I hope this article reassures many of you that attending gatherings that involve food does not necessarily have to be a daunting task as a Celiac. Have a safe and happy summer (that is full of food, too)!
- “Musings by Mia is meant to be a collection of topics that I wish had been more discussed when I was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease as a teen. I will explore topics from the perspective of a young adult with Celiac Disease and share my personal experiences in these articles. As these are my own experiences, they are by no means meant to be a ‘how-to’ guide, but instead an informative glimpse into the situations a typical young adult with Celiac Disease might face.”
Summer Outings as a Celiac
From beach days to backyard BBQs, the warm weather always seems to bring people together – which, without planning, can mean gatherings with lots of food a Celiac can’t eat. By following these tips I’ve discovered, I tend to eat even more than at non-Celiac at gatherings. (If you’re following these articles you will begin to realize how much I truly love food!)
- Before we begin, it is in these strange times that I feel compelled to add a disclaimer to the beginning of this article: please follow the COVID-19 safety regulations in your region with regards to the size and location of the gathering, they are there for a reason, and that is to ensure everyone’s safety!
Backyard BBQs and potlucks can be quite challenging for a Celiac. My number one tip, which will I will repeat throughout this article, is to get to events early! I’ve found there’s almost always fruit, veggie, or cheese platters available at a BBQ, and usually some gluten free chips as well.
However, the longer these platters are out, the more chance for cross-contamination. Therefore, I forgo being fashionably late, and instead arrive a few minutes early to take my pick of gluten-free food. I always help myself to a large serving and keep a plate to the side to munch on throughout the evening.
If BBQ is on the menu, I usually ask the host to keep a piece of unseasoned meat to the side, then ask them to wrap it in aluminum foil before putting it on the BBQ. If we’re having hamburgers or hotdogs, I also offer to bring my own bun and condiments, and a safe meat option too if needed (i.e. depending on the hotdog, and if the hamburger contains breadcrumbs).
Lastly, if the gathering is potluck style, I find offering to bring dessert usually the best bet. I find I’m generally able to eat most snacking foods (veggies, fruit, chips) that are available at potlucks (if I get there early enough) and I’ve mentioned how I handle the main. However, if I don’t offer to bring dessert, I will usually be out of luck with the options available.
Due to the wonderful fruit available in the summer I will usually bring a quick and easy fruit crumble with ice cream; if I’m too pressed for time for this, I always have a store-bought pack of gluten free Nanaimo bars in my freezer that are ready to be arranged on a platter with some fresh fruit (and will thaw during dinner)!
Summertime backyard happy hours at a friend’s house can be incredibly blissful – a cold cider and a lot of sun seem like the perfect recipe! However, couple that with the empty stomach of a Celiac, and the next day may not turn out too great.
Eating ahead is always a safe bet, but if I’m unable to I’ve found the next best thing is to suggest the host to put out some naturally gluten free food. Things like cheeses, veggies, and fruits are great options, and I usually offer to bring my own gluten free crackers for everyone to share (Costco has some great family sized packs of gluten-free crackers)!
A tip here is to mention in advance to the host to keep these items separate from other gluten containing foods – elaborate cheese platters with nuts, crackers, and meats are all the rage now, but unfortunately for a Celiac they are breeding grounds for cross-contamination. Nuts in particular I’ve found to be a bit of an issue – many non-Celiacs are unaware that most nuts are processed in a facility that also processes wheat, so be sure to specify to keep these separate.
However, despite all of these precautions I may take to ensure there’s food for myself, it’s all moot if one of my friends puts their ‘bread-hands’ over everything (clearly, I’m not bitter from experience here …). Therefore, I always arrive early in order to execute my plan to perfection (this is a tip you’ll see repeated throughout this article)! I take a large plate and load up, then happily nibble throughout the evening.
When I first travelled up island to meet my partner’s family, I had with me enough food to last me the whole weekend. However, all of this food ended up coming home with me! I was so impressed with the effort they took to make gluten free food for me, and it really made me feel so welcome. For dinner they had carefully cooked some meat and sides separately for me, and my partner’s grandmother even made a gluten free chocolate quinoa cake for dessert!
Before I visited, my partner had repeated to his family what I had said to him: he went through the list of everything that could ‘gluten’ me, from kitchen machinery (for example the toaster), to contaminated condiments (such as butter), to ingredients that one may not expect to have gluten in them (like soy sauce). Then, when we arrived, he took my role as supervisor to ensure everything was Celiac-friendly. He became a gluten free advocate for me with his family, which I really appreciated as I didn’t want my first impression with them to be so ‘high-maintenance’.
Now, four years later, his family has adjusted their approach to gluten-free cooking when we visit for the weekend – they’ve come to fully understand what is and isn’t gluten free, and generally just cook one big meal that’s naturally gluten free! When I arrive, they present me with a stick of butter, and they always keep a loaf of gluten free bread in the freezer to have on hand.
Again, I will say – get to the party early! And, as mentioned, the first thing I do at any gathering is take a plate and load up with chips, veggies, and anything gluten free, then set it to the side to eat later. If I miss out on the initial layout of food, I’ll volunteer to open the next bags of chips, or refill the food platters, and then help myself to this new, uncontaminated food.
Glasses and cans are another issue – I always make sure to put a mark on my glass or can to ensure a wheat-eater doesn’t mistake my cup for their own. Fancy identifiers like a wine glass charm works great, if not, a marker will suffice too! Too many times I’ve arrived at a party with a cider, left it open and unmarked on a table, only to come back and see three of the same ciders open on the table with no way to tell which cider is mine.
This one is to all of the university students out there – one of the times I’ve been most thankful for being a Celiac is when it came to drinking games! Having a legitimate reason to avoid drinking out of a cup that, not only has everyone else been drinking out of (germs people!), but also contains a mixture of all of the alcohol at the party, is a wonderful thing. I always kept a drink on hand to drink out of in lieu of the ‘communal’ cups.
Growing up next to a beach I have turned beach days into a science. Coolers are a must, filled with frozen water bottles that first serve as ice then as a refill of water. I always have extra spray on sunscreen, and my phone is tucked neatly in a Ziplock bag to keep water and sand safely away from my charging port.
That being said, you are here for Celiac tips, right? I really do find it easiest to pack my own sandwich, then bring naturally gluten-free foods to snack on all day. My friends and I usually each bring either fruit, such as watermelon, or potato chips to share!
We attack picnics similarly – usually having a picnic of gluten free snacking foods (veggies, fruit, and chips), with a more substantial cheese and meat platter too. I usually offer to provide crackers or bread to go with everything. Another option is to get take-out and enjoy that on the beach!
If you have questions or comments, or if you have topic suggestions, Mia would be happy to hear from you. Scroll down to the comment field below or email [email protected] with your thoughts.
- Mia Kennedy was diagnosed with Celiac Disease when she was just 13 years old and since then, has become an avid gluten-free baker and cook. She is a recent graduate of the University of Victoria where she majored in Microbiology. During her time there, she worked in a research lab that focused on gut health. Mia’s diagnosis and her passion for science have inspired her to pursue a career in medicine with hopes to some day become a gastroenterologist. Mia is keen to share her experiences as a gluten-free teenager and university student and support others as they face the challenges (and joys) of living a happy and healthy gluten-free life. From recipes to dating to travel tips, Mia is eager to answer any questions you have or take on issues that are of interest to you.