Handling Holidays: Strategies for Surviving Food Stress

website holidays

The Holidays.

In our home, the holidays can sometimes have a lot in common with schizophrenia. With two of our three children on the autism spectrum, there’s a disconnect between the fantasy of holiday love and cheer and the reality of life with it’s unexpected and unanticipated twists and turns.

When life’s reality prevents us from doing the “tradition” which must always be done every single year, our autistic children, like the schizophrenic, will declare that everyone and everything is against them.  Then, like the schizophrenic, they’re incapable of managing their emotions and relating to the real world, so they withdraw,

As a result, holidays aren’t always fun in our home.  The stress and pressure for everything to be “perfect” is that much more, and the effort it takes to help our children learn how to live in reality and be more flexible can drain all my husband’s and my energy and reserves.

So, imagine adding to this the fact that you also can’t eat any of the lovely traditional dishes that the majority of your family and friends will be serving for holiday dinner.  Suddenly you’re not only concerned with keeping your family life constant, but you’re depressed because you know you’ll only be eating turkey at Thanksgiving because you’re going to be served green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie at Thanksgiving when you can’t have wheat, dairy, nuts or sugar. (True experience one year!)

For those of us who need to watch what we eat, whether for dietary or allergy reasons, there are ways to still enjoy the holidays, but it takes some initiative on our parts.

1.  You can host:  If you invite folks to your place, you can simply incorporate what other family members want to bring into a menu of your own choosing. Then you’ll have a combination of the foods you make which you can eat and the traditional dishes the rest of the family still like to enjoy.

2.  You can contribute:  If you know there are certain dishes which everyone wants like a green bean casserole, you can offer to bring a revamped version so you can enjoy it as well as the others.  If folks are nervous about you messing up their favorite dish, you can offer to bring a similar dish so folks can have a little bit of both.

3.   You can  inquire:  If a family member or friend is hosting, ask them how they are going to cook a particular dish and whether they might be able to do it a tad bit differently this year.  Can they roast the butternut squash with olive oil instead of butter?  Would they be willing to purchase a dairy free “ice cream” for that apple pie?

4.  You can teach:  What I’ve encountered most is that folks are very willing to help me be able to eat at a holiday dinner, but they simply don’t know how to go about doing it.  So, I’ve learned to answer their questions with particular tips. If they want to replace ricotta cheese in a recipe, I tell them how to use silken tofu.  If they think that making a gluten free apple pie might be too difficult for them, I suggest a gluten free apple crisp.  If they don’t know where to purchase a certain type of flour, I tell them.  If you’re prepared to provide the necessary information, people are usually happy to accommodate your needs.

5.  You can learn:  The other situation I’ve experienced is that many folks with newly acquired dietary restrictions or food allergies don’t know for themselves how to revamp traditional holidays dishes which accommodates their needs and which the non-food issue people will actually like.  In these cases, you can learn how to cook to meet the needs.  In the posts following this, I will focus on certain traditional holiday foods to show folks how to create healthier, allergen friendly versions.

With the colder weather setting in, we’ve been enjoying hearty soups more, so below is one of my daughters’ favorite crockpot soup.

Crockpot Split Pea Soup


2 lbs of dried split peas (I buy two 16 oz bags)

1 red pepper

1 zucchini

1 squash

12 oz bag of broccoli slaw*

1/2 cup chopped onions (I just use frozen chopped onions)

16 oz diced ham pieces**

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp dried thyme leaves

12 cups fat free reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth

2 bay leaves

Cooking Instructions:

1.  Put the split peas into a large bowl and fill the bowl with water, enough to cover the split peas.  Running your fingers over and around the split peas to loosen any white coverings still on the split peas.  (They’ll float to the top of the water, making it easy for you to pick them out.)  Drain the peas and sort through to pick out any stones that might be residing within the group of split peas.  Put the picked over split peas into a 6 quart slow cooker/crockpot.

2.  Using a food processor, chop up the red pepper, zucchini, squash, and broccoli slaw into tiny pieces and add them to the split peas.

3.  Add the onions, ham pieces, garlic, black pepper and thyme.  Mix well.

4.  Pour in the broth and stir carefully.  Your Crockpot will be filled almost to the top.

5.  Stick the two bay leaves into the center of the soup, and cook on high for 8 hours.  (Note:  During the cooking, the spices will rise to the top.  Some time during the 8 hours, after the halfway mark, stir the soup and recover to resume cooking.)

6.  When you’re ready to serve, remove the bay leaves and stir the soup well, smashing the peas a bit with your spoon.  (Note:  My children love to put some reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese into this soup.) 

*  If you can’t find the broccoli slaw, simply chop up a carrot or two and half a cup of broccoli.

** My grocery store sells packaged really finely diced ham pieces.  If you can’t find something similar, simply use some leftover turkey ham from a previous meal, just make sure to dice it into small pieces so the flavor will incorporate into the soup.  If you’re vegan, you can simply omit the meat altogether.  To get a similar flavor, though, when you serve the split pea soup, put a spoonful of diced, cooked, smoked tofu or veggie burger into the bowl of soup.


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