Tis’ the season for holiday parties and food galore. If you’re on a gluten free diet (due to celiac disease like I am), it can be challenging to partake in the food festivities when all you have on the brain is “Can I eat that?” “Will it make me sick?” “Is there any gluten hiding in there?” Ugh, dietary restrictions can really put a damper on things. Well, we can’t all hide out and pretend that our invitation to “said” holiday party didn’t come in the mail (or email, these days!). We have to get out there and brave the world of cross contamination! So, I compiled this list of helpful hints and etiquette tips to help you navigate this busy time of year (and let’s not forget the upcoming party circuit to ring in the New Year). I presented this information last week at our local library; the dialogue was thought-provoking and insightful and the conversation could have lasted for hours. Cheers to a fun and food-safe holiday!
If you have a food allergy, it’s your responsibility to let your host know! (I stress allergy, not fad diet or preference. Be clear to your host or server.) A good host should make every effort to accommodate allergies as best they can. Thank them for their efforts in serving gluten free options with a small token of appreciation in the form of a hostess gift — or a simple hand-written thank you note sent after the event will go a long way, too. Check out my Etsy shop for cute hostess gifts and gifts for the gluten free foodie on your list!
The gathering/event size and type can make a difference in whether we speak up about our dietary restrictions. For example, a catered cocktail party at your spouse’s boss’ home? Your lips may be tightly sealed! An intimate dinner for six at your best friend’s house? Heck yeah, speak your mind! What about your office holiday party? Most likely, it’s being catered. And usually, there’s someone in the office who’s in charge of organizing the event. Feel free to speak to that person to let them know your dietary situation. Chances are, there are others who have dietary restrictions and/or allergies that need to be accommodated.
I always offer to bring a dessert or appetizer when I’m invited to someone’s home. Not only do I enjoy the act of making a dish that can be enjoyed bu others, but it’s also a polite and courteous gesture. Offering to bring a gluten free dish for everyone to share is not only polite, but it’s also a good way to ensure that there’s something you’ll be able to eat; a “safe” dish just in case. My Gluten Free Mushroom-Thyme Risotto Balls are the perfect dish to bring to a party!
Eat before you go!
When in doubt, eat a little something before you go! Or, pack a light snack, like nuts, dried fruits, gluten free crackers or my new favorite snack from absolutely gluten free (below). Packing a few small things that can be nibbled on discretely is perfectly fine when you’re faced with dietary restrictions.
If your child is gluten free and you’re unsure of what the host is serving/preparing, bring your own food for him/her. Bringing food for children is socially acceptable and ensures that your child is able to eat safely during the gathering. Breads and desserts are attractive for kids, so pack a few things for them to enjoy if there aren’t any gluten free options available.
Beware of the buffet!
Cross contamination on the buffet spread is a gluten free dieter’s worst nightmare! Here are a few suggestions to help navigate these muddy waters!
- Be the first in line before serving spoons have migrated from one dish to the other.
- Speak up politely if you see someone who’s in danger of contaminating an otherwise perfectly safe dish.
- If your host is gracious enough to purchase a loaf of gluten free bread for you, politely offer to slice it yourself. This ensures a separate cutting board and serrated knife is used.
- Same holds true for pasta; separate pot and colander is a must!
- It’s fine to include your gluten free pasta dish on the buffet for others to enjoy; however, a good host will let it be known to her guests that the dish is made with gluten free pasta and the serving spoon for the non-gluten free pasta cannot be used. To be extra safe, keep the two pasta dishes on opposite ends of the buffet.
The ‘Do Not Eat’ list!
If you’re new to the world of gluten free, here’s a short list of foods to avoid at a holiday cocktail party or buffet.
- Anything fried (flour/batter and cross-contaminated oil)
- Thick sauces or gravies that have most likely been thickened with flour or commercial thickeners that contain gluten in the form of wheat starch
- Ask if they can use corn or potato starch instead
- Tell your server (or whomever is cooking) to make yours plain or request a simple sauce made with butter, white wine, garlic, etc.
- Salad dressings or dipping sauces that contain soy sauce, teriyaki sauce or miso (I always use the LaChoy brand of soy sauce, which is gluten free)
- Meatballs since they probably contain breadcrumbs
- Anything made with beer (even something like beef chili that may contain beer for flavor is off-limits when you’re gluten free)
- Beware of soups made in restaurants or catering halls; they are often made with stocks and flavor bases that aren’t gluten free
- Anything breaded or battered! Coconut shrimp is one of the most popular hors d’oeuvres to be served at a party. Unless your host made it gluten free, it usually does contain flour, not just coconut!
- Sushi rolls that contain sauces, like spicy tuna rolls, or California rolls; imitation crab meat usually contains gluten (unless a gluten free crab meat as used).
- Avoid beer (unless you know it’s gluten free) and things like whiskey, scotch, bourbon
- Not all vodka is gluten free! Be careful when ordering a mixed drink or vodka tonic.
- Tequila made from 100% pure agave is naturally gluten free
- Most rums are gluten free, but it’s best to avoid flavored rums, as they can contain malt or barley
- If all else fails, stick to wine, champagne or water/soda