How to Celebrate Thanksgiving While Sticking to a Gluten-Free Meal Plan

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Jennifer's Way Kitchen
Photo: Grand Central Life & Style

When actress Jennifer Esposito was diagnosed with Celiac disease seven years ago, she was understandably frustrated (Why does seemingly everything delicious have gluten?!), but determined to get to the bottom of her health issues. After cutting out gluten completely, she discovered she had even more food sensitivities. Even certain vegetables could make her feel sick. Eventually, she discovered a leaky gut was creating an overzealous immune response in her body and that, in order to heal her gut, she’d need to focus on anti-inflammatory foods —no gluten, of course, but also no dairy, or even soy.

At first, Esposito says her new anti-inflammatory meal plan took a lot of joy out of cooking and eating. But, after enough experimentation in the kitchen, she was able to find a way of eating that worked for her life. She shares recipes and stories from this journey in her new cookbook, Jennifer’s Way Kitchen: Easy Allergen-Free, Anti-Inflammatory Recipes for a Delicious Life. The book is designed to arm people with food sensitivities with an optimistic (and delicious) way forward.

One of the most challenging times for sticking to an anti-inflammatory diet is during the holidays. "It's a time when people with food allergies can sometimes get depressed, and I totally get it,” says Esposito. “In the beginning I shied away from a lot of the events, and that’s hard to do.”

Missing out on celebratory parties and family get-togethers just because of your diet is no way to live. Here, Esposito shares her three best tips for celebrating Thanksgiving while avoiding anti-inflammatory foods. Plus, get her recipe for gluten-free pumpkin pie.

Keep reading for tips on having a healthy Thanksgiving and to get the recipe for gluten-free pumpkin pie.

Photo: Stocksy/Cameron Whitman

How to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet during Thanksgiving

Host if you can.“For me, going somewhere where there's mashed potatoes with five pounds of butter and all of the traditional fixings without being able to partake myself is tricky,” says Esposito. Last year, she invited “everybody and anybody” over to her house and made it all, from soups to desserts. “No one misses anything, but it’s created in a way that I can enjoy it too,” she says. This strategy is not for someone who doesn't actually like to cook, but it’s certainly a recipe for a memorable Thanksgiving.

Bring your own meal. It might sound rude, but “there is no ‘polite’ when it comes to your health,” says Esposito. “Make your own meal and bring it and don’t feel bad about it!” In reality, it will take a huge load of stress off the host, who may not know how to work around dietary restrictions, and will help you feel more relaxed as well. If you're hosting someone with a restricted diet, Esposito suggests making them feel welcome by using this line: “I can do my best to cook for you, but I will not take offense if you’d like to bring your own food.” It may make guests feel safe and relaxed.

Make one dish everyone can share. Whether it’s whipped sweet potatoes with a bit of honey or mashed potatoes with roasted garlic and olive oil, plenty of allergen-free foods are also crowd pleasers and will be welcomed by everyone at the table. Exhibit A? Esposito's delicious pumpkin pie recipe, free of grains or dairy, which Esposito calls “simply the best.”

gluten-free pumpkin pie
Photo by Melissa Hom

Jennifer Esposito’s gluten-free pumpkin pie

Serves 4

For the Grain-Free Piecrust
3/4 cup palm shortening, nondairy butter, or coconut oil, well chilled
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup cassava flour
3/4 cup arrowroot starch
1 Tbsp maple sugar or date sugar (optional)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp Himalayan salt
1/2 tsp ground vanilla bean (or 1 tsp gluten-free vanilla extract)
1/3 cup cold water

For the Filling

1 (15-ounce) can organic pumpkin purée
1/4 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
1/4 cup real maple syrup
Splash of fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp arrowroot starch
1 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp ground vanilla bean (or 4 tsp gluten-free vanilla extract)
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp Himalayan salt

1. In a large bowl, sift together the coconut flour, cassava flour, and arrowroot starch with a fork or whisk. Add the sugar (if using), cinnamon, salt, and vanilla and mix again. Cut the cold shortening into dice-size cubes and add to the flour mixture along with the cold water. Using a fork or a food processor, mix together until the mixture resembles large crumbs. Gather up the dough into a ball and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. With wet hands, work the dough into a smooth shape. Place it in an 8- or 9-inch pie pan and press down to cover the bottom and sides. Keep wetting your hands and pressing the dough into the pie pan.

3. Pre-bake the crust for about 10 minutes, until warm and firm. Let sit for a few minutes to cool. Keep the oven on.

4. Combine all filling ingredients in a large bowl and mix with a spoon or hand mixer. Spoon the pumpkin mixture into the pre-baked pie shell and bake for about 30 minutes, until the pie is somewhat firm to the touch (it will get firmer as it cools). This is a grain-free crust so it won’t brown. (But if you’d like to brown it slightly, rub some coconut oil or nondairy butter around the edges of the crust when there’s 10 minutes to go, but watch carefully so it doesn’t burn.)

5. Let the pie sit for 25 minutes, then refrigerate it until firm up and cool. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Excerpted from the book Jennifer's Way Kitchen by Jennifer Esposito with Eve Adamson. Copyright © 2017 by Bern Productions, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.

Originally published on November 16, 2018; updated on November 18, 2018.

If you're looking to give your Thanksgiving a healthy makeover, check out these 31 recipes, plus these six delicious ways to add avocado to your T-day spread. 

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