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Surviving the Holidays When You’re Gluten-Free

‘Tis the season of people trying to tempt you with gluten-filled treats. It starts with Thanksgiving and runs straight through to New Year’s: No matter where you turn, some well-meaning person is inevitably scooping a heaping helping of bread stuffing on your plate or waving a tin of cookies under your nose.

You don’t want to be rude, but more importantly, you can’t risk getting glutened.

So how do you navigate the holiday season when friends and relatives just don’t get it? Set boundaries, be comfortable saying no, and remember to be thankful.

Offer to host
If you can (and want) to host, this might be the easiest way you can ensure your holiday meal is completely gluten-free. You won’t have to wonder if Aunt Nancy used flour to thicken the gravy and forgot to mention it, or if Cousin Dave double-dipped his measuring cups while he was baking his traditional apple pie and the gluten-free apple crisp. If your guests insist on bringing something, you can request a grocery store gift card or a centerpiece for the table.

Serve yourself first
If you can’t have a 100% gluten-free meal, you can still prevent gluten cross-contact by serving yourself first. When dishes get passed around a table family-style, it’s practically inevitable that someone will get gluten crumbs in the butter dish or use the corn spoon in the stuffing. It might feel rude to serve your own plate first, before the food leaves the kitchen, but know that it’s far ruder if anyone acts put out by it when your health is at stake.

Bring something safe to eat (if you’re not hosting)
If you’re in a position where you can’t trust that any of the food on the table is safe for you to eat, bring something for yourself so you’re not starving (even if it’s just a Mikey’s Pizza Pocket). It’s not an ideal situation, and it would of course be better if the host could go the extra mile to cook all or most of the meal gluten-free, but sometimes you need to make do. Another option is to offer to bring a gluten-free first course, like appetizers or salad, that you can enjoy with everyone else before the main event.

Be as gracious as you can
Relatives get under everyone’s skin, and we all seem to have that one person in our lives who just can’t seem to grasp what it means to be gluten-free. Rather than get into the same argument you have every year with your mother-in-law about why you can’t cheat just this once, say “no, thank you” firmly but politely and change the conversation topic. Also, try to remember that being gluten-free is confusing for people who don’t live it everyday. Someone is bound to mess up and offer you something you can’t eat, even if they genuinely didn’t mean to. Try not to let it get to you.

Related: Tips for Explaining What It Means to Be Gluten-Free to Family and Friends

Don’t focus on the food
Seriously. It stinks that eating even a morsel of Grandma’s famous stuffing will make you sick for days, and it’s okay to be sad about that. But instead of keeping a running list in your head of all the things you can’t have anymore, keep your focus on the bigger picture. The holidays are a time to appreciate and find joy in friends, family, health and home. Make holiday dinners about the conversation, laughter and love of the people gathered around the table, not the food on top of it.