With the winter holidays come the feasts. When you are on a special diet that can be awkward and emotional. Here are some tips for actually enjoying your holiday meals:
Focus on Family, Friends, and FaithRemember what’s most important about the holidays… getting to see the people you love, spending time with them, and expressing your faith. While food is traditionally a big part of all three of these things for many people, it doesn’t have to continue to be the focus. While food can remain a part of gatherings, try adding in other new traditions. Some good ones are playing games together, doing community service work together, or doing something creative together.
Take Responsibility for Your Own Food
The last thing you want is to be worrying about whether the food you eat is safe. This is not the time to get sick! It’s also not a good time to add a lot of drama to the holidays by trying to tell other people how to make their holiday favorites or by complaining about not having a lot of options available.
Instead, choose one or more of the following strategies for staying safe while enjoying meal-time with your loved ones:
- Host: If you have the resources to host a holiday meal, it can be a good way to make sure everything is safe from cross-contamination. A traditional Thanksgiving feast can easily be made entirely gluten-free, for example. People may not even notice! If you are ok with food that is unsafe for you being in your house, people may be welcomed to bring sides. Just serve them in a separate area so that utensils don’t accidentally swap places!
- Pre-eat: If you show up full, it will be a lot easier to resist the temptation to eat foods that aren’t safe for you. This is also a good strategy if you are bringing a safe food to a potluck but don’t want to panic about still being hungry after someone else has dished up!
- Bring Your Own: This is the strategy our family usually uses. This Thanksgiving we are going to my mom’s house. She and the other guests will be making a traditional dinner, and will be bringing our own parallel dinner with everything from the turkey to the pie! We are bringing a green salad and relish tray to contribute to the potluck, but we’ll have our own, GAPS legal and gluten-free versions of all the standard dishes that will be served. This is time consuming, a bit of a hassle, and takes some getting used to for everyone involved. However, we get a full meal to eat, the kids don’t feel at all left out, and we don’t have to worry about cross-contamination.
- Explain Ahead of Time: While what you eat is strictly your business, food is a way that people show love, especially at the holidays. If you will not be able to eat someone else’s cooking, need special accommodations, or plan to bring your own food, it’s only fair that you give your host some explanation ahead of time rather than spring it on them! I like to keep it simple and elaborate if they have questions and I feel comfortable. Something like “I’d love to attend, but will have to bring my own food to make sure my medical issues don’t flare up” will work with most people.
Embrace New FavoritesThere are things I miss – dressing with the turkey, my mom’s apple pie, rolling out and decorating sugar cookies with my mom and the kids… Watching other people enjoy those things can be difficult. It’s ok to feel sad about things you can’t have any more.
One of our new family favorites are roasted delicata squash rings. We planned to have them with our Thanksgiving dinner, and I was looking forward to them. Knowing the squash rings were going to be there, I didn’t worry about the fact that I wouldn’t be eating stuffing – something I only had once or twice a year and really looked forward to. When I found out Kelsy forgot to buy the squash I actually broke down crying. Fortunately Kelsy had indulged my whim of wanting to try chestnuts. I made a delightful new dressing recipe that I think I might like even better than the original. No more tears!
The kids can’t roll out sugar cookies with their grandmother any more, but they can decorate her tree. We can’t eat mom’s apple pie, but we can make one just as good with an almond crust. The first time or two it feels weird, but over the years new traditions take hold and serve the same purpose as the old ones.
There will be people who react badly, even when you are polite and clear. There will be people who continue to offer you foods you’ve already told them you can’t have. They might even get hurt or angry about it. Some people will try and figure out how to accommodate your diet and insist they’ve made something that’s safe for you to try. If you just can’t trust it and have to say no, it can be tough. Others might ask a lot of questions that make you feel uncomfortable. Most people do these things out of good intentions or curiosity about their own health issues. Even in the case where people are being malicious, It’s much easier to deal with these uncomfortable situations if you react as though they had the best motives. Then redirect the conversation to something you are comfortable with.Enlist Support: Knowing someone else cares about how you feel and wants to help keep you safe feels really good. If you have someone who will be at your gathering who understands and supports your diet, that can be a huge emotional boost and make it much easier to stick to your diet. If you don’t have that support available, find someone you can talk to before and after the gathering. Whether you need to vent, need to be held accountable, or need someone to share your successes, it is a boost to have someone in your corner.
Be Gentle to Yourself
Accidents happen, temptation can be overwhelming, and no one is perfect. Do your best, and forgive yourself if things don’t go perfectly to plan. A slip on your diet or emotional moment is not a reason to beat yourself up. It’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself and be better prepared in the future. If a mistake happens, make a note of what caused it. That way you can avoid the same problem happening again. This is hard for most people. Your best is all you can do.
We hope you all enjoy the meals and time you spend with your loved ones this season! Happy Thanksgiving!
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