Surviving Holiday Parties

Dinner parties are one thing, party-parties are another. You know the type of event I mean: foods are laid out all over the place, and sussing out the ingredient list for each item is a challenge. These types of situations are gluten-free nightmares.

I’m going to offer up the first of many silver linings here: contributing a dish of your own to the smorgasbord of items. Potlucks are both dangerous and a secret weapon. It’s easy enough to arrive with a bottle of wine and something for the table (again, as always, when bringing food to someone’s home, give them the courtesy of advance notice…if only to allow them input into what is needed; it doesn’t help if every guest brings chips and dip when maybe something more along the lines of dessert is needed).

Another silver lining is that sneaking a bite of something you’ve tucked into your bag or pocket is much easier in these situations. It’s not like you’re sitting at a formal table, your protein bar or carrot sticks neatly centered on a plate while everyone else is enjoying a puff pastry-wrapped salmon fillet. You can snack comfortably while mingling with friends old and new.

Of course, at parties like this, most of the time people won’t even notice if you eat something or not. The purpose of the event is to talk and talk more. You can fill up in advance or grab a bite on the way home. Unlike a dinner party, arrivals and departures are generally fluid, so you can dine on your own schedule. Heaven knows I’ve made polite exits because I was starving!

As you survey the variety of foods being offered a party, the basic knowledge you’ve acquired about foods will serve you well. Are fresh fruits and veggies being offered? Avoid suspect dips and you’ll likely be fine. Most brands of plain potato chips are gluten-free (companies like Frito-Lay are very GF aware!), so you can enjoy those. Again, avoid dips until you know all the ingredients.

Cakes, cookies, and many other dessert-type foods are generally off-limits, though, if homemade macarons, a colorful French cookie traditionally made from almond flour are on the table, ask a few questions and prepare yourself for a delicious GF treat! Be wary of ice cream and cautiously optimistic about puddings and custards.

Meat dishes can range from simple grilled or baked items to elaborate productions. If it’s the former, a few discreet questions can guide you. If it’s the latter, I generally avoid the item.

Then there’s cheese. If you tolerate dairy, you can eat cheese. It’s like the bacon of party foods! Also, bacon is gluten-free.

I will caution you about dips, salsas, sauces, and other communal items. If the food being served is a mix of items, the chances for cross-contamination are very, very high. Yes, hummus is inherently gluten-free, but are guests using a communal knife to spread it on various foods? If that knife comes into contact with a gluten-based bread, crumbs will migrate back to the bowl of seemingly safe hummus.

This, you will recall, is the same problem you encounter if you’re maintaining a hybrid kitchen — the foods themselves are safe, meaning problems happen when gluten-based foods mistakenly mingle with gluten-free foods.

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