Cooking for Special Diets: Thanksgiving Edition

No need to stress: These recipes – for stuffing, veggies, cranberry sauce and dessert – are tasty and safe for everyone at the table.

Editor's note: Check back Monday on Patch to see where to get a few rolls to go with an allergen-free Thanksgiving feast.

As Thanksgiving, the biggest "food" holiday of the year, approaches, it's easy for special dieters, or those cooking for one, to feel anxious.

But there's no need to stress.

I learned a great lesson last year fitting to the holiday. It happened after I decided I would prepare a large chunk of the feast myself. I served up a lot of veggies and stuffed the bird with gluten-free stuffing. In the end, I found it was not the feast of burden I made it out to be.

In fact, I found myself thankful for the help of others and the lessons learned over the years preparing food for special diets.

Other family members filled in the gaps with the "regular" desserts, dressing and sides that they are used to feasting on. With the main courses and sides free of gluten and dairy, I made sure my gluten- and casein-free eater experienced the meal and was part of a tradition that is as much about health and working together as it is about food. After all, the holiday is celebrated because the pilgrims had to learn a new way of life to keep themselves fed and nourished.

I felt like a modern-day Squanto – learning, teaching and offering up a feast that fed those I love. And in the case of my son, who has celiac disease, the meal also had the advantage of keeping him from getting ill.

And for that, I am thankful.

The turkey

. This week, let's talk about stuffing. Celiac Specialties, located in Rochester Hills and Novi, has a variety of bread and bread crumbs for traditional recipes, or check out this recipe for corn bread stuffing (I used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free cornbread mix):

Corn Bread Stuffing

  • 1 package corn bread mix, premade
  • 3 tbspns. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 6 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries
  • Dried salt, pepper, sage, thyme to taste
  • 1 cup chicken stock (such as Kitchen Basics)

Cut corn bread into 1-inch cubes a day ahead and set out so they are dry. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium low heat. Add onions and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until soft but not brown. Stir in thyme, sage, salt and pepper. Add mixture to corn bread and toss to blend. Slowly pour in stock and toss to moisten. Use to stuff bird or cook on the side.

If baking on the side: Spread stuffing in a buttered or oiled 9-by-15-inch baking dish. Cover and bake at 375 F for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes or until top is crisp and golden.

Here are some safety guidelines from the United States Department of Agriculture on preparing a stuffed turkey.

The veggies

I know a lot of people like green bean casserole on Turkey Day, but we actually skip it. After all, the Native Americans and pilgrims didn't have cream of mushroom soup in 1621!

Green beans are delicious steeped in boiling water for 5 minutes, then tossed into a pan with olive oil, sliced garlic and diced tomatoes. Saute for 5-10 minutes and they are good to go. Or, serve up a bowl of plain steamed beans with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a pat of buttery spread. You'd be surprised how many people enjoy pure, steamed veggies. My grandmother always made a heaping bowl of steamed carrots cut on the angle. Even as a kid, they were always my favorite!

I added corn, steamed carrots, mashed potatoes and string beans to the menu, and also this sweet potato recipe, always a family favorite:

Whipped Sweet Potatoes

  • 3-4 large sweet potatoes, baked in the oven until soft
  • 1 tbspn. butter
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • Salt, pepper to taste

Remove skins from hot potatoes (handle with care!) and put in large food processor with other ingredients. Whip until smooth. Serve immediately, or place in a casserole dish and warm for feast time.

Tip: Use corn starch to thicken gravy for a gluten-free mashed potato topper.

Cranberry sauce

Don't buy the can, make it fresh. "It's so easy," my mom says. And it is. Just dissolve about a teaspoon (or more if you desire) of sugar into about a cup of orange juice in a medium saucepan. Add a bag of fresh cranberries and simmer until berries pop. Pour into serving bowl. Done.


Of course, people like pumpkin pie on the big day. I picked up a premade crust at Celiac Specialties and made a few of my own. Check out recipes for yummy pie crusts.

