Eating Gluten-Free at Conferences

Last week, I wrote about the challenges of being gluten free and dining with groups. This week, I am going to talk about another group dining challenge: conference meals. I will state for the record that even if you’re not gluten free, meals at conferences tend to be, well, okay. It’s hard to make a thousand or so meals that meet a wide and diverse range of attendees…interesting (and affordable).

My basic conference strategy is to find somewhere else to eat. Yes, the meal is included in the price of the ticket, but it’s really hard to get a halfway decent (and filling) gluten-free meal in this situation. I’ve tried to make do with the starter salad…but, you know, croutons. By the time you send your salad back for one that is crouton-free, well, everyone else is tucking into dessert.

(And eating off campus, so to speak, is a great way to have a conversation that doesn’t require shouting to be heard!)

I feel for the servers in these situations. They have to get those meals on the tables fast because the attendees have panels and keynote speakers and other distractions. While conference meals offer fantastic networking opportunities, they are also quick meals. I also know from experience that everyone seems to have some sort of special meal requirements in these situations (it’s not true, but it sure seems that way).

Sometimes, if you get lucky, the organizers provide the opportunity for special meals. If you are exceptionally lucky, you might get a gluten-free option. This has happened to me exactly once. And, again, the food was okay. I did, of course, appreciate that the conference organizers made the effort.

The upcoming conference will be a particular challenge for me because lunch is described as a “working lunch”, and my extremely detailed review of the conference schedule shows that by “working lunch”, they mean *I* will be working as a panel moderator during the meal. That’s what I call a rough meal!

This means I’m going into this event with a strategy that involves a really hearty gluten-free breakfast featuring protein to get me past lunch. I’ll grab a salad after my panel. And probably a glass of wine because I deserve it. Oops, was that revealing too much? In my bag, I’ll have a Kind bar or two since the day will be long, and if conference tradition holds, the afternoon coffee break will be big on cookies, light on gluten-free options.

So, yeah, when it comes to dining challenges, I put conference meals at the top of my list. I’m experienced enough with my gluten-free life to know that I’ll need to be flexible and prepared when it comes to meals. This won’t be an ideal situation, but I’m a big girl and can handle the challenge.

And after the day is done, my husband will be tasked with taking me out for a really delicious (gluten-free) dinner!

How do you deal with meals at conferences or other professional situations?

Tip of the Week

While it might seem like you’re the only person at the conference dealing with dietary restrictions, I promise you that you’re not alone. I find it really helpful to be upfront about the fact that I must eat gluten fee, and I’ve found myself meeting new people who are facing their own challenges.

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

For most of my life, I was one of those people who skipped breakfast. Food first thing in the morning still isn’t my thing, but once I’ve been up for about an hour, I’m ready for a fantastic meal. Particularly when I know I’m going to spend a day on my feet, talking to old friends and new acquaintances (why else attend a conference?).

This means I need a hearty breakfast that will stick with me throughout the day because mealtimes and meal choices will be unpredictable. Lately, I’ve been on a huge omelette kick, which is pretty much like my frittata kicks, but it’s usually easier to get an omelette in a restaurant.

Omelette with Sausage, Spinach, and Cheese
Hash Browns or Home Fries, if they’re safely gluten free (Carbs are good on conference days)

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