Nov 17, 2023 Tips for Handling Holidays with Celiac Disease

holiday dinner table

Navigating the Holidays with Celiac Disease

When it comes to the holidays, there are often several food-focused events. However, while exciting, this time of year can also lead to a lot of stress and anxiety for those with dietary restrictions.

Gluten, often present in the center of holiday feasts when it comes to things like stuffing, rolls, pies, seasonings and more, also serves as the culprit for triggering an autoimmune reaction for those who have celiac disease.

Since the only known treatment for celiac disease is a very strict, lifelong compliance with a gluten-free diet, it can pose a challenge for those with celiac disease when attending holiday gatherings, and having safe options that are consumable.

So, whether you have just been diagnosed with celiac disease yourself, or have been for years, here is a celiac holiday survival guide from Robert W. Schuman, MD, Medical Director of The Kogan Celiac Center and member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group and Michelle Pasia, MPH, RDN, Center Coordinator. They both provide tips to help navigate the holiday season without worrying about what food will be on the table, allowing you instead to focus on enjoying the festivities.


“While awareness of celiac disease is increasing, it is still important to remember everybody may not know about it, or know that you have it, when they are hosting their holiday dinner parties,” shares Dr. Schuman.

Although it may be uncomfortable, it is important to communicate about your dietary restrictions so that those hosting holiday gatherings and parties are aware. You can politely suggest recipes that are delicious and gluten-free.

It is also important to ask questions, like how the meal was prepared and each item’s ingredients so you can make sure what you are consuming is safe. If you are not sure about the food or drinks, do not risk it.

Have Gluten-Free Options

Gluten-free options that might already commonly present themselves at holiday events include fruit or vegetable platters, cheese, some meats, and gluten-free grains like corn, potatoes, rice, quinoa, sweet potato and yam.

When in doubt, one approach to make sure your fate is in your own control, is hosting the holiday yourself, suggests Ms. Pasia. “This way, you know that everything offered is safely gluten-free and you can socialize with a peace of mind and no worries,” she explains.

If hosting seems like a lot of work, Ms. Pasia suggests the following options:

  • Offer to help prepare the meal so you can feel confident the meal will be safe for you, and that there is no cross contact.
  • Create a “new tradition” like bringing a gluten-free dish you made or come prepared with your favorite certified gluten-free item from the store.
  • Ask for a “gluten free table” at the holiday meal so there is no risk of cross contact.
  • Carry along some gluten-free snacks like nuts or dried fruit when you are attending various holiday activities or try and eat before you arrive to the occasion.

Avoid Cross Contact

It is important to avoid cross contact when it comes to celiac disease, because even small amounts of gluten can cause a negative reaction, stresses Dr. Schuman. There are several chances when this can occur during the cooking or baking process.

He explains, “It might even be necessary to have separate cookware, such as a toaster and fryer, to ensure no residue of gluten from the previous use. The same can go for all cooking and dinner utensils at the table, making sure they are not exchanged between items with gluten and gluten-free items.”

Dr. Schuman adds that if you are hosting, or bringing an item, the extra step in labeling items can also help to avoid accidental gluten cross contact.

Mentally Prepare

“Although it is easy to feel excluded from the food-fun when family members have invited you over, and it may seem like there is very little you can eat, try to remember to focus on the people and celebration instead of just the food you might be missing out on,” explains Ms. Pasia.

There is no doubt that it can be difficult to let go of holiday favorite meals, just as it is understandable to miss old foods you once enjoyed, but it can be viewed as a way to create and explore new recipes and memories that are connected to the holiday season. It is also okay to ask others who have celiac disease for advice on how to navigate the holidays.

Everybody is dealing with their own limitations during the holidays, even if it’s not foodwise. While your own mind is trying to stay focused on protecting your health, another person may be mourning the loss of a loved one. The holidays can be hard for everybody, so it is important to stick together as one, and remember why you are all gathering together the first place.

About The Kogan Celiac Center

As the only celiac center in New Jersey, The Kogan Celiac Center offers extensive education and support for adults and children. The Center is dedicated to providing expert services that include early assessment and treatment, education and support to improve the health and well-being of those who live with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Education and support group programs are designed to help participants share and learn how to navigate the gluten-free world through conversation, recipes, tip exchanges and educational presentations. Gluten free is always a family issue so feel free to invite your family members. To learn more and for an appointment, please call 973-322-7007.