boundaries, and your health.

Keeping your boundaries intact and your intentions in mind will help you feel more confident and centered which in turn will allow you to be your most kind and loving self. You do not have to pretend. You do not have to be perfect. You do not have to fit someone else’s picture of how you should be or what you should do.

3)Communicate directly with the host as soon as you accept an invitation. Let them know you appreciate being included and cannot wait to spend time with them, then mention that you must follow a gluten-free lifestyle which means consuming even a tiny amount of gluten is harmful to your health. If you can have this conversation in person or on the phone, it will be easiest to express this firmly, but softly. Once you have communicated this information, listen carefully to the response because this will be your best guide as to what to do next. Keep your boundaries intact, your intentions in mind, and your guard down as much as possible. The rest of the conversation can be a friendly negotiation of the details. Listening carefully to your host will give you clues on what to offer and how best to accommodate both of your needs.

4)As you negotiate the details, let go of any unspoken expectations you may have regarding the holiday. For instance, you may secretly expect your host to offer to fix you gluten-free alternatives. If they do not offer to do so, you may be tempted to believe that they do not love you. Whether this person does or does not love you cannot be determined by whether they feel able to provide such an alternative for you when they have already taken on the work involved in hosting the event. For this moment, see if you can allow for the possibility that they are doing all they can do.

If the host shares with you that they have no idea what gluten-free means, and that they don’t really feel like they can add anything to their to-do list, do not immediately assume that they mean this as a personal affront. If you feel tempted to boycott the event because of such a statement, please take a moment to consider that there are other options. As you consider these options, ask yourself if it is possible that your host is simply sharing their truth. Is it possible that they may even feel badly that they cannot provide what you need while still taking care of themselves? Review your boundaries and intentions to see if you are responding in a manner consistent with your intentions while maintaining your boundaries. If not, explore the ways to shift your position in the negotiation to better align your choices with your intentions.

5)When you are shifting your thinking or behavior, do not expect yourself to be perfect. This process can feel very messy. Think of it like a child experimenting with finger paints – messy is a creative expression and that is good! Allow yourself to experience new insight, awareness, and emotion without judging or automatically accepting other’s judgment of what you should do or how you should do it. Understand that you are valuable, lovable, worthy, wanted and deserve to hold your space in the world. From this position, be kind to yourself. Resist the temptation to compare yourself to others, and allow compassion to guide you.

Now that you have set the stage, it is time to explore some specific options you may want to address during your negotiation.

6)Graciously furnish your host with all the information they request regarding the preparation of gluten-free food. This may require quite a bit of time and investment, but it is time and investment that will pay off for you in the long run. If in the process you notice they are overwhelmed, it may be time to let them off the hook by letting them know how much you appreciate the consideration and how you will not feel left-out in the least if they do not prepare anything special for you. Ask if they would mind you bringing a few things to supplement your meal.

7)Instead of just offering to bring food for you, ask if your host would prefer for you to bring a gluten-free side dish or dessert to share with everyone. You can make this yourself, purchase it from the frozen section of a local health food store, or purchase it from a local gluten-free bakery.

8)If the conversation leads you to believe that much of the menu will be safe for you, ask your host if they would mind keeping the packages from any food they’re going to serve in a separate trash bag so that you can read the labels before dinner? Tell them you’d also like to take a peak at any recipes they’re using so you can choose items that are safe. You can do the review on Thanksgiving Day. Just make sure you have some sort of back-up food handy if there are no gluten-free options. If this is a problem for your host, then let them know that’s okay and revise your plan.

9)If your host is a confident cook and wants to make the whole meal gluten-free just for fun, you can offer your gluten-free recipes for family favorites. You may want to offer to provide come over a day or two in advance help bake. You can bring along any hard-to-find ingredients that you have in pantry and offer tips on adapting favorite family recipes. Time in the kitchen before a crowd arrives can be a great time to connect and share about anything that’s going on in your lives.

10)When dealing with a difficult host, use your best judgment. If you feel the best option is to eat in advance and only eat salad, then do that with the least fanfare possible.

Throughout these transactions, please keep in mind that the thing of overriding importance for the holiday is not the food itself but the opportunity to honor each other’s needs and leave the door open for connection. It is, after all, the connection that we crave most from our families.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!