Navigating holidays with celiac disease

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Learn how planning ahead, managing expectations and staying positive can help you to enjoy the holidays while following a strict gluten-free diet for your child with celiac disease.

Key points

  • Manage expectations by having on-going expectations with your child about their diagnosis, the importance of following their strict gluten-free diet and how to handle social situations during the holidays.
  • Be mindful of certain holiday foods that can be a source of gluten and gluten cross-contact.
  • Prepare your own gluten-free holiday dishes so that your child feels included and can enjoy the holidays with everyone else.

Celebrating holidays or religious observances that are centred around family gatherings and shared meals can be a special time for your child. However, if your child has been diagnosed with celiac disease, you may feel overwhelmed at the thought of navigating a holiday on a strict gluten-free diet. Follow these tips to prepare for the holidays and communicate your child's needs.

Preparing for a holiday

The build-up to a holiday can be an exciting time for your child. Here are some tips to make that time special and memorable while following a strict gluten-free diet:

  • Try gluten-free and non-food–related activities leading up to a holiday. For example, if you are celebrating Thanksgiving, enjoy family traditions such as apple-picking, decorating your home for the holidays or baking gluten-free Thanksgiving treats. 
  • Have ongoing conversations with your child to manage expectations on the day of a holiday. Come up with a plan with your child to navigate the holiday and brainstorm how to overcome difficult situations, such as accidentally being served a gluten-containing dish.
  • Prepare in advance if celebrating a holiday with family or friends. Offer to host a holiday meal to ensure that there are safe, gluten-free options for your child. If your family or friend is planning to host a meal, offer to bring one or two gluten-free dishes so that your child has options to choose from. You may also want to call and speak to the host ahead of time so that you can ask about how the food will be prepared and served and to help educate them on gluten cross-contact.

On the day of a holiday celebration

Follow these suggestions to safely enjoy holiday foods:

  • If you are celebrating a holiday at a friend or family’s home, encourage your child to ask clarifying questions about what ingredients were used and how foods were prepared. Stay positive and support your child when they need help advocating for themselves. 
  • Prepare your child's favourite gluten-free holiday snacks, dishes or desserts with them so that they know these foods are safe to eat at a friend's or family's holiday dinner.
  • If you are hosting, use different-coloured plates, toothpick flags, stickers or place cards to differentiate between gluten-free and gluten-containing dishes.
  • If possible, put the gluten-free dishes on a different table away from the gluten-containing dishes to prevent cross-contact.
  • Butter and other condiments, such as jams or chutneys, that may be spread on gluten-containing foods, such as bread or crackers, can become a source of gluten cross-contact. To avoid cross-contact, set aside separate butter dishes or condiments dedicated for your child with celiac disease.
  • If food is passed around the table, suggest that the gluten-free dishes go first to prevent gluten cross-contact.
  • Have your child prepare a plate before the meal is served to everyone to avoid gluten cross-contact. Wrap it in tin foil and safely store it in the fridge.

Swaps and suggestions to safely enjoy traditional holiday foods and festivities

The following is not a complete list of holidays, celebrations and observances. For questions about how to make traditional foods gluten-free or how to prevent gluten cross-contact, please speak to your health-care provider. For additional resources on following a gluten-free diet, please see the gluten-free diet section of the Celiac Disease Learning Hub.


  • Turkey with gluten-containing stuffing inside can lead to gluten cross-contact, making the turkey unsafe for people with celiac disease. Prevent gluten cross-contact by stuffing the turkey with gluten-free bread or serving the stuffing in a separate dish.  
  • Prepackaged gravy mixes for turkey or chicken often contain wheat flour as a thickening agent. Consider using gluten-free gravy mixes or prepare your gravy from scratch using gluten-free flour. 
  • Consider using non-food stocking stuffers as gifts at Christmas. Some non-food stocking stuffer ideas include magazines, colouring books, Christmas-themed stickers, festive socks, mini puzzles, bubbles or bookmarks. 


