Would you like some hidden gluten with your dinner? Of course not! If you’re like us, we do whatever we can to avoid getting glutened during the holidays.
With all the hustle and bustle, holiday parties, time with loved ones, and even working overtime, getting glutened is definitely not part of the plan.
“I’d like to spend the entire party in the bathroom sick to my stomach because I got a little gluten in my meal”, said no one ever.
The reality is that if you’re avoiding certain foods because of a sensitivity, then it’s really on you to defend your health and ensure that no particle of gluten crosses your lips. Unfortunately getting glutened can happen at the most inconvenient moment when you least expect it especially if you don’t know where to look and what to do to stay safe. So let’s fix that!
How to Avoid Getting Glutened This Holiday Season
As an early Christmas present… here’s 10 of our favorite tips to help you minimize the risk of a sneaky gluten ambush this holiday season so that you avoid getting glutened:
1. You Can’t Pick Around Gluten
While it might be tempting to snag some seemingly gluten-free goodies from a cheese plate or food platter that’s littered with slices of crusty gluten-y French bread, brioche, or buttery crackers, do yourself a favor and just steer clear. What about the center of the pie that’s “gluten-free” even though the crust is not? Nope. How about some meat from a roasted chicken that’s been stuffed with bread crumbs? Sorry, that’s a no-go too.
Sadly, crumbs travel and gluten in or on one part of the dish, means gluten is everywhere. Since the amount of gluten necessary to make most sick equates to a small crumb, there’s no way to be sure that what you’re eating didn’t come in contact with gluten. With no surefire way to pick around gluten, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and pass.
2. Avoid Cross Contamination at All Costs
While we’re at it, let’s talk a bit more about avoiding cross contamination. It’s super important to segregate gluten-free and gluten-containing food items as well as kitchen tools (and this includes only using clean non-wood, non-plastic cooking utensils while cooking if your home is not 100% GF). Labeling food items and dishes as gluten-free, dairy-free (or whatever the problematic food is) beforehand along with the ingredients is the first step to keeping things truly separated. If you want to take it a step further, designate a small area away from the rest of the “normal” food (preferably so far away that no serving spoons could get mixed up) or different table at a family gathering or holiday party to ensure no crumbs get dropped and ruin the gluten-free dishes.
Here’s what to designate as strictly gluten-free: serving spoons or utensils, additional serving plates, and a separate napkin holder or napkin pile. You don’t want to be shoving your hands into the same napkin pile as those who are chowing down on off limits finger food.
3. How to Say No to “Gluten Free” Food Gifts From Well-Meaning People
When a kind friend or caring relative presents you with a batch of fresh baked gluten-free goodies they whipped up in their kitchen just for you, it can seem like a difficult and questionable predicament. On one hand, you really appreciate the love and thought that went into what they made specifically for you, but on the other hand, you just can’t be sure that it’s 100% safe to eat—it may have been made on an imperfectly cleaned baking dish, cooked in the oven at the same time as gluten-filled treats, or the well-meaning person might not understand the dangers of cross contamination in their kitchen.
So how do you handle this situation without offending the person who kept you in mind?
First, be sure to express how thankful and appreciative you are for their gift. Emphasizing how truly happy you are that they thought to make something for you acknowledges all the efforts they put toward this. That alone will make them feel good about the food gifts they crafted.
Second, ask them questions to see what extent they went to make this edible gift. If you just don’t feel that they understood what has to go into making that food safe, then it’s best to let them know you cannot eat their treats. While it might be tempting to take the food, thank them, and just not eat it, that’s lying. This can result in a wasteful cycle of food gifts from others that you can’t eat. Gently explain to them how sick you become if gluten happened to get into the food and you know that they certainly wouldn’t want to make you sick. Share that in order to be completely safe, you have to avoid food cooked in a non-gluten-free environment. Chances are if they were nice enough to make something for you in the first place, they’ll be totally understanding of your explanation on why you have to avoid it.
4. Always Bring Something to Eat
Whether it’s a dish to share with the party, your own individual meal in Tupperware, or even a simple snack bar, be sure to bring yourself something to eat no matter where you’re headed this holiday season. The worst feeling is when you’re really hungry while being surrounded by lots of food you can’t eat. By caring for yourself in this way, you’re less likely to cheat or rationalize what might be safe (see Number 1 above), but really isn’t. You’re also less likely to get upset and feel left out of the group.
If you do bring a dish to share, always take your portion first before putting it out for others to try. Once it’s on the table, you have to assume that it’s no longer gluten-free because you never know who dipped what in it to take a bite.
