The holidays are almost upon us and while everyone else may be looking forward to them, they can represent the most stressful times of year for a person with celiac disease. Social events, staff parties or family get-togethers are the ‘Final Frontier’ of gluten-free living. How to manage?! With a bit of strategic planning, we can have as much fun as everyone else. Start with the assumption that nothing will be gluten-free and set up your game plan accordingly!
- This article appeared in the Canadian Celiac Association’s Holiday Issue (2019) of Better Living Gluten Free. Click here to learn more about the CCA!
Host the Event Yourself
This is your best bet for a good time. You can be sure that the ingredients are truly gluten free and the food that is prepared will be 100% safe. If the workload is intimidating, invite a friend or family member over to help. Think of the knowledge you will be imparting!
Enjoy the Event with People Who Understand
As family, friends and colleagues become familiar with your needs, there will come a time when you will feel comfortable in trusting that they can serve you safely. It may mean that they prepare the simpler items – potatoes, vegetables, and salads with care – while you pitch in with dishes that require more gluten-free attention – stuffing, gravy or desserts. This offers the best of both worlds.
Offer to Help Prepare
Who doesn’t like a helping hand? Instead of telling others how to make a safe gluten-free meal – simply show them. It’s yet another learning opportunity and will ensure that you know what will be offered will be safe and delicious.
Potlucks and Work Events
Offer to bring a dish or two – enough to feed yourself if that is all that there might be. Be sure to serve yourself from these dishes first so that you can head off any chance of cross contact if serving spoons are cross matched.
Staff Party at a Restaurant
Make yourself popular by volunteering to help! Seek out or suggest restaurants that have a good reputation within the local celiac community. Ask whether any of your colleagues have additional dietary requirements – dairy, peanuts, shellfish etc. We aren’t the only one with food challenges! This is a great time for us to learn, too! For a sense of the kinds of questions to ask, take in the CCA’s webinar Strategies for Gluten-Free Dining.
Very much like restaurant events, catered events have the advantage of food prepared en masse ahead of time. Procedures can actually be more carefully controlled. Find out the name of the caterer or the venue as soon as possible and present your needs. Many companies or venues have gluten-free menus in place or could prepare your meal separately. If the food is being offered as a buffet, ask to have gluten-free items plattered directly from the kitchen.
Worst Case Scenario
When the host is certain they can meet our needs. It is hard to imagine anyone can understand what is involved unless they are celiacs themselves. Think how much you had to learn when you first went gluten free and how many mistakes you made along the way. Hosts may mean the best, but once we start asking questions – lots of questions – they may feel overwhelmed or even offended. Unless the host is amenable to dissecting every part of the meal from ingredients, to preparation to service, consider the following celiac safety nets:
Bring Your Own Meal
‘Take in’ your favourite leftovers or put together your most festive gluten-free meal. Just make sure it is delicious! Bring it with you on a plate, or portion it out in the kitchen and ask the host to heat it up. Most people won’t notice that what you’re eating might be different but if they do, it might even be better than what they’re having. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a yummy GF dessert!
There is nothing worse than being hungry with nothing to eat. If the event is spontaneous or you are just not able to be in touch ahead of time, bring a few favourite food items that you can ‘enjoy’ surreptitiously. Nuts, energy bars or dried fruit will tide you through. This is not an ideal solution and it may not be pretty (yes, I have eaten in bathrooms,) but you’ll be safe and can still enjoy the other aspects of the meal.
Eat Before You Go
A little or a lot, this will take the edge of impending hunger with little to no options, a situation celiacs should avoid at all times. It’s a good idea to bring snacks, too, just in case.
Make it About Activities
Sometimes it is just easier to take food out of the holiday equation. Suggest an activity, take in a movie or meet for a beverage.
Remember – the most important part of living gluten free is flexibility. If we can assess the situation, make plans, and take on the responsibility of ensuring our own needs, it is within our power to making special occasions what they are meant to be. Getting together with friends and family – and staying healthy! Happy holidays!