In this celiac holiday survival guide, I'm sharing my top tips to make the holidays easier with celiac disease along with what you should pack, recipe ideas that taste great, and tips to feel more included in the celebration, too!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure page for more information. Thanks! This post was originally published in December of 2021, but has been updated in November of 2023.
Navigating The Holidays With Celiac Disease
- Navigating The Holidays With Celiac Disease
- Why The Holidays With Celiac Are Stressful
- Celiac Disease Holiday Survival: The CALM Strategy
- My #1 Celiac Holiday Survival Tip
- Gluten-Free Holiday Recipe Ideas
- Gluten-Free Holiday Products I recommend
- Celiac Holiday Survival: Don't Forget!
- Celiac Holiday Survival Guide - Final Thoughts
Why The Holidays With Celiac Are Stressful
Navigating the holidays when you have celiac disease is stressful. Hands down!
With so many food-focused events, (no matter your religious beliefs), they can quickly become overwhelming, and fast!
Here are some of the most common stressors for celiacs & people who follow a gluten-free diet for health reasons during the holiday season:
I'm sure you could resonate with at least one (maybe more) of these. Between the fear of getting sick from gluten, the unwanted attention, the missing out on traditions, and being away from home, it's easy to quickly become overwhelmed by holidays.
Most people who are newly diagnosed with celiac disease struggle with grief and acceptance that the holidays will now look differently than they did before. The holidays are supposed to be a time when you can ENJOY yourself, spend moments with family and friends, and eat tasty dishes.
But for those of us with celiac disease, we can end up dreading them instead of enjoying them. Hence I created this celiac holiday survival guide in the first place!
Let's change that with a strategy to help.
Celiac Disease Holiday Survival: The CALM Strategy
To help make the holidays LESS stressful with celiac disease, I want to walk you through the 4-step strategy I came up with to help make events easier.
It's called the CALM Strategy - named to remind you to stay calm but also to give you action-based steps you can take to stay safe. These steps can prevent overwhelm and also promote balance after social events with celiac disease.
Let's think about the CALM Strategy and apply it to the holidays.
Step 1: Control or Choose the Food.
As often as you can, choose the activity (this can be the food!) to give yourself as much control over the situation as possible.
Can you host the holiday?
Can you choose the menu or sides?
Can you bring your own food? Can you bring something to share so you feel included but have some set aside to prevent cross-contact?
Can you incorporate some non-food-related activities to take the pressure off?
If not, make the decision to choose the food YOU want to have, and bring your own safe meal. This will ensure you feel less anxious because you are the one that created the food, to begin with. So that means you know exactly what's in it and how it was prepared.
Is it more work to do this?
Yes. But it gives you peace of mind knowing your food was safely made.
Step 2: Advocate or Speak Up For Your Celiac Needs.
This is the tricky one! Self-advocacy can be hard, but the holidays are a crucial time for that. It's the practice of speaking up for your celiac disease needs.
Can you talk to the host before the holiday?
Can you ask questions about the food prep?
Can you ask for other non-food activities to be included in the day's event?
Speaking up for your needs will help your host understand how to accommodate you. These conversations can be uncomfortable, but with time, can get easier. And if your family or friends don't completely understand your diet just yet, this will help them remember for next time.
Step 3: Locate & Rely On Your Support.
Support is KEY for social events with celiac disease. Your partner, parents, siblings, family, friends, or anyone else who supports you can make things less scary.
Can your support system come with you on the holiday?
Can they sit next to you at the dinner table, so they can make sure gluten-fille dishes don't get passed to you?
If not, can you have someone on standby you can text to vent your feelings?
Celiac disease can weigh heavily sometimes, especially during the holidays. Being able to shift the weight and share it with others can help us feel less alone and reduce the burden.
Step 4: Make time to rest and recharge.
The holidays can be hard. You might feel nostalgic for food you can no longer eat, or miss out on activities/traditions you can no longer do. Additionally, you might feel awkward speaking up for yourself, or socially uncomfortable with the attention because of the fact you have celiac disease. Not to mention, all of this constant advocacy can be super draining physically, mentally, and emotionally.
If you've ever felt like you want to crawl into a corner after the holidays because of your celiac disease, I get it!
The best way to recharge after events where you feel "left out" is to do something INCLUSIVE afterward to make you feel better - something that won't draw extra attention to you, and will allow you to feel a little more "normal" once again.
Have a gluten-free bakery in town?
