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The Holidays, Allergy-Free

allergy-free holidays


We wrote a while ago about Halloween for children with food allergies. Usually, when one member of your family has an allergy, the whole family may have to miss out on certain treats that other families get to enjoy. The holidays, whichever you observe, should be a time of gathering with everyone you love, and an allergy shouldn’t prevent anyone from celebrating! Here are some swaps so good, the entire family will love them!

If you celebrate…

Thanksgiving (Thu. November 26)

This classic American holiday is considered by many to be the official start to the holiday season. A large turkey is the centerpiece, and the dishes are designed around foods native to the U.S., the New World, in following with the tradition that the Pilgrims received these foods from the Native Americans.

Many would argue that a true Thanksgiving dinner is not complete without cranberry sauce, dressing (the bread varies depending on where you live – in the South, it’s cornbread based, while other parts of the country use rye, wheat, or white bread), but from there the side dishes of choice vary greatly depending on your background or where you live. The flexibility in side dishes allows for mixing and matching to avoid most common allergies.

If you’re allergic to wheat, skip the stuffing and make a rice or corn dish. Grilled corn is common among Mexican-American Thanksgiving celebrations (just leave the toppings on the side for each person to choose!), and wild rice and mushroom dishes still harken back to the early days of America but without all those pesky gluten proteins!

If you’re allergic to dairy, skip the heavy cream and butter when making mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes. Allergy-friendly vegan butter and classic mix-ins like chives, salt and pepper for savory mashed potatoes (From the Minimalist Baker) or brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon and vanilla for sweet potatoes (via Oh She Glows) are really what make these dishes shine.

Even after polishing off a plate of turkey, dairy-free mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce and a roll, there’s always room for dessert. Pumpkin Pie is the Thanksgiving specialty, and many people can’t get enough of it. Pumpkin Pie is so synonymous with Thanksgiving that Williams-Sonoma even has a special edition of their blog that’s solely dedicated to allergy-free Pumpkin Pie options. They provide three different ways of making it, so no one will ever suffer the heartbreak of missing the pie!

Soy is pretty easy to avoid on Thanksgiving unless you don’t eat meat. A seasonal vegetable dish, such as stuffed butternut squash, could serve as a great replacement for the turkey and avoid the soy-based Tofurkey.

Hanukkah (Sun. December 6 through Mon. December 14)

As Jewish Americans celebrate the Festival of Lights, families gather each night to celebrate the ancient Israelites’ victory over the Syrian-Greek Army, and to celebrate the miracle of restoring the menorah in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Latkes are one of the most commonly cooked foods in a variety of backgrounds, featured in many European and Middle Eastern cuisines. The sheer variation in latke recipes makes it easy to tailor these to your allergy-avoidance-needs. The most basic latkes can be made with just some potatoes, spices and garlic, and fried up, but feel free to experiment. Adding grated carrots, zucchini, and chopped onions are a great way to increase the flavor and nutrition in any latke. We especially love the sound of these classic vegan latkes, and these brisket-topped latkes (just skip the eggs, and the beer in the brisket, for an allergy-free meal.)

For those with a dairy allergy, just skip the sour cream on your latkes, and stick with applesauce.

Sufganiyot is a little trickier to make allergy-friendly, but sweet potatoes supplement gluten-free flour in this recipe, and you can replace the egg and milk using flax and soy or almond milk, respectively. If you are looking to order some online, Katz Gluten Free makes donuts that are free of all dairy, nuts, seeds, and soy.

Both of these Hanukkah staples are typically fried, using oil to commemorate the miracle that just one day’s worth of oil was able to last eight days. Olive oil doesn’t get hot enough to fry up these latkes or sufganiyot, so most people fry them in either peanut or canola oil. Please be careful, and ask about the type of oil used if you have a peanut or tree nut allergy! If you are using matzah in your latkes, use oat or rice matzah in place of wheat matzah.

