Top tips for your best ever free-from Christmas

Catering for allergies, whether they be your own or a loved one’s, can be a minefield, but Laura Hemmington shows us how the festive season can be enjoyed by one and all…

Christmas Cracker

As we enter the season for all things crisp, cosy and comforting, our thoughts start to focus on winter’s main event: Christmas. For those with a free-from diet, or who might be cooking for one who does this festive season, a little forward-planning can make all the difference to making this Christmas one to remember. From choosing between delicious recipes to considering the best options for the big day itself, read on for all the inspiration you need to ensure this free-from Christmas is as happy, decadent and hassle-free as any other.

Having vegan, gluten-free or any other dietary needs most certainly doesn’t mean having to miss out on your favourite dishes and treats at Christmas, doing something completely different from the usual Christmas routine, or even making lots of extras. With a few tweaks, your favourite recipes can be shared and enjoyed on the big day with everyone around the table.

But before we look at some of the options for the menu itself, it’s important to remember that if you have invited people with free-from dietary needs to a festive meal, they may well be feeling more nervous than you! This isn’t from a fear that you’ll be feeding them something they can’t (or don’t want to) eat, but because no-one likes to feel that they’re causing their host any extra work. So, as with any meal that involves a group of people, planning is paramount.

Most vegans and those with a free-from diet will appreciate being asked if they have a preference for, let’s say, a type of meat-free sausage or vegan cheese, and will love to be invited to bring a dish to help out with the catering. More than anything, this will help them feel like they have contributed to all of your hard work and the overall enjoyment of the day.

If this is the first festive table you’ve had to prepare with special thought to different diets, your initial concerns may be ones of panic, along the lines of ‘but what can they eat?!’ If this is the case, I’m happy to assure you that the answer is actually most of the things you’re already cooking, but with just a few alterations.

Many of your classic vegetable dishes can be easily adapted. For example, swap maple syrup for honey on the roasted carrots and you have the same, sweet, caramelised dish that everyone knows and loves. Like any other recipe, the key to success is starting off with a list of great-tasting ingredients, which at Christmas is just the same for free-from diets as for any other. With all of those herbs, spices, fruits and nuts available during this time of year, there’s plenty of food for thought!

So what lovely festive fare is going to make it onto your menu?

Starting with the nibbles and canapés is simple, because the majority of your pre-dinner snacks are easily adaptable for a free-from Christmas. Of course there are plenty of olives, crisps, nuts, breadsticks and dips to choose from (just check the labels for any animal or gluten-derived ingredients), but you could also be a little adventurous and make some vegan sausage rolls – which always go down well at a party. These savoury morsels are quick and simple to make thanks to the greater choice of vegan and gluten-free ready-made pastries and soy-based sausages in major supermarkets and health food stores. Just roll up the sausages in pastry, brush with soy milk and they’re ready to bake!

If you’d rather skip the nibbles and head straight to the table, soup can be a great starter that everyone can enjoy together, and can be made well in advance to be reheated. Seasonal vegetables such as squash, celeriac and leeks can all be roasted with herbs like sage and thyme, blended with vegetable stock and topped off with a dash of almond cream. Adding in a few extra spices can make even a simple dish taste decadent – try roasting parsnips with cumin and ginger for something warming and fragrant.

Christmas dinner, for many I’m sure, is all about the trimmings, which is what makes a vegan Christmas dinner so exciting and simple to cater for. Vegetables really are the star of this special meal, so you can really go to town with the side dishes. Roast potatoes cooked in olive or coconut oil are delicious, and all of those greens can be dressed with oil instead of butter. How about tossing spinach, broccoli and green beans in garlic and chilli for something extra special? Not forgetting braised red cabbage, another favourite that’s already suitable for vegans and gluten-free guests.

Nuts are often the first port of call for a vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free main course at the festive dinner table. A great source of protein, flavour and texture, a nut roast or similar can make a great choice; but how about considering something a little different? A vegan haggis and chestnut pie makes an impressive, filling and delicious centrepiece, as does as a rich gratin of root vegetables, herbs and candied pecans, layered with dairy-free cream. A stuffed squash with plenty of colourful and tasty ingredients is also a great-tasting choice that’s simple to prepare yet beautiful once served.

Serving Thanksgiving Turkey

For something a little brighter, warm salads that combine beautiful pomegranate seeds, squash, quinoa, whole almonds and aubergine offer a varied mouth-watering alternative; you can even throw in some griddled fennel, preserved lemons and tahini for an even more vibrant dish.

Finally, your free-from main course won’t be complete without gravy or stuffing. If you are using ready-made gravy granules, most brand and supermarket vegetable or onion gravy granules will be vegan, however may contain gluten, so take a look at the label. As well as shop-bought mixes, quinoa is a fantastic gluten-free alternative for making your own stuffing, especially when combined with dried fruit and fresh herbs.

After all of that savoury goodness, thoughts will be turning to dessert. As well as there now being a huge selection of gluten-free and vegan Christmas puddings, mince pies and fruit cakes available in supermarkets, you can really wow your guests with some homemade creations. There’s a great variety of gluten-free flours available for making your own baked goods and a wealth of recipe inspiration to start exploring. For something different, how about a raw chestnut chocolate tart for a decadent yet simple bake-free option?

Aside from the food, remember to check that the alcohol you serve is suitable for any dietary requirements. Many people are unaware that a lot of beer and wine either contains animal products, or has been refined using them. However, a quick search on a website such as Barnivore ( will tell you if your choice is suitable, and most supermarkets now either have clear labelling practices or a list they can refer you to.

Most of all, make sure you enjoy it! As much as Christmas is about a great meal, it really revolves around spending time with loved ones. If you are keen to plan ahead and get started, there’s no shortage of recipes, ideas, resources and support out there; you’re sure to find something that everyone around the Christmas table will love. 

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