5 Tips for Safe Holidays with Food Restrictions


Sticking to a food-restrictive diet during the holidays can be extremely challenging. Between difficulty turning down temptations and interacting with family members who may not be very supportive, navigating holiday meals can bring up frustration and a sense of isolation. Avoid pitfalls, hurt feelings, and medical emergencies by identifying your base requirements and compromise points, communicating your needs clearly, engaging in education, and learning when to step away.

Here are some tips to help you enjoy a happy holiday season:

Establish Your Boundaries.

Decide what cross-contamination risks you're willing to take and learn to navigate potentially harmful situations. Your host may not realize that the gluten-free cookies they got, especially for you, became contaminated once they touched "regular" cookies. It's ok to say, "I really appreciate your effort to make me feel included, but those are no longer safe for me." Perhaps they have more cookies in the box you could enjoy. Acknowledging accommodation efforts, even the failed ones, will encourage your loved ones to continue learning how they can support you better. If you repeatedly encounter ignorance and feel too frustrated to engage in education or gratitude, it is also ok to simply say, "no, thank you."


Make sure you and your host are on the same page ahead of time.


Communicate Your Needs.

Once you've identified your dietary guidelines and flexibility, take the initiative to discuss your food requirements with your host, family members, and friends. They may not fully understand your condition and the peril some foods pose to your health. Make sure you and your host are on the same page ahead of time. Share your needs and inquire about the menu, dishes, and cooking surfaces. Explain the food handling practices required to maintain your health and assess the host's capacity to accommodate you.


Offer Your Assistance.

You may share information and recipes, suggest dishes or ingredient substitutions, and offer to help with the cooking. The latter will allow you to monitor the ingredients and food handling and potentially enjoy a unique connection with your host over the pots and pans. Bringing a shareable dish is another way to keep yourself fed and allow your loved ones to try, and quite possibly, enjoy your special diet.


Commit to taking good care of yourself, and walk away from any event that feels toxic for your wellbeing.


Stand Your Ground.

Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself. Conflicts around your dietary needs can stir up intense emotions for various reasons. Try responding in a respectful and detached manner to deescalate any heated situation. Protect your physical health by adhering to the appropriate standards and guard your mental health by encouraging yourself to be more self-sufficient. Commit to taking good care of yourself, and walk away from any event that feels toxic for your wellbeing.


Host Your Own Holiday Dinner.

Although this is a huge undertaking, you'll have complete control of the food. It may not be a traditional dinner, but you'll have an opportunity to share your food with others instead of feeling excluded from the party. This can be very empowering for you and an extremely positive way to expose loved ones to gluten-free eating and lifestyle. Use the event to showcase acceptable substitution and delicious recipes that everyone can enjoy.

We hope you find these tips helpful in navigating a happy, healthy holiday season. Every year should become a little easier as you gain confidence with your diagnosis. Take some stress off yourself by having a game plan (whatever that looks like to you) and sticking to it.

May your holiday season be full of love, joy, and gluten-free goodness!