Allergy-Proof Your Classic Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where certain foods are almost a requirement. People have nostalgia for this special meal all year, and come to expect the delicious, savory foods on the fourth Thursday of November. For those with food allergies, it can be tough to detour – or ask the host to detour – from traditional foods and recipes in order to keep themselves safe.

In this blog, we break down the traditional Thanksgiving foods, what to look and ask for, and which foods should be substituted all together for those allergic to one – or many – of the top eight food allergens.


Turkey is not one of the top eight food allergens, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically safe. Take a walk down the frozen aisle in November and you’ll see a large range of turkeys with different names, brands, and ingredients.

Basted or self-basting turkeys are injected with salts and broths to give extra flavor, but broth can contain wheat, dairy, or other hidden allergens. While organic turkeys may have been raised organic, they may also be flavored with organic allergens.

One easy way to accommodate Thanksgiving guests with food allergies is to select a natural turkey.

“Though the FDA has no formal definition of the term ‘natural’ for the products that it regulates, the USDA – which regulates meat, poultry and eggs – allows the use of ‘natural’ in its products,” Emily Melby, RDN at Allergy Associates of La Crosse states. “According to the USDA, natural is defined as a product with no artificial ingredients or added colors, along with being minimally processed. “

Always check the label, but natural turkey should have minimal added ingredients, therefore should be a safe option unless the allergy is to turkey itself, which is rare.

Mashed potatoes

Dairy is the key to creamy and delicious mashed potatoes – from butter, to milk, to cream, sometimes even cheese. Of course, you can substitute dairy ingredients with their non-dairy substitutes. You can always switch to baked potatoes to allow everyone to add their own toppings.

Emily also suggests using cornstarch or sweet rice flour instead of regular flour in gravy to allow for a gluten-free potato topping.

Cranberry sauce

This is one Thanksgiving staple that may be safe for most! For most recipes, the main ingredients in cranberry sauce are cranberries, sugar, orange or orange juice, and water. The canned versions seem to follow the same recipe, but always be sure to check the “may contain” section. It may be processed in the same building, or on the same equipment, as other allergens.


Both homemade and boxed stuffing is primarily dried bread – so the wheat alarm is sounding loudly. Additionally, most recipes call for broth, so verifying that the broth doesn’t contain wheat is another hurdle to jump over.

Butter makes the stuffing savory and flavorful, but a non-dairy butter substitute may make this safe for those with dairy allergy. You may also need to check the bread that is used to ensure no dairy ingredients snuck in.

Be aware that egg may be used in some recipes to bind the ingredients together before baking.

Pumpkin pie

This dessert is irresistible and a sign of fall. Three ingredients that seem to remain from pumpkin pie recipe to recipe: canned pumpkin puree, condensed milk, and pie crust.

  • As with any canned good, check the label of your pureed pumpkin for any allergy warnings indicating it may contain your allergen. Another option would be to do the hard work – puree your own pumpkin!
  • For the condensed milk, cream of coconut could be used as a substitute, or search the internet for a multitude of different dairy-free options.
  • Vegan pie crusts use non-dairy milk and flour (no eggs!), and those with a wheat allergy can substitute with a flour that is safe for them.

Emily also suggests incorporating another pie or dessert option so everyone can have a slice of a sweet treat – she recommends apple pie and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and we can’t argue with that.

Managing one, or several, food allergies can be complicated and stressful for both the guest and the host. Keep open communication and if you are attending a Thanksgiving gathering, it’s always a good idea to bring safe food just in case.

For those with food allergy who are hoping to add a measure of safety in case of accidental exposure or cross contact, consider sublingual immunotherapy, or allergy drops. It’s a safe and effective treatment for food allergies, following a Protocol that has been used in the U.S. for over 50 years.