Group Dining: The Biggest Gluten-Free Challenge

Recently, I discussed the fact that the gluten-free diet is not boring. Maybe a better way to put it is that the gluten-free diet is as boring as any other diet in the world: it’s what you put into what you eat that defines boring or exciting. I personally prefer exciting, varied, and adventurous. When I eliminated gluten from my diet, I made it my mission to eat very, very well.

Recently, I had an email exchange with an individual who indicated that a certain city continued to disappoint her when it came to gluten-free dining. Surprised, because I’d managed to eat a wide range of gluten-free meals in various corners of that city, I contacted this person for more information. It turned out it wasn’t the city, it was the diners involved.

This is a challenge when it comes to feeding a large group with diverging dietary needs: kids who refuse to eat anything that doesn’t involve chicken nuggets, family members who feel more comfortable in familiar chain restaurants than quirky locales, vegans who won’t step into a steak house, people with celiac or other medical dietary restrictions.

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all restaurant, so trade-offs are necessary. As I mentioned, it wasn’t the fault of the city that one gluten-free diner was disappointed. The city was full of Latin American restaurants, Asian restaurants, American restaurants, European restaurants, restaurants of every type of specialty, ethnicity, culture, and food style. Gluten-free food abounds.

I have come to accept that eating with a large, disparate group will result in a less-than-exciting meal (though I will admit to being pleasantly surprised more than once!). Those are the meals that usually result in boring, yet safe, salads. Maybe I’ll get lucky and the group will land at a place like BJ’s, where the menu is varied, and the gluten-free pizza is, as is often the case in chain joints, serviceable.

When I have the chance, I do try to steer the group toward options that allow me maximum choice, but I have I learned to pick my battles. A boring salad (or four or five) won’t destroy me — I can survive a weekend of bad food much easier than I can survive a couple of weeks of a glutening. I don’t blame the party, and I don’t blame the city.

That being said, it’s up to you, oh gluten-free person, to know your options, to understand the wide world of cuisines, and to help guide others to great food finds that will make everyone happy. This isn’t easy, and, ahem, there will probably be boring salads when you dine with a large group.

And once I get home, I hit the kitchen to whip up something that reminds my taste buds of what makes us happy!

Tip of the Week

One of your best friends, whether traveling or staying close to home, is a smart phone app that quickly helps you find gluten-free options wherever you are. I like the Find Me Gluten Free app. It’s easy-to-use and constant updates as people discover new restaurants. Of course, always check with the restaurant, even if it appears on a “safe” list. Things, personnel, and ingredients change frequently.

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

As mentioned, after a frustrating or boring dining experience, I like to prepare something delicious for myself. I tend toward comfort foods in these instances, but my definition of comfort food is varied and wide. Sometimes it’s creamy, cheesy, and gooey. Sometimes it’s spicy and light. Sometimes it’s just plain boring.

And sometimes, it’s something familiar, yet something I don’t prepare very often. In this case, I’m talking about a big crockpot of baked beans (which, I guess, are not technically baked since, you know, crockpot). Slow cookers are fantastic for beans — and if you’re cooking in the summer, they have the advantage of not overheating the house.

Plus baked beans can take on a wide range of flavors, though the sweet, deep flavors of Boston-style baked beans have become the gold standard. While you can omit the bacon to make these beans vegetarian, bacon adds a level of smokiness that rounds out the dish. If you like chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, I strongly suggest using these in place of bacon, though some people prefer liquid smoke.

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