The holidays tend to create anxiety for many people following special diets, including the growing group of people diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. It’s no wonder, since so much of our culture today seems to revolve around socializing while eating. Whether it’s accepting an invitation to a holiday dinner party, attending a work luncheon, or hosting family for a festive dinner in your own home, there can be challenges to safely following your gluten-free diet. But with a bit of thought and advance planning, you can avoid getting “glutened” – and feel like you’re a full participant in the event.
Hosting the Meal Yourself
This is probably the most sure-fire way to ensure your meals will be gluten-free. Whether it’s a holiday cocktail party, dessert party, or sit-down family meal, YOU are in control of the planning, shopping, and preparation of the food. And with the wonderful gluten-free foods available today, you could easily offer up an entirely gluten-free spread, and no one would even know! You’ll be happy to know that if you are comfortable preparing a full holiday meal yourself, there are many holiday favorites that are easy to prepare gluten-free.
If hosting something on a large scale seems overwhelming, by all means make it “pot luck.” Prepare a few key dishes yourself (things YOU like) so that at least you’ll be able to eat your own culinary creations. Even if your guests bring things that are off limits for you, you won’t have to worry about cross contamination, since the food brought by others was prepared elsewhere and shouldn’t need to come into contact with your gluten-free items (just be careful of sharing serving spoons).
Accepting an Invitation to Someone Else’s Home
This can be one of the more intimidating options, since you don’t want to be sick – but don’t want to feel rude or left out if there’s nothing safe for you to eat. The best solution is to offer to bring a few of your own favorite items as part of the meal (your host or hostess will greatly appreciate this!). Ideally, this would involve a casserole or other main dish, a couple of side dishes, and dessert. If it’s a family member’s home, you may even have some say in planning and preparing the menu. In all likelihood, your host will welcome tips to convert favorite recipes into gluten-free favorites! Even something like homemade gravy can easily be thickened with cornstarch instead of flour.
Desserts can often present the trickiest part of the meal, but try to think outside the box. Consider “crustless” pies, crème brulee, pumpkin custard, or flourless chocolate cake (you’d be hard pressed to find someone that would turn THAT down!) Gluten-free cupcakes are always a hit with kids, and basic gluten-free sugar cookie mixes are relatively easy to find (or make yourself) if you’re a fan of traditionally decorated holiday cookies. Chances are, whatever you bring will be tastier than the gluten-filled options, and there won’t be any leftovers!
While we’ve always dined IN for Christmas, our family has actually dined OUT for several recent Thanksgivings. One year after attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City, we dined at a very celiac-friendly Italian restaurant called Sambuca (OK, so we got our turkey fix the next day with a traditional, home-cooked meal!). And this year, our extended family voted to give ourselves a much-needed break and go OUT to Wildfire restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. We selected this restaurant based on their careful attention to their gluten-free diners. We confirmed the gluten-free selections before making the reservation, and what a treat it was! Virtually every item of the menu was either gluten-free or could be tailored to be, down to the gluten-free stuffing and gravy, gluten-free croutons on the salad, and flourless chocolate cake for dessert.
If you’re with a group of friends or colleagues that will be selecting a restaurant for a holiday get-together, don’t be shy about your dietary restrictions. There’s nothing worse than having to forgo most of the food while your dining mates gush over how great the meal is. Speak up and suggest one of your favorite “gluten- free friendly” restaurants as a good choice. A quick search on a site like GlutenFreeTravelSite will help you find GF-friendly restaurants (both chain and independent) in any town or city.
So whatever your choice – eating IN or eating OUT, dining gluten-free over the holidays can easily be done without feeling deprived, left out, or overworked!
Karen Broussard is the founder of GlutenFreeTravelSite, a popular website that helps the gluten-free community find safe places to eat in their area — or wherever they travel. It includes thousands of user-submitted REVIEWS of restaurants, bakeries, markets, hotels, resorts, B&Bs, and cruises – both in the U.S. and around the world. Karen launched GlutenFreeTravelSite in 2008 — several years after her son Ryan was diagnosed with Celiac Disease at a very young age. She and her family found that dining out and traveling could be a real challenge for people following gluten free diets, and she wanted to provide a place where the gluten free community could go to share their experiences first-hand with others who also love to dine out and travel.
The dining and travel reviews on GlutenFreeTravelSite are organized geographically and can be searched by state/country — or more narrowly by town/zip code. Visitors to GlutenFreeTravelSite will find many other helpful resources, including a section of the site devoted to national and regional restaurant chains offering Gluten Free Menus, a page of Colleges reviewed from a gluten free perspective, a page outlining the gluten free policies of all the major Cruise Lines — with links to reviews of each cruise line submitted to GlutenFreeTravelSite, a page listing Camps for gluten free kids, and many gluten free Trip Planning Resources. Other features of the helpful site include a monthly Featured Review (and contest!), a Blog, Articles, and Interviews with Chefs. You can follow GlutenFreeTravelSite on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.