Friends and family gather at a table for a Thanksgiving dinner.  Plant-based whole foods fill the table.
If you want to dress up your Thanksgiving dinner with healthier, tastier options, aim for plant-based whole foods and gluten-free ingredients. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

If you’re aiming to create a Thanksgiving meal rich with gluten-free options, it’s easier than you think.

A wide variety of whole plant foods are naturally gluten-free, offering tasty new options for friends and family this holiday season.

Looking for a delicious main dish to serve as a centerpiece of the meal? Try roasted acorn squash with quinoa and cranberries with nuts, herbs and spices.

In smaller batches, this dish even makes a great side.

And that’s just one example.

Kristi Artz, MDE, CCMS, medical director for the Spectrum Health Culinary Medicine program, suggested the following tips for designing a gluten-free gathering:

1. Focus on fresh fruits, veggies

There’s always room at the table for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Artz tells her patients to “eat the rainbow” and fill their plates with a variety of colors from fresh fruits and vegetables—as often as possible.

A platter of colorful sliced bell peppers, carrots, celery, tomatoes and other raw vegetables with a yogurt-based dip or hummus is a wonderful gluten-free option for an appetizer. It also offers a splash of color to the table and can be organized into a seasonal display. (Think turkey, or a pumpkin-shaped veggie tray.)

“I also like to use a fresh fruit tray as a healthy alternative for dessert, which can stave off the sweet tooth and help folks avoid the sugary cakes, pies and pastries,” Dr. Artz said.

She also recommends pairing fresh berries with a chocolate black bean hummus dip.

“It’s a great alternative to other sugary dips and provides just enough sweet to accompany your fruit of choice,” she said.

2. Love the lentils

Beans and legumes are a naturally gluten-free, nutrient-dense food. Many lentils can serve as a center main dish, or simply function as a tasty side dish.

“One example I love to share with students in my culinary medicine class is a seasonally inspired lentil loaf,” she said. “Many recipes in my current plant-based classes are naturally gluten-free.”

She also recommends cooking with whole plant-based ingredients.

3. Back to basics

Some of the foods classically incorporated into the Thanksgiving meal—stuffing, rolls and pies—are where you’ll find most of your gluten, Dr. Artz said. Those are often processed wheat products.

And that’s where you can make some changes.

“Instead, try to focus on whole foods, including tasty seasonal squashes or hearty greens and dishes such as turkey that don’t contain gluten,” Dr. Artz said.

4. Don’t surrender the turkey

“I’m a proponent of a whole food plant-based diet, but for reasons around celiac and gluten sensitivity, turkey is still a healthy option,” Dr. Artz said.

Turkey is a lower-calorie lean protein. When paired with a plate full of colorful vegetables, it can make for a nutritious meal, she said.

Aim to build a plate that has what Dr. Artz calls a “plant slant”—half or three-quarters of the plate is delicious vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Then, add a small amount of turkey.

5. Choose whole foods

Not all meatless options are healthy, as some meat replacement products are more processed than others.

Take a good look at the ingredients and nutrition label before buying anything that isn’t a whole food, fruits or vegetables.

Try to choose foods that have fewer ingredients on the label. And buy the ones that list nutritious ingredients first. A homemade lentil loaf could be a better option for a plant-based eater at your family dinner, as opposed to offering a processed tofu turkey.

Choose whole foods whenever possible, Dr. Artz said. Think fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and lean proteins.

6. Up your stuffing game

Let’s face it: Stuffing is an important part of Thanksgiving dinner.

“You don’t necessarily have to skip it altogether,” Dr. Artz said. Check out a whole grain gluten-free stuffing recipe, aiming for whole grains that are naturally gluten-free such as brown rice, quinoa, millet and corn meal.

A corn bread stuffing is delicious and filling—and guaranteed to send your gluten-free friends home satisfied. You can also stuff your turkey with a quinoa, cranberry and sweet potato stuffing, she said.

7. Think seasonal

When you’re out grocery shopping, start to think about the many delicious seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Squash and kale, readily available during the fall months, are incredibly delicious and rich in nutrients. They’re also filling and they provide lots of fiber, Dr. Artz said.

If you’re looking for a new way to prepare them, consider seasoning with warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. This adds a rich, seasonal flavor and aroma.

8. Ditch the high-calorie desserts

You don’t need to completely skip desserts, but stay away from the processed sweets such as cake and pie.

“They’re full of sugar and empty calories,” Dr. Artz said. If you’re looking to stay gluten-free, try a poached pear.

Just remember: Fruit is your friend, she said. Poaching or roasting fruits can caramelize naturally contained sugars that will manage your sweet tooth. Again, stick to whole foods and choose fruits that are readily available and in season.

9. Get green

Green beans and Brussels sprouts are great side dishes for Thanksgiving meals, Dr. Artz said. They’re also gaining in popularity, which means it won’t be hard to find all kinds of exciting new recipes to try.

Brussels sprouts can provide a more interesting option—and of course they’re naturally gluten-free. Try a Brussels sprout slaw or roast them with olive oil, salt and pepper, Dr. Artz said.

“Also, try adding fresh herbs such as rosemary or sage for a different flavor,” she said. “If you’re looking for sweet flavors, try roasting it with a natural maple syrup that caramelizes while it cooks.”

Any of these options provide a delicious, filling side dish full of healthy nutrients.