Photo credit flickr/Andrea Goh
The holidays are largely about food, and there’s just no way around that in most families. You can distract yourself from rich holiday foods with hygge. And there are strategies for having something satisfying to say to those who have opinions about what you don’t eat. But ideally, you’d like to also be satisfied by what you’re eating. (Everyone seemed weirded out by me eating my personal vegan gluten-free microwave pad thai at the office holiday celebration. But no one forced them to order pizza.)
What’s worked for me is to make as much food myself as possible (and making it ahead of time as much as possible), adapting traditional dishes by swapping out ingredients. But this can be daunting, without some cheats and links to get you started.
I hesitate to even talk that much about diet specifics because everyone’s symptoms, triggers and disease are so different. There’s no universal IBD-safe swap for stuffing. But that’s kind of the point of the list below. You need to figure out what doesn’t and does work for you, and then figure out how to make food from that limited pool of options so that you feel included, happy and undeprived.
From lots of research -- and trial and error -- here are some common problem ingredients (yours may be totally different! Or maybe food isn’t a symptom trigger for you! Awesome!) and possible alternatives:
1. Wheat: There are so many alternative flours, and additives to make them stick together better (like how gluten helps wheat stick together so well). Some of the best gluten-free flours are blends of multiple types of flour, and the best ones usually include at least a little white rice flour and a binder like xanthan gum.
2. Milk: So many delicious options! Full-fat coconut milk is creamy and delicious; low-fat is OK. Almond milk is bigger now, but soy milk is still around. Hemp milk with breakfast quinoa is great. You’ll need to experiment with brands and flavors to suit your taste.
3. Cheese: There are fake cheeses, including soy-free ones that some swear by, but sometimes they turn my stomach. You can use tofu, certain pureed vegetables, or coconut cream to sub for cream cheese in cheesecakes.
4. Butter/cream: Extra virgin coconut oil is a great substitute in baked goods because it has a buttery flavor and is fatty, so biscuits still get that soft-crispy texture combo and buttery taste that make them so good. Olive oil works for pasta and salad dressings, and I even like it in some cookies and pie crusts, but lots of people don't care for its strong flavor in baking.
5. Eggs: For one or two eggs in a bready baked good (or for dipping meat or veggies to make breading stick), substitute 1 tbsp of ground flaxseed meal and 3 tbsp of water for each egg. Combine the flax and water for 15 minutes in the refrigerator before using. This grainy congealed goo is called a “flax egg,” and it works really well.
6. Lots of eggs: Anything that involves a bunch of eggs, like custardy pies or quiches, are going to be the hardest to substitute for. Look for a vegan recipe that uses alternatives like pectin or gelatin, or full-fat coconut milk.
7. Soy: Instead of soy sauce, try “coconut aminos.” It’s a little sweeter than soy sauce but you could add salt. Otherwise, make sure to check labels carefully for unexpected added soy.
8. Corn: Quinoa flour works well in baked goods, especially when mixed with other flours. Makes good imitation cornbread when combined with coconut milk and coconut oil, and really great chocolate chip cookies! (You can make your own chocolate chips!)
9. Red meat: Is there a substitute for red meat? Grilled ground beef still smells amazing to me, and I have organic free-range once or twice a year. I’m told that some black-bean burgers are amazing, if they’re spiced right. But I can’t say whether it fills the same slot.
10. Sugar: I seem to be the only person on Earth who is allergic to cane sugar. And of course, cane sugar is on trend right now as opposed to beet sugar or corn syrup. So that’s just GREAT. But fortunately, there are good subs. Coconut sugar is delicious and subs 1:1 for regular sugar, as does date sugar. For liquid sweetener (when you might need to sub corn syrup), use honey or maple syrup.
11. Appetizers: Use alternative-flour chips (made from white bean, chickpea, or lentil) with hummus. (Some chips made from these flours are pretty gross. But those three I linked to are really good.)
12. Salads: Stir-fry or steam your greens first so they’re easier to digest. Use vegan mayo in potato salad or broccoli cole slaw.
Before you angrily stash away your grandmother’s cake-batter-stained cookbook, see if you can use the same classic recipes but with new ingredients. I did this at Thanksgiving with quinoa “cornbread” and it tasted and felt (to my mouth) great! Did it look anything like cornbread? Nope. And I think that scared off other potential eaters of it, meaning there was more left for me.
To get these supplies, try Amazon, the organic section of a regular grocery store, or a health-food grocery store or local co-op. If you’re in the metro Atlanta area, try Sevananda or Rainbow Grocery.
And when you do need new, specialty recipes that don’t require an introduction of “this is a special dessert for Katie” or “for vegan cheesecake, it’s not that bad,” try these websites:
Please note: None of the links or mentions above should be seen as endorsements, because I did not get paid for them, so that would be unfair, to me.