11/22/2013 04:13 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Thankful to Be Gluten-Free

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always considered one of the most important holidays. My entire family would brave the early morning traffic to trek to our house for a stereotypically epic feast. We had all the traditional holiday fare: Stove Top stuffing, cranberry sauce from a can, cheesecake, even string bean casserole. Plus, being a largely Italian family, we've also been known to throw a random Eggplant Parmesan or maybe some meatballs into the mix for good measure. The smell of garlic and cheese -- and general indulgence -- would linger on me for days.

Last year was my first Thanksgiving sans gluten and, frankly, I was seriously intimidated. I was mostly worried about figuring out how to make the family staples safe for me and still enjoyable for everyone else. But that worry quickly turned into a fun challenge. Sure, there were a few mishaps along the way (cough, the world's driest mac n' cheese, cough), but I was lucky to have the help of a very adventurous family -- something for which I'm extremely thankful. And in the end, I realized that I'm also really thankful for the opportunity to get creative with my diet and not experience any of the pain gluten was causing me.

In preparation for my second gluten-free Thanksgiving, I thought I would share a few recipes and tips I found helpful last year along with some new ones I'm planning to try this year.

Gluten-Free Stuffing Demystified

Stuffing is synonymous with Thanksgiving in a lot of households and, let's get real, a must for me every year. A few well-known brands like Aleia's, Three Bakers, and even William-Sonoma have boxed gluten-free stuffing mixes that can all be purchased online. I haven't personally tried any of these brands, but as a huge fan of Aleia's gluten-free Italian Bread Crumbs, I'm thinking of making their stuffing and adding in some sausage and fresh vegetables.

For those of you out there who prefer to make your own stuffing from scratch, I can recommend this Spicy Cornbread Stuffing recipe from last fall's Vegetarian Times. My sister made it for me last year and it was delicious. Even those who aren't gluten-free will enjoy this slightly modified version of the classic dish.

Thanksgiving... Salad?

When cooking at home, I generally try to avoid making foods that are not naturally gluten-free. But I make major exceptions to this rule to enjoy the Thanksgiving standards. That said, I like to make a little something healthful on the side to help keep me in check. If you're looking for a nice Thanksgiving-style salad to offset any major guilt, there's a lovely recipe for a simple kale salad from my girl Heather at Operation: Gastronomia. It's a hearty salad that pairs well with a lot of different flavors and tossing in some dried cranberries can make it a little more festive.

Dessert: The Real Reason We're All Here

Listen, we all know that by dessert Thanksgiving is pretty intense. You've eaten too much food, there's been at least one grandparent-related meltdown, maybe you've had one too many Kahlua & Milks (just my family?) and now we're expected to eat even more? It's tempting to skip dessert altogether, but I do feel a little left out when everyone is topping off their meal with some cookies or a slice of cheesecake. My solution is to make my own baller gluten-free option. Because obviously there can never be too many desserts at Thanksgiving.

If you fancy something seasonal, I really like this Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting recipe from Real Simple. The pumpkin keeps the cupcakes more moist than other ones I've made. I like to use King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Mix and, of course, gluten-free vanilla extract for this recipe.

Perhaps a nice pie is your poison, in which case I recommend Udi's Chocolate Pudding Pie recipe made with this Smitten Kitchen Chocolate Pudding recipe. A reader in the comments suggests using tapioca flour for the pudding as an alternative to cornstarch and I found that it works very nicely.

There are lots of ways to make classic dishes with gluten-free twists. Or, you can completely re-invent your Thanksgiving meals to make way for new traditions. The options are limitless and crafting a more gluten-free friendly menu is a chance for your loved ones to get involved in making new holiday memories.

If you have any tips or recipes from your own gluten-free Thanksgiving, please share with us in the comments.