Thanksgiving Dishes For Lactose and Gluten Free Diners

There is no meal quite like a Thanksgiving meal. For some people with a dairy or gluten intolerance, the holiday can add an extra challenge. Read more to discover how some small changes can make a big difference.

Nov. 15, 2023 6   min read

Happy mature woman serving food to her family during Thanksgiving meal at dining table

A growing number of people are learning that they have an intolerance to gluten or dairy. Roughly 6 percent of people in the U.S. may have gluten intolerance and more than twice as many are likely to have lactose intolerance, according to researchers.

These dietary conditions can become challenging around holidays that involve large meals with dishes that often contain these ingredients.

Amy L. Stacy, RDN, is a registered dietician and nutritionist with Rochester Regional Health and shares the most common side dishes that contain lactose and gluten – along with some alternatives that are delicious and easy to share.

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Dairy and gluten on the table

There are plenty of different dishes to fill up the dining table. As long as there is no butter or stuffing inside the turkey, the turkey is generally free of gluten or lactose.

Traditional side dishes that might have dairy or gluten include:

  • Mashed potatoes (milk, butter)
  • Stuffing (bread and mixes contain gluten and/or dairy)
  • Macaroni & cheese (cheese, milk, bread crumbs)
  • Green bean casserole (cream, fried onions)
  • Gravy (flour, butter)
  • Pies (butter and flour in crusts, cream in pumpkin pie)

Other side dishes that steer clear of dairy or gluten are typically vegetable or fruit-based, such as cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, brussels sprouts, or corn.

Finding alternatives

With more people becoming vocal about gluten and dairy intolerance or sensitivity, there are a growing number of alternatives in most grocery stores.

“Over the last 10-15 years, many food manufacturers and retailers have not only started making more gluten free and dairy-free food options, but also started making labels for gluten free and dairy free more visible on their products,” Stacy said.

There are a number of options for gluten free recipes using substitute ingredients or versions of the original ingredients without gluten. Brands such as Nature’s Path or Bob’s Red Mill are known for being high-quality gluten free options. So Delicious, Miyoko’s, and Earth Balance all offer dairy free versions of their products. Alternatives including canned coconut milk or soy/vegetable oil spreads are also good choices.

With gluten and lactose intolerance, reading the label and knowing what is in our foods is very important to everyone’s health.

“The more homemade foods we eat, the better for our overall health. The more processed the food, the more it can damage our heart,” Stacy said. “If we make homemade food, we can pat ourselves on the back for both the time and effort we put into making the dish and for being healthy.”

A word to the wise

For people who are going to an extended family meal and may have relatives who are unfamiliar with gluten and dairy health concerns, our expert offers a few helpful suggestions.

Medical concerns

Having an intolerance to a food ingredient is not a choice that a person makes. An intolerance is a medical concern that needs support from loved ones.

Separate dishes

Make two separate versions of the same dish. For example, making a bowl of mashed potatoes with dairy and another bowl with dairy-free or gluten-free mashed potatoes allows everyone to have the opportunity to have what they need – and, in some cases, to try something new.

Offer to help

Open communication is the best policy for everyone in these situations. Explain the situation to the host, apologize for any inconvenience, and offer to bring a designated dish.

“With all of these ideas in mind, being understanding about someone’s health concerns is important. It takes a lot of grace and kindness and that is what Thanksgiving should be about,” Stacy said.

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