Accommodating Gluten-Free Guests at Parties and Gatherings

As a gluten-free guest, I always try to be considerate of the challenges faced by a party host. I host a lot of barbecues, impromptu feeds, and parties. Feeding a group of people isn’t easy, especially if you’re doing cooking, tending bar, and mingling at the same time. I never go to someone else’s house expecting the menu to cater to my dietary restrictions…and I’m always thrilled when the host makes an effort for me.

One thing I do at my parties is create a diverse menu to accommodate the various diets of my friends. I doubt most people realize that everything they eat at my house is completely gluten-free. In addition to gluten-free friends, we know vegetarians, vegans, people with lactose intolerance, people who only eat meat, diabetics, and chocoholics (man, talk about a tough group to please!). I like to make sure there is something for everybody on the table. It’s a challenge sometimes, but it’s also fun for me. Especially since I often accommodate several dietary restrictions in a single dish.

For those who are hosting gluten-free guests, there are many easy ways to feed your gluten-free without investing a lot of time and money into special foods. Yes, being gluten-free on a full-time basis requires a lot of effort, but trust me when I say your efforts, big or small, will be greatly appreciated.

In addition to all the recipes here at Glutenfreeliac (here’s a link to some that are particularly great for parties ), the following tips will help you host a great event that includes gluten-free guests:

  • Menu Planning — Think about what you’re serving in advance, and try to identify any items that are or can be made gluten-free. Run ideas by your GF guest if possible. I think you’ll discover that much of your menu — unless you are breading Every Single Dish — is already safe to eat. I’m serious. Most of the stuff we eat on a regular basis is inherently gluten-free.
  • Unprocessed Foods Are Safest — Meats, vegetables, fruits, cheeses are naturally gluten-free, so serving them is generally safe. You will need to read labels for foods that are prepackaged or prepared in advance as gluten-containing ingredients may be used. This includes sausages, marinated meats, brined foods, and even “cheese products”.
  • Seasonings, Sauces, and Marinades — Use salt and pepper on meats and vegetables. Spice and seasoning blends sometimes contain wheat. Soy sauce generally contains gluten, so avoid using it in sauces. If you’re using store-bought marinades, you’ll need to read the ingredients list carefully. Note that there are many GF barbecue sauces available commercially.
  • Serve Gluten-Free Drinks — Wine, most hard liquors, soft drinks, fruit drinks, water are all gluten-free. Beer, unless it is specifically GF, is not.
  • Serve Gluten-Free Snacks — Fruit, nuts (without any coatings or seasonings, since that requires you to be a label detective!), potato chips that are just potatoes, salt, and oil, popcorn, corn chips (just corn, salt, and oil), guacamole, hummus, some dips (these may require a bit of label reading, and see below about cross-contamination), vegetables.
  • Reduce Chances of Cross-Contamination
    • Separate Spaces — Create separate areas for gluten-filled items such as cookies and cakes and gluten-free foods to reduce the chances of cross-contamination. If you are serving dips or spreads (including condiments) that may come into contact with crackers, toasts, or other gluten-containing foods, they will be contaminated with gluten. Your GF guest will be educated enough to avoid these items.
    • Secret Sources of Gluten — Cross-contamination can happen even earlier, of course. If you’re using a jar of mustard to make regular sandwiches, there is a chance gluten has migrated into the jar. If you think this has happened, please let your guest know to avoid the condiments or other foods. We probably will, out of habit, but a gentle reminder never goes amiss!
    • Gluten-Free First — Whenever possible, prepare gluten-free foods first. And let your GF guest move to the front of the line when serving foods buffet-style. This reduces chances of cross-contamination.
    • Utensils and Food Prep — Finally, your kitchen is probably spotless. But gluten is sticky and tricky. You aren’t going to undergo a massive de-glutening of your home just for me, but there are ways you can help prevent accidental cross-contamination. The most important is to use clean utensils and dishes when preparing foods targeted toward your GF guest. Avoid wooden cutting boards as they can harbor hidden gluten. And keep any special gluten-free foods separate from other foods. For example, if you’re making a non-marinated gluten-free steak, just wrap it separately from the other steaks. I cannot thank you enough for doing this for me!
  • Good Grilling — You don’t need to scrub your grill spotless for a gluten-free guest. Instead, grill meats for your GF guest on a piece of foil to help reduce chances of cross-contamination. Bits of marinade and seasoning containing gluten may be adhere to the grill, potentially migrating to today’s meal.
  • Communicate with Your GF Guest — As I noted, I don’t expect my host to cater to me. However, if you have time, a quick phone call or email can make things so much easier for everyone involved. If I know the general menu, I can adjust accordingly. For example, if you are serving burgers, hot dogs, or sandwiches, let the GF guest know in advance so she can bring something that is safe to eat while others are enjoying their meals.Most of us are more than happy to bring something we can eat or help out by bringing food for everyone.
  • Enlist Your Gluten-Free Guest — I love to cook for large groups of people, and I’m always thrilled to pitch in when you ask me to contribute something to the party. Assign me a dish or leave it up to me! I’ll even help with the dishes afterward.
  • Be Understanding
    • GF Coping — I’m going to be frank here: gluten-free guests have several tricks for getting through social situations without going hungry. These include eating beforehand, planning a feast on the way home, and, yes, bringing our own food to events. When socially acceptable, we do this in the form of bringing something everyone can enjoy. Sometimes, for example, at dinner parties, that doesn’t work (I do always offer to bring something), and I admit I’ll likely have a protein bar or some fruit in my bag.
    • It’s Us, Not You — If your gluten-free guest declines to eat what you’re serving, please don’t take it personally. We love you and appreciate the invitation. But we’re also well-versed in the challenges of eating gluten-free, and we cannot deviate from our diet. Ever. Please remember that ingesting gluten makes us sick. Very sick.
  • Advanced Hosting: Read Labels
    • Identifying Gluten-Free Foods — As noted, hosting a party is a lot of work, and label-reading is somewhat of an art form. While many large manufacturers are including GF labels on foods (companies like Frito-Lay and Ore-Ida spring to mind immediately), others don’t, and nobody expects a party host to go through every ingredient for every item being served.  Be on the lookout for words like wheat, barley, and rye.
    • Reading Carefully — That being said…. Gluten-free foods cannot contain wheat, barley, rye, or triticale*. In the United States. foods containing wheat must be clearly labeled. Barley and rye, which are less common US ingredients, do not have to be specially identified, and they may be lumped into a category called “natural flavorings”. Hint: malt is barley-based, so if it’s listed, it’s not a gluten-free food. My rule of thumb when it comes to labels? The more ingredients, the greater the chance it’s going to cause a problem. I like to buy foods with ingredients that don’t sound like a chemistry experiment!
    • Problem Labels — If a label indicates a food is gluten-free, it probably is. Many foods, as you inspect their labels, check every box on the GF chart…and are likely safe. However — and this is big — some items are manufactured on equipment that is also used to manufacture wheat. Labels will clearly state this (it’s the law!). These labels don’t have to note barley or rye in the same manner. This is why most gluten-free people avoid oats, a naturally gluten-free food. Oats and wheat are often manufactured together, leading to cross-contamination potential.

Again, as a gluten-free guest, I sincerely appreciate hosts who make an effort on my behalf. It’s never expected. I realize the challenges presented by the gluten-free lifestyle, and I also hope these tips make it easier for you to accommodate your friends.

What are your favorite tips or ideas for hosting gluten-free (or other restricted diet) guests?

* —  I confess that I’ve never seen triticale in the wild. But this hybrid of wheat and rye exists and must be considered. Surely it’s just a matter of time before it shows up as the new, new thing.

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