If you have a gluten free friend who has Celiac Disease or cannot eat gluten, I’d like to share with you some tips to hosting him or her for dinner (or a meal). Before I get into my tips, I first want to say, “Thank you!” You are a good friend. You are supporting your friend beyond belief at a time when most are too afraid to host her and at a time when your friend is scared to eat outside of her house.
These tips might seem like a lot and overwhelming; perhaps you’ll even think I’m a diva to have so many demands for enjoying a meal at a friend’s house. However, I’ve eaten at many friends’ houses before and many times I have gotten sick. While I am so grateful for the kind gesture so many of my friends have made to me, at times I don’t know if all the necessary precautions were taken to host me and I’m afraid to eat at their houses again!
The other thing you should know is your friend has a lot of anxiety about eating at your house. While you’ve invited her and want to host her, she is likely feeling torn. On one hand she wants to go and be with you, feel amicable and normal again; on the other hand she is worried about putting you out, creating trouble for you, and of course, getting sick. Many people with this awful disease will never share their true list of demands when it comes to properly hosting them.
If you want to host your Celiac or GF friend safely, here are some things you should be aware of and some easy tips you can follow.
Decide on a Menu and Discuss it with Your Friend: Many of my friends ask me what they can make me, and I happily provide suggestions or recipes. It’s easy to come up with some ideas of your own. Easy gluten free meals for someone new to cooking GF are tacos, grilled steaks and chicken, fish, rice bowls (think Chipotle), and stir frys. Great side dishes are vegetables, rice, potatoes, corn chips and guacamole, etc. You can search my gluten free recipe index for ideas and inspiration. (Don’t assume your GF friend be okay with just a salad when everyone else is having pizza. This is why I ALWAYS inquire about the menu before going to a dinner party at a friend’s house. When my friend told me she was serving pizza at her dinner party, I offered to bring my own food. However, my friend insisted that she would make me something and asked that I not bring anything. When I got to the party everyone was eating pizza, and sadly, all she made me was a salad with just lettuce and tomatoes. I held back tears and recognized that she simply didn’t understand. My tummy growled all night long.)
Clean Your Prep Station and Utensils: Understand the someone with Celiac Disease can get sick even if a crumb of gluten makes its way into your dish. To avoid cross contamination, clean your prep station. Run your pots, cooking utensils and serving platters through the dishwasher before using them. Avoid coming in contact with any gluten during the cooking process – keep your cooking station free from gluten!
Check Labels: Gluten is hidden everywhere. I always suggest avoiding packaged food and use fresh ingredients, but of course there are times where you may need to use sauces, spices, and other items to cook. Check your spices to make sure there aren’t any gluten ingredients. Salad dressings, seasoning packets (including onion soup mixes), store-bought chicken broths, and other condiments are notorious for hidden gluten; plus most ingredients aren’t labeled as “gluten.” Avoid obvious gluten ingredients like wheat, barley and rye, plus look at the “Contains” statement at the end of the ingredient list. Many manufacturers will disclose if their ingredients contain any of the top allergens like milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, shellfish, etc. To avoid having to read labels, just use fresh onions, garlics and salt and pepper to season your food. If you must use other seasonings, check labels first and avoid if in doubt.
Avoid Hidden Gluten Sources: Every time you butter your bread you’re contaminating your tub of butter with gluten crumbs. Your butter, peanut butter, jelly and even your sugar jar has likely been cross contaminated with gluten. Think about it, when you bake, do you use the same measuring cups dipped in flour and then use it to measure out the sugar? Use a fresh tub of butter or fresh container of sugar if cooking for your GF friend.
Don’t Use Your Electric Mixer: When you bake glutenous foods, you’re mixing them in your electric mixer. That means flour has likely made its way into the crevices of your mixer. Don’t use this same mixer to make your friend baked goods. Mix everything you make for her by hand and line your cookie sheets and bread pans with foil or parchment paper to keep cross contamination at bay. When considering dessert, either ask your friend to bring it or buy some foolproof baking mixes that you can easily prepare at home without having to buy a ton of GF flours. My favorite baking mixes are by Whole Note Baking Company and Namaste. Enjoy Life also has baking mixes and are perfect if your friend is dealing with gluten AND other allergies (Enjoy Life products are free from the top 8 allergens). Never use your toaster to prepare her meal either – that is a gluten-infested chamber!
Avoid Using Previously Glutened Surfaces: If you are going to grill anything, wrap her food completely in foil and then grill. While the food won’t have grill marks, it’ll be protected from previous glutened products on your grill. (If you’ve ever used a teriyaki or soy sauce marinade your grill is completely gluten-contaminated!) Also avoid using plastic or wood cutting boards and utensils if possible. Simply cut items on a glass cutting board, paper plate, or even one of your regular dinner plates that has been cleaned in the dishwasher. Wood and plastic surfaces retain food (aka, gluten) and it’s best to stick with glass, paper or porcelain items for cutting.
Wash Your Hands: If you’re going to serve a dish with gluten at your meal (I don’t recommend doing this, but it seems to happen just about every time I go to someone’s house for a “gluten free” meal), make sure you wash your hands between touching the gluten products and the gluten free products. If you can make the entire meal gluten free, even better. Your friend will feel so much better eating at your house and there’s really no sense is cooking things that not everyone at your dinner party can enjoy.
Let Her Take First: Again, if you are going to serve gluten products at your dinner party, let your friend take her food first. This way she can fill her plate before other people cross contaminate the food with gluten. I’ve watched people put bread on their plates, then take salad and touch the salad utensils to the bread crumbs. The entire salad became contaminated with gluten. I’ve also watched people swap the serving utensils between dishes, etc. A simple error like that can compromise the entire meal you worked hard to make safe for your friend.
Take Celiac and GF Diets Seriously: Take your friend’s disease or food allergy seriously. This is real. There are lots of GF jokes floating around, but this is no joke for your friend, this is her reality. If that doesn’t motivate you, remember you don’t want to MAKE your friend sick. Do your best and take every precaution you can. Nobody is perfect, but if you stick to natural ingredients and read labels carefully, there is nothing to worry about!
Assure Her: There is nothing more comforting than a friend who tells me what she did to prepare for my visit. She’ll often tell me she soaked and washed the pots and cooking utensils, mixed the cake batter by hand (no electric mixer), she’ll list out all the ingredients and even show me the packaged items she used. All of this makes me feel confident that my friend not only took my disease seriously, but also that she took great care in hosting me. These are the kinds of friends I’m so grateful for! (By the way, there is nothing worse than a friend who “can’t remember” exactly what she put in it. That shows me she cooked for me mindlessly, and that puts my health at great risk!)
As you probably experienced first hand in preparing this meal for your GF friend, this gluten free stuff ain’t easy. Certainly no one would choose this lifestyle if they didn’t HAVE to eat this way for health reasons.
Now you can breath a sigh of relief that you only have to take such precautions once or twice a year. Just always remember that this is your friend’s way of life. Your empathy for her will greatly increase.
Oh, and thank you again for being a GREAT friend and taking every precaution needed to safely host her for dinner. You are a true friend and it will be duly noted!