But, pumpkin puree is versatile. Put it in pancake batter, cake batter or in any given dessert mix for a festive and allergen-free addition.

How about some pumpkin bars? I bought a box of 123 Gluten Free Sweet Goodness Pan Bars at Kroger last year, simply added a can of pumpkin puree and voila, pumpkin bars. The mix was pricey but filled a full 8-by-12-inch pan with bars. I made it ahead of time and added caramel frosting later. This recipe also works well with Namaste brand spice cake mix, which can be found at or the in Ferndale.

Caramel Frosting

  • 2 tbsp. butter (I used Earth Balance)
  • 3 tbsp. milk (I used Almond Breeze)
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 c. confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In small saucepan, combine butter, milk and brown sugar. Over medium heat, blend with whisk. Heat to boiling and let boil vigorously for 2 minutes. Remove heat and add powdered sugar and vanilla. Whisk for 5 minutes and let cool until it is thick enough to frost cake. If it's too thick, add more milk.

Did you know? In 1621, the pilgrims shared a feast with the Wampanoag that was gluten and casein free. The supply of flour was long diminished before the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, so there was no bread or pastries (including pumpkin pie) of any kind at the first Thanksgiving. Also, there was no dairy because there were no domestic cattle at the early settlement. The feast is likely to not even have included turkey (and definitely not stuffing) and likely was made up of fish, berries, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison and plums.

Lianne Mathie November 13, 2011 at 02:45 PM
Hi Alissa. I saw the Trader Joe's ad this weekend and they are selling a gluten free turkey gravy along with hormone free turkeys. I don't hype non-local stores but it might be helpful to someone out there.
Guy Fawkes November 13, 2011 at 04:40 PM
Much, if not most of the epidemic of appearances of food allergies and intolerances, it has been said, is caused by the failure to breastfeed, and the over pasteurization of cow's milk (removing beneficial bacteria that humans use early in life to develop natural immunities to things like lactose intolerance.) I hope future generations, rather than coddle the disease we have caused learn to reverse the behavior with best practices and return our youth to the healthier vibrance they were intended to enjoy. http://www.gutsense.org/gutsense/flora.html
Angela Youngblood November 17, 2011 at 07:15 PM
Great info. Thanks. I especially loved the fact at the end about the first Thanksgiving being gluten free. My 5-year-old son with Celiac will enjoy that fact this holiday!
Lucas Zdenek November 19, 2011 at 02:20 AM
Lactose intolerance is not caused by failure to breastfeed, but rather by the human inability to produce the enzyme that breaks down lactose. This is further exacerbated by the large quantity of lactose in cow's milk. Ultimately the facts we should all be aware of are seemingly common sense: 1. Humans are the only species that make a regular habit of drinking the milk of another species. 2. Humans are the only species that continue to drink milk after weening from our mothers. Finally, depending on where you get your information, lactose intolerance is present in anywhere from 75-90% of the global human population. I wouldn't use the word "epidemic" or even "disease". When I hear 90%, I think "normal". http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2002/june/lactose.htm
Guy Fawkes November 19, 2011 at 03:20 AM
My point, incase you missed it, is that (it has been suggested) that the failure to produce the enzyme which breaks down lactose - is a result of not getting the bacteria from cow's milk that triggers the human body to start making the enzyme. If it weren't for cow's milk a lot of kids in poverty stricken and low income areas would be sickly from calcium and vitamin D deficiencies. Not because cow's milk is the only place to get those things, but thanks to the corporate food grid certain classes of people are forced to gorge on garbage like corn sugars and dairy products to prevent starving to death. The good Broccoli and tuna steaks are for the well to do. So as long as we're idiots about what we feed ourselves, and permit corporate farmers like Monsanto to dictate what the staples of our diets look like, things like milks, cheeses and cereals are going to be a part of the average kids' diet. So! As long as they're stuck drinking it ... they should consider that it's the over pasteurization of milk that's causing their lactose intolerance over the long term, and should consider having a glass of fresh, unadulterated milk from a real, honest to goodness local farmer occassionally.


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