navigating thanksgiving with food allergies
navigating thanksgiving with food allergies

Navigating Thanksgiving with Food Allergies

5 min read



Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude, family gatherings, and of course, delicious foods. But for anyone with food allergies, this occasion can be a culinary minefield. Many traditional Thanksgiving dishes contain sneaky allergens that are easy to overlook. In this guide, we'll explore commonly forgotten allergens in Thanksgiving foods, creative substitutions, tips to prevent cross-contact, and emergency measures in case of an allergic reaction.

If you live in the Tri-State Area and want to get a food allergy test, book an appointment at our allergy clinic in NYC. We offer same-day comprehensive evaluations and results.

Thanksgiving Foods and Hidden Allergens

If you’re hosting, ask your guests if they have any food allergies. They’ll truly appreciate the care and can explain how to accommodate them. If you’re invited, don’t be shy to let your host know you have an allergy. Offer to help, bring a dish, or simply explain what your needs are. It’ll make the day much more enjoyable for everyone.


  • Sneaky Allergens: Wheat (often made with bread from wheat flour), dairy (butter), eggs.
  • Tip: Consider using wheat-free bread and explore allergen-free alternatives for dairy and eggs.


  • Sneaky Allergens: Wheat (flour used as a thickening agent), soy (in some commercial gravies/bouillon cubes), dairy (butter).
  • Tip: Opt for gluten-free thickening agents, check soy content, and use dairy-free alternatives. Watch out for pre-made gravy that comes with some turkeys as it likely contains wheat, dairy, and/or soy.

Cranberry Sauce:

  • Sneaky Allergens: Nuts (if the sauce contains nuts or is processed in a facility with nuts).
  • Tip: Read labels carefully and inquire about the presence of nuts.

Mashed Potatoes:

  • Sneaky Allergens: Dairy (butter, milk), gluten (if flour is added).
  • Tip: Use dairy-free alternatives and scrutinize for hidden ingredients.

Green Bean Casserole:

  • Sneaky Allergens: Dairy (cream of mushroom), wheat (in crispy onions).
  • Tip: Make substitutions as needed and verify ingredients.

Pumpkin Pie:

  • Sneaky Allergens: Dairy (in the crust or filling), eggs, nuts.
  • Tip: Use alternative ingredients for a dairy- or egg-free pie, and be cautious about hidden nuts.


  • Sneaky Allergens: Dairy, wheat, and barley (malt syrup)
  • Tip: you may find caramel in a lot of Thanksgiving desserts so be cautious when reaching for a sweet treat.

Creative Substitutions for Allergies

Dairy Substitutions:

  • Replace cow’s milk with almond, cashew, coconut, or oat milk. Note that tree nuts can also be allergens for some.

Butter substitutions:

  • Consider soy-based butter, vegetable oil-based butter, vegetable shortening, or even pumpkin puree.

Egg Replacements in Baking:

  • As a binder or for moisture: Use applesauce, mashed banana, or carbonated water.
  • As a leavening agent: Substitute with an acid (vinegar or lemon juice) and baking powder.
  • For meringues or foam: Try aquafaba (chickpea water).

Wheat Substitutes:

  • Use tree nut flour, if you’re not allergic to nuts (almond flour, cashew flour), grain flour (rice flour), or root flour (tapioca flour) depending on other allergies.

Preventing Cross-Contact

It’s important to differentiate cross-contact from cross-contamination. The first is when you accidentally transfer an allergen from one food to another. For example, if you grab a handful of nuts to mix into a salad and then immediately handle a loaf of bread, the loaf of bread is no longer safe for someone with a nut allergy. Cross-contamination is when harmful bacteria are transferred to a food from another food or surface.

Here are a few things you can do to prevent cross-contact:

  • Cook allergen-free dishes first
  • Use dedicated separate serving spoons for allergy-free dishes
  • Clean all equipment and utensils with hot, soapy water to effectively remove food proteins. Simple wiping may not be sufficient.
  • If you're using someone's oven, put aluminum foil down or microwave on a separate plate so no allergens are picked up
  • Consider using disposable utensils, plates, and serving dishes if you’re hosting
  • If you’re picking something up at the store, get something pre-packaged so it's not come into contact with any other foods
  • Consider a potluck feast so everyone can bring allergy-friendly foods in their own sanitized containers

Emergency Measures

If you have a food allergy, carry two epinephrine autoinjectors at all times. If you show signs of a reaction, use your epinephrine autoinjector—it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Remember, antihistamines are not a replacement treatment for a severe reaction.

Thanksgiving should be enjoyable for everyone, regardless of dietary restrictions. By being mindful of hidden allergens, making creative substitutions, preventing cross-contact, and being prepared for emergencies, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday for yourself and all your guests.

Get ahead of your allergies

If you live in the Tri-State Area and want to get a food allergy test, book an appointment at our allergy clinic in NYC. We offer same-day comprehensive evaluations and results. You can learn more about food allergy tests at our NYC allergy clinic here.

Keep Learning

They say knowledge is power. We couldn’t agree more. Learn about the chronic health condition that affects 50 million Americans every year.