While the holidays is a time of giving to others, remember that you must give to yourself first. If you’re sick as a dog in the bathroom due to contaminated food, you won’t be in much of a giving mood.
5. Gluten-Free Alcohol
Looking to partake in some responsible celebrating with friends, but not quite sure which alcohol is safe to sip? Check out our gluten-free alcohol guide before indulging. When I do indulge on occasion, I like to stick with certified gluten-free options so I know I won’t be taking a chance on anything. Just remember to consume in a responsible manner and in moderation.
A few noteworthy options:
- Titos Vodka—certified gluten free and is made from corn– even the non-gluten-free folks love this brand!
- Blue Ice Potato Vodka—the first distilled spirit to be labeled gluten-free by the US federal government following the new gluten-free labeling laws.
- RumChata—a rum cream liquor, which contains real dairy so if you’re sensitive to milk products it’s best to avoid. However, its website states that it is indeed certified gluten-free.
- Baron Tequila—made from 100% prime agave, Baron is listed as certified gluten-free.
6. Host Your Own Gluten-Free Holiday Party
You don’t have to be nervous or shy about hosting a completely gluten-free get together! Check out this video from Lisa at With Style and Grace for some inspiration for a totally gluten-free gathering. Hosting a themed gluten-free party such as a holiday cooking bash or gluten-free cookie baking ensures that everything is made in the same gluten-free kitchen and everyone can feel included. Talk about a fun and engaging way to bond with close friends and relatives! Kindly remind attending guests not to bring anything with gluten to the party and even go so far as to make very clear suggestions on exactly what they can bring. That will help someone who would love to contribute, but doesn’t know what to look for as far as a product being gluten-free.
7. Bake Your Own Holiday Goodies
You definitely don’t have to feel left out when everyone else is indulging in gluten-filled holiday treats. The best part is your own goodies can be just as tasty and even more healthful than the ones that are off limits. We’ve got a bunch of great recipes you can easily whip up! Try our gluten-free dairy-free pumpkin pie pudding, flourless pumpkin spice cupcakes with whipped vanilla frosting, sugar-free coconut almond bark, or quick and tasty apple crisp.
8. Suggestions for Gift Givers
If you’re gifting a gluten-free family member, friend, or co-worker, it might be best to forgo baking them something gluten-free and instead purchase them a pre-made treat or non-food item to make sure they stay free of all traces of gluten.
Try gifting some beautiful gormet gluten-free chocolates, safe gluten-free and allergy friendly lipsticks from Red Apple Lipstick, gluten-free cookbooks, our own book on eating healthy while saving money called The Savvy Gluten-free Shopper, or consider a different, healthy option such as a subscription to a fresh produce box delivery service in their area. Gift cards to their favorite supermarket are wonderful gift ideas as well. That way you ensure that your gift is one that’s safe for the recipient and money well-spent on your end. Trust us, they’ll be sure to love any of these gifts!
9. Take Time to Prepare Yourself
When you have a food allergy or intolerance, it’s vital to give some time to yourself to consider what you will bring and how you will deal with any comments that feel negative. While many of us may miss the days of total spontaneity, having food sensitivities and allergies can make things more difficult to do on the fly. And sadly, an unplanned approach will probably leave you feeling incredibly stressed out and left out too.
All it takes is giving yourself at least a few extra minutes to really think about the kind of environment you’ll be in, how long you’ll be there (so you can know how much safe backup food to bring), and whether or not it will be accommodating to your needs. Don’t be afraid to call the host and speak with them about your concerns. And if the occasion is something or somewhere that could be potentially problematic for you and you feel uncomfortable going, do not be afraid to say “no thanks” and skip the get-together. Your health well-being is more important.
10. Don’t Risk It
Don’t eat something or feel pressured to eat something you know isn’t safe. Just as you wouldn’t pressure an alcoholic into having a glass of wine, be sure to let friends and relatives know why you just cannot partake in grandma’s famous pumpkin pie. While we’re certainly not saying that alcoholism and gluten sensitivity are the same, to those respective individuals living with them, each action is harmful to their health and wellbeing. If you really sit and think about it, we (the gluten sensitive) should take our commitment to gluten-free just as seriously. By letting others know the gravity of the issue at hand from a perspective to which they are already familiar can help them accept that you can’t cheat when it comes to gluten.
When someone says, “Oh, just have a little slice! It never hurt anyone!,” remember to stand your ground even if others don’t fully understand. Your health is at stake so don’t risk ruining your holiday by giving in to something like this. Just be sure to keep your calm and gluten-free on.
What tried and true tips can you share to avoid gluten during the holidays?