A sidebar about Matzah. Wheat has recently become a hotly-debated topic among Jewish Americans. According to Jewish Law, wheat is specifically mentioned to make matzah, which is common in many latke recipes and is a staple in Passover Seder. For those who have celiac disease or a wheat allergy, contemporary rabbinic authorities will allow for oats to be used in place of wheat. Oats provide the lowest gluten content of the five grains allowed to make matzah. Oats, however, often have to be treated with heat to make them suitable for storage, which makes them no longer leaven, and not kosher for Passover. Recently, however, shmurah matzahs from oats have entered the marketplace, and are baked immediately after harvesting to avoid the leaven issue. If you are unable to get shmurah matzah for the entirety of Passover, every effort should be made to get it for at least the first two nights.

Christmas (Fri. December 25)

Let’s play a game. What appears in droves leading up to the holidays? They come in baskets, office break rooms and holiday parties, waiting patiently to be devoured every time you turn around… we’re talking about Christmas cookies!  Everywhere you look there is another tray of snowman cookies, and their presence makes them hard to resist… but you and your kids don’t have to forego these treats altogether! Santa will love these cookies, especially when they’re served with a glass of your favorite milk alternative. If you like…

  • Gingerbread Cookies: What’s Christmas without decorating gingerbread? These little cookie men and women are as fun to decorate as they are to eat. Most recipes have eggs and butter, but you can swap out that egg with some applesauce, and the butter for a vegan alternative. Flour is a little tricker, but if you have a wheat allergy, look at health food stores for rice or buckwheat flours to use instead. Don’t be alarmed by the use of xanthan gum in this recipe either! It’s used as a binding agent in place of eggs while baking, and you only need a very small amount – just ½ to 1 tsp! Get the gingerbread recipe.
  • Peppermint Bark Cookies: This recipe is actually a two-fer, since both peppermint and chocolate take center stage. The next time someone hands you a bag of peppermint bark, come back at them with these crisp chocolate wafers dipped in white chocolate, topped with crushed peppermint. They’ll be left speechless, which probably means more cookies for you. This recipe even goes the extra mile, finding better candy cane alternatives to the sugar canes you hang on your tree. Get the peppermint recipe.
  • Shortbread Cookies: Tins of shortbread cookies are a great and easy gift, and while the British treat is known for being particularly buttery, you can get that same effect without worry of an allergic reaction. With just vegan butter and gluten/wheat free flour, this excellent cookie adaptation was based on one of British baking legend Mary Berry’s own recipes. Considered to be one of the leading voices in British baking, and especially known for her cakes and cookies, her recipe, dipped in a little dairy-free chocolate, makes for the perfect Christmas treat. Get the shortbread recipe.
  • Sugar Cookies: The most versatile and easy to decorate for any holiday, a good sugar cookie is sweet enough to eat without frosting, but not so sweet that all you taste is sugar. Enter Delia Creates’ sour cream sugar cookie. Replacing eggs with flax, sour cream with a vegan alternative, and showing how well these cookies hold their shape when cut out with cute holiday cookie cutters, get ready to memorize this recipe because you’ll be making them for years to come. Get the sugar cookie recipe.

Kwanzaa (Sat. December 26 through Fri. Jan. 1)

Although a relatively young holiday (Kwanzaa began in 1966), with an estimated 13 million Americans celebrating Kwanzaa each year, the seven-day celebration is here to stay. The holiday’s culinary traditions are evolving, but during karamu, the culminating feast on Dec. 31, most dishes bring Southern, Soul Food, and Caribbean flavors to the table. Meat and vegetables make a lot of dishes in these diets, so finding allergy-free recipes can be easy. Just mix and match from the list of recipes below and call it a karamu.

This caribbean chicken is the centerpiece of the table, and can be served with rice, couscous (if you don’t have a wheat allergy), or roasted root vegetables. Fish is also a popular option, and this blackened catfish is sure to impress karamu guests.

Ugali and Sukuma wiki is a corn and collard greens (this recipes features kale) dish from East Africa. This can also function as a meal on its own. Okra, corn, and tomatoes is a Southern staple, but if you’re looking to get more international, Moroccan tagine can easily be altered to feature sesame seeds instead of the traditional chopped almonds.

Comfort food is part of the feast here, and macaroni and cheese has just as much of a right at the table as other more “sophisticated” foods; yes, allergy-free mac and cheese is possible! All it takes is a little planning. Wheat and gluten-free noodles are becoming more widespread, but the trick comes with the cheese sauce. Sunflower and hemp seeds bring the dish its creaminess, while still managing to hide some veggies in the dish!