I know exactly how tough the holidays can be as a ‘normal’ eater, but when you throw into the mix that you’ve got issue with food because of celiac or sensitivity to gluten (or anything else), it can make the typical celebratory parties seem like an obstacle course too treacherous to even bother with.
Whether this is your first holiday or you’re a seasoned veteran, you know that eating safely at a holiday party is a dream come true that’s rare to happen unless you’re at someone’s home who 100% understands your dietary needs or you host a party yourself.
How to Host a Gluten-Free Party
Though it’s not as much fun to go to a party where all you can eat is the dish that you brought, I thought I’d share some of my top tips to making and keeping your holiday party (or any party, for that matter) safe to eat.
People generally LOVE to know what’s in a dish before they eat it. Not only will this trick save you time from re-explaining the ingredients to multiple people, but it will make others who have celiac, food sensitivities, or other dietary habits such as vegetarian or vegan feel more comfortable eating the dishes served.
All you have to do is print or write out the ingredients on little cards that sit in front of each dish. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just effective!
Give clear food suggestions to bring
When hosting a party, it’s quite common for guests to bring something. This is where trouble can happen because the host either assumes that everyone knows what “gluten-free” means or is too vague about what the guests can bring. Chances are that many of the folks who aren’t gluten-free will be of the persuasion who think that the center of a pie with wheat crust is gluten-free and you can just pick off the problem area and be fine.
To avoid getting ‘gifts’ of food that can’t be served like this, be very clear about what is acceptable to bring. That means having a pre-determined list of options that guests can easily pick up. Be specific with brands and even the stores where your food wish-list items can be purchased. Options such as wine, gluten-free crackers and chips, salsa, guacamole, hummus, sparkling water, and even ice cream can be simple for folks to pick up.
However you must be firm in every communication that if they diverge from this list and bring something that isn’t clearly marked gluten-free, it will not be served. Clarity from the get-go and learning how to manage expectations of others helps to avoid uncomfortable situations that arise from being vague.
Segregate the dishes
If you can’t quite bring yourself to having an all gluten-free party (which is totally doable and everyone will enjoy), make sure to segregate the dishes. Whether it’s to separate rooms or just opposite sides of the room, make it clear that gluten-free options are different and should not be mixed up with the gluten-bearing ones.
Whatever you do, don’t place gluten-free and glutenous dishes side by side. That’s trouble just waiting to happen. Serving spoons get mixed up and used in other dishes and then you’re done. Or a blob of the wheat crust will accidentally fall into the gluten-free rice pudding and it’s all over. And no amount of tags placed to mark the dishes as different will help.
Don’t make it a Potluck
A good rule of thumb is that unless you’re friendly with folks who are knowledgeable and understand what it means to cook gluten-free, avoid potluck meals. They probably won’t be very lucky for you or anyone else hoping to eat gluten-free. Even if you provide someone else the recipes, you can’t trust that they will use non-contaminated utensils and cooking surfaces. Or even that that they’ll check their spices to insure that they’re gluten-free.
I never understand why some people who live in a gluten-free household feel compelled to serve glutenous food at a party hosted in their home. I’d never go to a vegan’s home and assume that they would serve meat and cheese.
If you’re nervous about serving a totally gluten-free meal, don’t be. Most people won’t even know the difference especially if you masterfully pick and cook dishes that HAPPEN to be gluten-free.
If you allow or bring in glutenous dishes, people will assume that you’re okay with gluten which can make the enforcement of a 100% gluten-free party difficult later on. Being consistent about the 100% rule from the get-go is important to avoid inevitable push-back from friends and family who will feel like you “changed the rules” suddenly when gluten is no longer tolerated. Plus, you run the risk of getting glutened in your own home at your own party. That’s an epic fail if I ever saw one!
And don’t ever EVER apologize for making anything gluten-free. I’ve heard people do this so many times and I literally have to stop them and question why they’re doing it. If the guests aren’t gluten-free and aren’t used to eating as such, apologizing and over-explaining that dishes or the food is different will only give them a bad impression of the food before they even eat it.
Be proud of what you’ve made and serve it with grace and a smile.