3 Simple Hacks for a Healthier Trigger-Food-Free Thanksgiving

Message from Milly

Greetings to all,

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite American holidays.

It's such a beautiful reminder of how we can love one another despite our differences and how we can delight in our differences.  

There is such joy in sweet communion, which is what I love most about being together with friends and family.

However, I also recognize Thanksgiving can be challenging for those with food sensitivities, allergies, restrictive diets, and/or chronic conditions.

Fortunately, there is PLENTY you can do to avoid ingredients that may trigger a reaction or flare up without missing out on the holiday's bounty.

With just a little planning ahead and a few helpful hacks, you can create a Thanksgiving feast or side dish that everyone can enjoy without sacrificing a thing.

In this newsletter, I'm sharing 3 of my best "hacks" for a healthier Thanksgiving based on years of experience helping people with food sensitivities, allergies, and those on restrictive diets.

And the best part?

These hacks will benefit everyone at the table, will not take away from holiday traditions, and can be customized based on your individual needs.

Blessings and deepest gratitude,


P.S. To be clear, I'm in favor of moderation, treating yourself, and gratitude for food and gathering.

So, if you can feast on anything now and then and not experience a reaction or unwanted symptoms, then relax and enjoy the season.

This information is intended for those who cannot have certain foods or who do not wish to suffer from symptoms or flare ups due to food sensitivities.

Simple Hack #1: Be Aware Of Where The Worst Ingredients Are Hiding

Many presume that high-fat gravies and rich desserts are the unhealthiest items on the Thanksgiving menu.

However, the worst ingredients are typically found in less obvious places.

Some of the worst offenders for those with food sensitivities include:

  • Canned and condensed soups: Typically contain various forms of MSG, sugar, unhealthy fats, GMO ingredients, and excess sodium.
  • Whipped topping: Is a disaster recipe of trans or other pro-inflammatory fats mixed with high fructose corn syrup.
  • Packaged gravy: Is a hotbed of MSG and other flavor enhancers, caramel color, GMO ingredients, and sodium.
  • Marshmallows: Although these aren't used in excess, they are typically made with high fructose corn syrup, gelatin, and blue dye.
  • Boxed stuffing (you know the stuff!): Your typical store-bought stuffing contains excitotoxins in the form of artificial and "natural flavors" and hydrolyzed soy protein (an MSG-like flavor enhancer), high fructose corn syrup, pro-inflammatory oils like canola or soybean, and risky preservatives.
  • Canned cranberry sauce: Typically contains large amounts of high fructose corn syrup or other sugars and may contain dye. A small amount may not be a big deal, however, if you're sugar-sensitive, take note.
  • Frozen crescent rolls: Are an ultra-processed concoction of unhealthy fats, ultra-bleached cheap white flour, risky preservatives, and even hidden dyes.
  • French fried onions: Are typically fried in pro-inflammatory fats and may contain several forms of MSG and other flavor enhancers (excitotoxins) and preservatives.
  • Store-bought pies and other desserts: These are loaded with sugar and corn syrup and typically made with cheap, pro-inflammatory fats and white flour. They may also contain dyes, stabilizers, and excitotoxins in the form of artificial or "natural" flavors and flavor enhancers.

Unfortunately, most people use several of these ingredients in their Thanksgiving recipes, so you may not be able to avoid all of them.

However, by being aware of what's in your typical Thanksgiving casserole, for example, you can be prepared with substitutes that work for your body and dietary needs.

For example, if you have a child who is affected by dyes, make sure they have a better substitute for things like crescent rolls, pies, and sweet potato casserole with marshmallows.

Or if you have an inflammatory skin condition or heart condition, you'll want to be aware of where the pro-inflammatory oils are prominent.

I'll share some easy and healthy substitutions next!

Simple Hack #2: Don't Give Up Your Favorite Traditional Dishes, Just Remake Them Slightly

Thanksgiving is supposed to be all about putting aside our differences and coming together in gratitude for our many blessings.

It’s also about tradition, especially with food and family recipes.

Therefore, in my experience, one of the fastest ways to ruin Thanksgiving is to try overhauling a traditional meal to make it “healthier”.

So, what’s a gluten, dairy, or MSG-sensitive person to do?

These days it’s really simple: make the traditional dishes everyone loves with a few simple (and maybe secret) substitutions.

Depending on your needs, this could mean a quick trip to your local natural foods store or making some staples from scratch.

Here are some substitutes to consider.

Condensed Soups:

  • Better: Substitute organic, MSG-free condensed soups for conventional brands.
  • Best: Make your own mushroom gravy or condensed soup. It’s really easy and is the best way to avoid even “organic” additives and MSG copycats.

