Don’t panic. Sure, it’s a bit more work but it’s not rocket science. With a little creativity and common sense, you can easily pull it off. And of course, your diet challenged friend will love you for it.
I (Ivy) speak from experience-I’ve been gluten intolerant for over seven years and dealt with holiday dining issues for years; I finally started taking action back in 2012. The following ten steps reflects what I’ve learned over time, and should make your life a little easier.
(note: we’re talking about legitimate food allergies, not fad diets or one-time diet cleansings).
1. Communicate clearly and early on: Your invitations should include a place to note food allergies (or verbally discuss if it’s a small party).
2. Be specific: Discuss with your guests exactly what foods cause them problems. Can they be near others eating the foods? Do they need to be concerned about cross-contamination (note that with the most serious cases, like Celiac, there is zero tolerance for gluten- even a microscopic trace of bread crumbs or other gluten could make them ill.
3. Keep it simple- Stick with a gluten free turkey vs trying to make a more complicated GF dish. Gluten free bread is pretty easy to make. You can find products like gluten free dressing and stuffing online now.
Make it easy on yourself, says Jules Shepard (JulesGlutenFree.com), author and a nationally-recognized gluten-free baking expert: “Hummus and cut peppers and carrots for early munching, and butternut squash soup in the chilly months are great sides with gluten-free bread sticks or dinner rolls…” and “Flourless chocolate cake or coconut ice cream and fresh berries are easy, light and refreshing desserts that aren’t challenging to prepare.”
Elana Amsterdam, author and founder of Elana’s Pantry suggests that, “by sticking to simple recipes using real foods, such as chicken dishes and vegetable sides, you will be able to entertain guests with food allergies more easily….”
4. Do your homework-if you do decide to venture out and develop other types of gluten free dishes, do some homework. Blogs like ours provide a good starting point for dishes and recipes, and of course there’s an abundance of gluten free recipe books.
Pay special attention to ingredients you’ll need to replace the gluten; for example, you can replace regular flour with other flours made out of everything from garbanzo beans to tapioca and almonds-but be sure to test them out to make sure they’re ready for prime time!
5. Take special care in preparation. Use a separate part of the kitchen and make sure it’s clean (example- no bread crumbs that could create gluten contamination). Plan their meal in a completely separate dish, and use completely separate utensils, even dish rags (all can carry allergens).
6. Separate the meals: Trish Cardone, natural foods cook/instructor, says to prepare these dishes in a separate part of the kitchen, if needed, and use separate dishes and utensils (avoid cross contamination) “…for example, if roasted chicken is the main course, place your guest’s serving in a completely separate roasting dish. If making breaded chicken cutlets, have a completely separate egg dip area with gluten free topping such as (gf)bread crumbs/nut flour, etc. Then, place the coated chicken on a separate cookie sheet or frying pan.”
7. Pay attention to details: Another good tip from Cardone, who publishes the A Passion for Healthy Living blog: “If placing both items (allergy/non-allergy dishes) in the oven at the same time, be sure to put your guest’s item on the top shelf of the oven to prevent any possible spill over/cross contamination, or cook separately, when necessary. “
8. Keep everything clean: You want to avoid cross contamination, so be sure the cooking equipment, chopping boards, pans, dishes are all carefully cleaned.
9. Read the food labels, especially when using ingredients from packaged products. Gluten can hide in food labels and in various foods. Popular oils like olive oil, corn oil, canola oil and are usually safe, but specially treated or flavored oils could still have gluten. Soy sauce also often has gluten. Gluten can hide in the strangest places.
10. Consider letting them bring their own food. This is a very reasonable option, particularly with people who are highly allergic to gluten or Celiac. Many of these people are accustomed to bringing their own food everywhere anyhow. Recently we shipped several packages of our gluten free Chinese dishes to one West Coast mother, who planned on bringing them along to holiday parties for her 10 year old son (who is gluten intolerant). “Why take a chance?” she asked.
Above all, use common sense, be flexible and keep the lines of communication open. It’s more about the experience and enjoying your time with your friends than stressing out over the perfect dining experience. Talk to your guests, work out a plan, modify as needed, and then plan to enjoy the evening. Isn’t that the goal anyhow?
What’s your favorite tip for dealing with guests with food allergies?
By Ivy Lau and Mark Ivey
Mark and Ivy are owners of Ivy’s Garden Foods, which specializes in gluten free Asian dishes. https://www.ivysgardenfood.com/ Ivy has been gluten intolerant for over seven years, and endured several years of watching other people eat during the holidays before she started discussing new ideas with the host and/or bringing her own GF dishes. Follow her on Twitter: @glutenfreewoman