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Gluten-Free Goodies: Surviving the Holidays on a Gluten-Free Diet

Updated on December 30, 2011

From “No, no, no!” to “Ho, ho, ho!”

When dieting to lose weight, to improve my overall health or to keep my family from food allergens, I have learned that focusing on “yes” is easier than listing all the “nos.” When a gluten intolerance was added to the bushel of food allergies in my family, the same rule applied.

This is our first Christmas as gluten-free dieters, and my first inclination was to simply adapt all the family cookie and cake recipes to fit our new lifestyle. While I was wringing my hands over how the new flour mix was going to work in cut-out cookies, whether I should try my yearly pound cake, and when I would get all the baking done this year, an idea came to me from the back of a cereal box.

As those familiar with avoiding gluten know, both corn and rice Chex® cereals have always been gluten-free. Newer flavors such as chocolate and cinnamon Chex® are also gluten-free. As I pondered how my family’s new dietary needs would shape our Thanksgiving weekend’s holiday treat-making, I absently began scanning through the list of recipes on the Chex® box in front of me. Gluten-free delights like Chex® Lemon Buddies and Mayan Chocolate Chex® Mix caught my eye. One day and a shopping trip later, the entire family was happily mixing toothsome goodies together in the kitchen, goodies that required no substitutions or omissions for each of us to enjoy them.

As we began to count down the days to Christmas and plan New Year’s Eve celebrations, I found more and more gluten-free options peeking at me from supermarket shelves, waving at me from displays in shop windows, or even whispering to me from the corners of my memories from some Christmas past.

Candy canes and gluten-free cordial cherries are some of the ready-to-eat goodies my family enjoys.
Candy canes and gluten-free cordial cherries are some of the ready-to-eat goodies my family enjoys.

Straight from the grocer’s shelves

Some of the nicest forms of “yes” when you are on a diet of any variety are those that come ready to eat. M&M’s® are extremely popular in my gluten-free household, and the holiday varieties of mint, plain and peanut M&M’s are no exception. Candy canes that grace our tree (for a little while) every December can still be pilfered, nibbled, licked, and dipped into steaming cups of hot cocoa. Even our traditional box of Queen Anne® cordial cherries can be enjoyed without fear.

The homemade tradition

I am a homemaker at heart; so despite the wonderful options above, I was still looking for gluten-free holiday goodies that I could cook, bake, or otherwise prepare—all on my own, all homemade. The first idea came as a recommendation from my spouse and my sister on the same day: “Aren’t no-bake cookies gluten-free?” Well, it depends on the type of cookie, but the peanut butter and chocolate variety we traditionally enjoy certainly can be, if we are careful to use certified gluten-free oats. Here is the family recipe:

No-Bake Chocolate Cookies

2 c. sugar

¹/₃ c. cocoa

½ c. milk

½ c. butter

½ c. peanut butter

1 teas. vanilla

3 c. certified gluten-free rolled oats

Mix sugar, cocoa and milk in a sauce pan. Add butter. Place over low heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a full boil. Boil for exactly 1 minute. Remove from heat. Quickly stir in peanut butter and vanilla. Fold in oats. Drop mixture by the spoonful onto wax paper. Leave until dry; then store in an air-tight container.

As the days of December wore on, I became increasingly comfortable that we had plenty of goodies to share with family and friends during our celebrations. Then the inevitable happened. My 84-year-old grandmother passed away. In looking back and sharing our memories of her, another gluten-free family tradition came to my attention—monster cookies! At first when family asked if they were gluten-free, I responded that I thought they contained some wheat flour; but on taking a look at Grandma’s recipe, I discovered that as long as the oats are certified gluten-free, the cookies can be as well.

Grandma’s Monster Cookies

3 eggs

1 ½ c. brown sugar, packed

1 c. white sugar

1 teas. vanilla

1 teas. light corn syrup

2 teas. baking powder

½ c. butter

1 ½ c. peanut butter

4 ½ c. certified gluten-free rolled oats

1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

1 c. plain M&M’s ® or other gluten-free candy-coated chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2. In a large bowl beat the eggs.

3. Add remaining ingredients in order, mixing well.

4. Using a large soup spoon or ice cream scoop, plop 2-inch balls of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

These are MONSTER cookies. The recipe makes them BIG and makes a LOT of them. Enjoy!

A cup of cheer

It may not need to be mentioned that many holiday beverages are naturally gluten-free, but since the focus here is on saying “yes” to delectable goodies, I’ll mention some of my favorites:

Many varieties of hot cocoa are safe to the gluten-intolerant crowd. As always, be sure to check labels just in case. Eggnog is generally safe as well, but be sure to check the label on it also.

Our family tradition of Wassail is delightfully free from anything remotely representing gluten, a fact that makes me sing even more loudly when our choir practices the verses to “Joy to the World.” We were initially introduced to this hot punch by our pastor’s wife when I was still in junior high, and it has been a family favorite ever since. Here is her non-alcoholic version of my all-time favorite Christmas treat:

Wassail (as made by Thelma Sunberg)

2 quarts apple juice

2 c. cranberry juice cocktail

1 large orange

1 ½ teas. whole cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

1 Tbls. whole all-spice

1 c. sugar

In a large crock pot, add apple juice, cranberry juice cocktail, and sugar. Stud the orange with cloves and add to the crock pot. Add the rest of the spices. Set on low heat for at least 8 hours. Enjoy.

For auld lang syne

Some holiday food traditions are more easily dropped than adapted to fit the gluten-free diet. Others can be easily adapted, as other writers here on HubPages have aptly described. But for me, the merriest treats of the season are those that can be enjoyed as they are. Whatever your traditions, may this holiday season find you healthy, happy, and ready to enjoy all the adventures the New Year will bring your way.

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