Here’s a recipe for homemade condensed mushroom soup and homemade condensed chicken soup.

You can sub dairy-free milk and butter if need be.

Whipped Topping:

  • Better: Buy pure whipped cream in a can.
  • Best: Whip your own organic cream or coconut cream for dairy-free. This is so easy a child could do it. Plus, you can customize your sweetener and add vanilla or bourbon if desired.
  • Hot tip for those on dairy-free diets: Silk now has a dairy-free, non-GMO verified heavy whipping cream that whips up just like regular whipped cream and tastes quite good with the addition of vanilla and sweetener. It does contain sunflower oil (which isn't the best fat) and natural flavor (which also isn't the best). However, if you don't care for coconut whipped cream and can't do dairy, a dollop of this would be a decent substitute for a conventional non-dairy whipped topping.


  • Better: Buy an organic gravy packet or premade gravy. Note, these may still contain flavor enhancers.
  • Best: Make your own gravy. Butter + GF Flour + Drippings + Stock + Optional Wine + Salt and Pepper to taste = The best gravy you’ve ever had!


  • Better: Buy from your local natural foods store. They’ll still be loaded with sugar but not dyes.

  • Best: If your guests can handle a small change, consider substituting pecans candied in maple syrup.

To make:

  1. Add enough maple syrup to 1-2 cups of pecans to lightly coat.
  2. Add a couple pinches of salt, and optional spices like cinnamon and/or a pinch of cayenne.
  3. Toast in the oven or toaster oven for 10-12 minutes, turning every few minutes to prevent burning.

They are done when they smell toasted and the maple syrup has dried.

Note: If you're on a strict no-sugar diet, you can find recipes for keto-style marshmallows sweetened with Monkfruit.


Boxed Stuffing:

  • Better: Buy a mix from your local natural foods store, paying attention to ingredients.
  • Best: Make your own with bread or cornbread, bone broth, herbs, veggies, and spices.

Here’s a nice recipe, including more dirt on boxed stuffing ingredients. from The Food Babe.

Canned Cranberry Sauce

  • Better: Opt for a brand made without dyes and cane sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup.
  • Best: Make your own using a bag of fresh or frozen cranberries, honey to taste, the juice (and optional zest) of an orange, a pinch of salt, and optional cinnamon stick and star anise. Boil until the cranberries pop, cool, and serve.
  • For a sugar-free recipe, sub a few drops of stevia or Monkfrui to taste.

Frozen Crescent Rolls:

  • Better: Look for an organic version of frozen crescent rolls, paying attention to ingredients like pro-inflammatory oils.
  • Best: Buy fresh rolls or cornbread from your local bakery, make your own from scratch, or use an organic or GF dinner roll or cornbread mix. Trader Joe's has a nice GF cornbread mix that's always a hit.

French Fried Onions:

  • Better: Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have French Fried Onions made without terrible oils (canola, corn, cottonseed, soy).
  • Best: Make your own by frying or air-frying onions dipped in batter or flour.

Here’s a recipe for a fried version and an air-fried version.

Pies and Other Desserts:

  • Better: Purchase from a local baker, GF baker, or natural foods store that uses real ingredients and no dyes or cheap oils.
  • Best: Make your own for quality control. Chocolate Covered Katie is one of my favorite resources for healthier desserts you can customize based on your dietary needs.

For more information on helpful cooking and baking substitutes for various food sensitivities, check out our previous newsletter: Helpful Resources for Food Sensitivities.

As always, the information in this newsletter is provided for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace the advice or care of your medical provider.
All the links to products are provided for educational purposes and are not affiliate links.

Simple Hack #3: Protect Your Sanity by Focusing on the "Thanks" In Thanksgiving

It's easy to forget that gratitude is the reason for the season when we are caught up in planning and stress.

It's also easy to abandon our usual self-care practices in the name of hosting, cooking, settling family squabbles, etc.

Yet one of the most important practices to honor this Thanksgiving---and throughout the entire holiday season, is to continue cultivating a gratitude practice.

Plenty of research has shown the benefits of practicing gratitude, including reduced stress, increased happiness, better communication, improved sleep, and better overall well-being. [1], [2]

So, take some time to practice and cultivate gratitude every day.

This could mean keeping a gratitude journal, taking a gratitude walk, writing gratitude letters, meditating on gratitude, praying, or saying what you're thankful for around the table.

For more fascinating and inspiring facts about the science behind gratitude, check out this Positive Psychology article: The Neuroscience of Gratitude and Effects on the Brain.

I wish each of you a very happy Thanksgiving!


1: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12585811/

2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010965/