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, however, 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 or way too overwhelming; perhaps you’ll even think your friend is a diva for having so many demands. But I assure you, these suggestions are to help you keep your friend healthy. The last thing you want to do is make her sick!
Please know that your friend likely has a lot of anxiety about eating at your house. While you 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 celiac disease will never share their true list of demands when it comes to properly hosting them.
And since they won’t tell you how to properly and safely host them for a meal, I’ll tell you in this article. Here are a few things you should be aware of when hosting your gluten-free friend, as well as some easy tips to follow:
How to Host Your Gluten-Free Friend for a Meal
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 gluten-free include tacos, grilled steaks and chicken, fish, rice bowls (think Chipotle), and stir-frys.
Tip! Please don’t assume your gluten-free friend be okay with a salad when everyone else is having pizza. This is why I ALWAYS inquire about the menu before going to a dinner party. 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 only lettuce and tomatoes. I held back tears and recognized that she simply didn’t understand. I left hungry and sad.
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 before preparing your meal.
Run your pots, cooking utensils and serving platters through the dishwasher (or make sure they’re really clean). Avoid coming in contact with any gluten during the cooking process. This means you can’t prepare yourself a sandwich while cooking tonight’s dinner. Always keep your hands and cooking station free from gluten.
Gluten is hidden everywhere. I always suggest avoiding packaged food and using fresh ingredients, but of course there are times where you may need to use sauces, spices and other items to prepare your meal.
Most spices are fine, but just do a double take to make sure the only thing inside your spice jar is that spice. 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. (Please note that gluten is not an allergen, but wheat is. A product may be labeled “wheat free” but it doesn’t meant it’s also gluten-free as it might contain barley.)
To avoid having to read labels, use fresh ingredients like 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 mayo jar has likely been cross contaminated with gluten.
Think about when you bake and dip the measuring cup in the flour, then the sugar. Yep, your naturally gluten-free jar of sugar may not contain gluten!
Only use a fresh tub of butter or fresh container of sugar if cooking for your gluten-free 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 what to make for 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 gluten-free flours.
Try baking mixes from Namaste or Enjoy Life; however, store shelves are filled with all sorts of gluten-free mixes today, so pick one that sounds good and make it. Chances are all you’ll have to add is some eggs, oil and/or water.
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 on your grill, 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.
Never use your toaster to prepare her meal either – that is a gluten-infested chamber. Just leave her bread untoasted. And never use the same strainer used to drain gluteny spaghetti as you’re using to drain gluten-free pasta.
Wash Your Hands:
If you’re going to serve a dish with gluten at your 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 anyway.
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. The spoon for the potato somehow made its way into the the gluteny stuffing. Oops! 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 cooking for someone with celiac disease or food allergies seriously. This is real. There are lots of gluten-free 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 using naturally gluten-free ingredients and read labels carefully, there really is nothing to worry about. It’s as easy as a [gluten-free] piece of cake!
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! If you can’t remember or don’t know if it’s gluten-free, I won’t eat it.)
As you probably experienced first hand in preparing this meal for your gluten-free friend, this gluten-free stuff isn’t easy. Certainly no one would choose this lifestyle if they didn’t HAVE to eat this way for health reasons.
You might breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you only have to take such precautions only when hosting her, but remember, this is your friend’s way of life day-in and day-out. Your empathy for her will greatly increase and your act of kindness will be felt ten-fold.
Thank you again for being a GREAT friend and taking every precaution needed to safely host your gluten-free friend for dinner. You are a true friend and it will be duly noted…