  • When preparing dishes with gram flour or besan (chickpea/garbanzo bean flour), read the ingredients list to ensure the product is gluten-free. Refer to the Celiac Canada label reading guide for more information about the risk of gluten cross-contact with naturally gluten-free flours.
  • Be careful of dried fruits, which may be coated in maida or spices such as asafetida or hing/heeng. Asafetida or hing/heeng often has wheat flour (gluten) added to it, making it unsafe for people with celiac disease.
  • Always ask questions about what ingredients are used. Gluten-containing ingredients to be mindful of include curries, asafetida or hing/heeng, maida and sooji or rawa.
  • Ask how dishes were prepared, for example if a clean pan and new oil were used to prepare fried gluten-free dishes.


  • Use gluten-free flour to prepare latkes, challah, chocolate babka or sufganiyot. 
  • Hidden sources of gluten, such as malt extract (barley), can sometimes be found in chocolates. Consider making your own Hanukkah gelt by melting chocolate into circular chocolate molds and wrapping them in gold or silver foil. 
  • Avoid cross-contact by using a clean pan and new oil when frying gluten-free foods such as latkes. 

Lunar New Year

  • Use gluten-free soy sauce or gluten-free tamari sauce when preparing dishes such as whole fish or meat. Soy sauce is traditionally prepared using fermented wheat (gluten) and soybeans.
  • When preparing dishes with glutinous rice flour, sweet rice flour or rice flour, such as sweet rice balls (Tangyuan), choose rice flours that are labelled "gluten-free". While rice itself is gluten-free, rice flour may be milled in facilities that also process gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley and/or rye.
  • Use gluten-free spring roll and dumpling wrappers and gluten-free noodles when preparing traditional dishes.
  • Avoid gluten cross contact by using a clean pan and new oil to fry gluten-free foods such as gluten-free spring rolls.


  • Use gluten-free flours such as rice flour, gluten-free all-purpose flour or cornstarch when frying fritters, accras, chicken or white fish. 
  • Use a gluten-free cornbread mix or prepare cornbread from scratch using gluten-free flours. 
  • Embrace naturally gluten-free foods such as okra, peanuts and yams, and spices such as ginger, allspice, mace and berbere.

Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr

  • Dates are naturally gluten-free. However, it is important to be mindful of chopped dates, which may be coated in oat flour to prevent stickiness. Ask questions about how the dates were prepared to prevent accidental gluten ingestion. 
  • Be careful of seasonings that are added to meats, such as kebabs. Always read the labels on seasoning packages to check for possible sources of gluten. If purchasing pre-seasoned kebabs from a store, remember that ingredients labelled as “spices” or “seasonings” do not provide enough information to ensure the food is gluten-free. Avoid these packaged foods unless they are certified gluten-free and clearly labelled with a gluten-free symbol. 
  • Use gluten-free flours to prepare dishes such as kibbeh, keema samosa, beguni, dahi vada and pakora.

Navigating difficult social situations

Sometimes the holidays can lead to difficult social situations. Family members or friends may not fully understand the severity of celiac disease and understand the importance of following a strict gluten-free diet. Although well-intentioned efforts may come from a place of love and inclusivity, this can sometimes be a source of stress for your child and family. Here are a few ways to navigate these difficult social situations:

  • Encourage your child to be firm and educate their family members or friends about gluten, cross-contact and how gluten could negatively impact their health and well-being. You and your child could prepare and practice responses in advance. For example, “Thank you for the bread pudding. It looks really tasty, but I’m not sure of all the ingredients that were used. With celiac disease, if there is even a tiny bit of gluten, it could make me really sick.” 
  • If your child is not comfortable or ready to navigate these difficult social situations, support your child by politely telling your family or friends that the dish is not safe for your child to eat.  
  • Protect your child’s well-being. If you notice that your child is becoming overwhelmed with having to navigate a holiday with celiac disease, be there to support and validate their feelings. Ask them what they need from you to feel better or offer to take them to a quiet space to regroup. Visit the Mindfulness meditation for celiac disease page for a breathing meditation that you can use with your child to take a break and reset. 

It is normal to feel stressed and worried at the thought of preparing for and celebrating the holidays after your child has been diagnosed with celiac disease. A few gluten-free holiday changes and important conversations with your child, family and friends can help you celebrate the holidays with ease and peace of mind. 

Last updated: March 22nd 2024