Go there and order something and revel in the fact you don't have to draw attention to your diet or say A WORD.
Feeling exhausted from all the mental gymnastics of speaking up?
Cancel plans. Stay home. Do nothing. Read a book. Color. Binge a show on Netflix. Listen to music. ENJOY doing things for YOURSELF and not having to explain anything to anyone.
On edge after watching out for gluten in your family's kitchen all week?
Prepare your own food from the comfort of your home so you don't have to worry.
Want to participate in a holiday tradition that doesn't involve food?
Do something different! Play a game, make a craft, watch a holiday movie, or even make up a new TikTok dance!
My #1 Celiac Holiday Survival Tip
Bring your own favorite foods and holiday treats, so you don't miss out!
Don't make the holidays harder on yourself.
The best way to enjoy the holidays without fear and to have the foods you are really craving is to bring a DELICIOUS holiday gluten-free meal to enjoy!
You don't have to share anything with anyone (unless perhaps, they are also gluten-free!) and this will make sure that you can CELEBRATE the holiday knowing your food is both safe AND delicious.
You don't want to sit there and watch everyone else eat pie and cookies without you. So make sure you bring something you'll want to eat.
Note: If you are planning to bring something to share, designate some for yourself and keep it separate and labeled just for you, to prevent cross-contact!
Gluten-Free Holiday Recipe Ideas
These are all recipes you can find here on my website. Many of these recipes will taste so good that your friends or family won't know the difference.
Not a big cook or baker? No worries!
See if a meal delivery service or local restaurant is making gluten-free meals you can order. Or, visit a local gluten-free bakery or restaurant for a dessert to enjoy yourself!
Gluten-Free Holiday Products I recommend
Looking for items you can grab in the grocery store/supermarket to make the holidays easier with celiac? These are my tried and true favorites!
Snacks/Appetizers: Snyder's Gluten-Free Pretzels are a great snack option. Pair them with Mary's Gone Crackers or Schar table crackers and some sliced cheddar cheese. I love Helluva Good or Cabot onion dips for easy dipping and usually bring my own, so no cross-contact!
Stuffing: Trader Joe's or Aleia's make excellent stuffing mixes that are gluten-free. When I make it using one of these mixes, I add chopped carrots, celery, onion, and apple (for sweetness).
Rolls: Don't stress over making them yourself if you don't have to. Udi's makes great French rolls that you can heat up in the oven for 10-12 minutes before it's time to eat. Or for something different, try Brazi Bites Brazilian cheese bread. So yummy!
Cookies: Schar makes fabulous holiday cookies and even gluten-free panettone that are only available online in November and December. You can order some and then bring it with you to have with your coffee/tea for dessert.
Pies: Wholly GF or Maine Pie Co make pre-made frozen pie crusts that you can fill with your favorite ingredients like apple, pumpkin, or pecan. Wholly GF is available at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Maine Pie Co can be found at Whole Foods or purchased online.
For more treats and sweet ideas for the holidays, including Advent calendars, gingerbread house kits, and more, check out this entire blog post on Gluten-Free Christmas Products where I dive into where to buy and find these gluten-free foods so your holiday can be just as special as it was pre-celiac!
Celiac Holiday Survival: Don't Forget!
Here are the things you should make sure to have with you this holiday season if you have celiac disease so you can feel included, eat safely, and enjoy your holiday.
Make sure you remember that last one - it's a doozy. If something does go wrong, have compassion for yourself. Mistakes happen. We are human. Rest, recover, and move on.
Celiac Holiday Survival Guide - Final Thoughts
If you are navigating the holidays for the first time with celiac disease, just know I'm sending you a big virtual hug. Hang in there! Bring your own food if you aren't yet comfortable having others cook for you. It's totally okay and you should do what makes you feel safe!
I hope this celiac holiday survival guide can help you feel less anxious and more prepared to take care of yourself this holiday season. You can do this!
Looking for more gluten-free holiday guides?
Check out this list of gluten-free Christmas products, including Advent calendars & gingerbread houses - and where to get them.
Feel prepared to tackle the holiday season this year & gift all your celiac friends with these awesome gift ideas!
Looking to bake some cookies? This recipe roundup has gluten-free Christmas cookies from other celiac & gluten-free food bloggers.
Support your small businesses! This list of 15 companies all ship and support the celiac & gluten-free community.
What other tips would you add to this celiac holiday survival guide?
How do you handle the holidays on a with celiac disease?
Let me know in the comments!