Reader question… “Is it possible to have a Thanksgiving dinner that isn’t full of soy? I was diagnosed with a severe (life threatening) soy allergy a few months ago and everything we normally would have for our Thanksgiving dinner seems to have soy on the label. Ideally we would have turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, pies, stuffing, but all the labels say soy. What can I do?” –Diana S.
Yes, it is possible to have most (if not all) of the typical Thanksgiving foods… and to have them be completely soy-free. The downside is that without access to the holiday sales and prepared items, your Thanksgiving meal is going to cost more money and take more time and work to get on the table. However, as long as you are willing to do mostly from-scratch preparation and a lot of conscientious label reading, you CAN come up with soy-free Thanksgiving alternatives. I do this every year for Thanksgiving and for any other special event. I wish I could tell you that after a while it gets easier, but they keep putting soy in more and more foods, so there is always something new to avoid.
Turkey — Forget the really low-priced turkeys. They will almost always be injected with a self-basting solution that probably contains soy. (Surprisingly, a few turkeys recently do not… call the company, tell them about your life-threatening soy allergy, and they will tell you EXACTLY what has been added to the turkey and if any of the ingredients contain soy.) A free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free turkey is an expensive option… but good luck finding frozen turkeys that are minimally processed and list only turkey as an ingredient. This year in our area stores turkey prices are as low as 49¢ a pound for the turkeys with broth injected. A free-range turkey starts at $5 a pound. The frozen, no soy (but other ingredients added) turkey is $1.99 a pound and up.
Mashed potatoes — Any of the prepared mashed potatoes will contain soy, so you will have to buy the potatoes, cook them, and add the butter, cream or milk yourself. Don’t forget to check that the cream (if you use it) is soy-free. Most are not. If someone else is making the mashed potatoes, check to see that they are not adding cream that does contain soy… or evaporated milk or margarine… both of which can be heavy on the soy.
Vegetables — The ready-to-cook vegetables in sauces almost always contain some form of soy. Frozen or fresh vegetables (canned vegetables if you like them… I don’t) cooked with butter added are fine, but if you’re eating someone else’s cooking, make sure they did not add margarine instead of butter. Organic butter will not contain soy… unsalted butter undoubtedly will. Avoid the green bean casserole… both the commercial soup and commercially-made onion rings are probably full of soy.
Stuffing — As you have already discovered, the stuffing mixes contain soy. Most breads contain soy as well. If you make the bread yourself without soy and add only ingredients that you know do not contain soy, it is possible to make a delicious stuffing you can eat without getting sick.
Cranberry sauce — Fresh cranberries and most cranberry sauces in the can do not contain soy, but check the labels to be sure. It IS possible to buy a canned cranberry sauce that does not contain high fructose corn syrup, but of course it will cost more (in our stores approximately double) than the cranberry sauces that do. Or buy fresh cranberries and make your own.
Gravy — Gravy made from pan drippings from a soy-free turkey is fine. Gravy made with bullion cubes, gravy mixes, or purchased stock is not.
Pies — Commercially-made pies almost always contain soy in the crust and often in the filling as well. Soy-free pie crusts can be made with butter or lard, but avoid using Crisco or the other vegetable shortenings because they always contain soy. Coconut oil could be an option. Read the labels on canned pie fillings before you use them.
Rolls, bread, quick breads — Almost any commercial bakery product is going to contain soy. If someone in the family is baking anything that you will be eating, be sure to ask if they used vegetable cooking spray on the baking pans. Often people will be very careful about the ingredients in the bread, cake, cookies, whatever… and not remember to mention that they sprayed the pan with soy vegetable oil.
Coleslaw — The main suspect ingredient here is the mayonnaise or dressing, but read labels of any ingredient you use, because added soy shows up in many products where you wouldn’t expect it. For example, I make a coleslaw with horseradish and in recent years it has been a problem to find horseradish that does not have soy added. I also make my own soy-free mayonnaise.
It is extremely difficult for someone not used to avoiding soy to figure this all out, and even the best-intentioned person can easily make a mistake that could send you to the emergency room.
Since your allergy is a severe one, I urge you to err on the side of caution if you are going to be eating food that someone else has cooked… and completely avoid any dishes or ingredients you aren’t absolutely sure are soy-free.
In a situation like yours (ours), you really can’t be too careful!