Accommodate gluten-free guests this holiday season

About one percent of Americans has celiac disease, which means their bodies are not capable of digesting gluten, a protein found in wheat and some other grains. Gluten acts like a glue in food products, which is why it’s commonly found in foods you wouldn’t suspect.

Even people who do not have celiac disease may choose to avoid gluten for health reasons. So what do you do if you’re hosting a holiday meal and your guests are avoiding gluten?

Many products nowadays are offered gluten-free, but mostly you will need to think about cooking from scratch to avoid hidden sources of gluten, according to Beyond Celiac. The Pennsylvania-based patient advocate organization works to drive research on the digestive disease.

People who are avoiding gluten may not eat these four top gluten sources: (clockwise from top) high-gluten wheat flour, European spelt, barley and rolled rye flakes. Oatmeal, on the other hand, is gluten-free. (public domain photo)


Beyond Celiac offers tips for hosting gluten-free holiday parties, and even downloadable recipe books ( Following are the top tips for holiday hosts from Beyond Celiac.

Be a Considerate Host

• Do Your Homework. Educate yourself on the gluten-free diet, even before you select a menu. Research safe ingredients, recipes, certified gluten-free products, and where you can purchase the items you’ll need. If you’re new to the gluten-free diet, have your guest recommend resources, products, and stores where gluten-free items are plentiful.

• Communicate. Establish open and honest lines of communication with your guest(s) right from the start. Be sensitive to their dietary needs, understanding of their concerns regarding ingredients and cross-contamination, and forthright in your mission to be a great host and gain their confidence. Exchange contact information so you both can communicate easily and directly throughout the process.


• Select a menu that’s easy and enjoyable for everyone. There are so many naturally gluten-free ingredients and delicious menu ideas out there, cooking gluten-free can be simpler than you think. And if you’re not planning a completely gluten-free affair, consider making all your appetizers and/or side dishes gluten-free. Not only will this ease your workload and grocery needs, but also enable your celiac guest to enjoy more than just one special entrée.

• Start from scratch. Gluten is latent in many commonly used cooking products: salad dressings, marinades, rice mixes, even cooking sprays. Cooking from scratch will help you avoid any hidden gluten without difficulty, an important factor to consider when planning your gluten-free menu. Broil, grill or pan-fry meat, fish and vegetables in olive oil or light butter. Bake or roast potatoes, and toss salads in homemade balsamic vinegar dressing — Voila, a delicious, nutritious, gluten-free meal!

• Shop savvy. When picking up the gluten-free ingredients you’ll need, it’s important to ensure that each product you plan on using have been certified gluten-free or made in a dedicated gluten-free facility.

• Invite your guest to help. At a loss or a little overwhelmed? Involve your celiac guest in the menu planning, or ask them to bring their favorite dish — most are more than willing to do so. Invite them to shop with you as you gather supplies, or ask to borrow a specific ingredient, like gluten-free tamari or soy sauce (Yes, soy sauce can contain gluten), from their own kitchen.

In the Kitchen

Identifying and purchasing your gluten-free ingredients is the easy part. Preventing cross-contamination, especially in a shared kitchen, is the biggest challenge when it comes to entertaining gluten-free guests. Any food that comes into contact with the tiniest speck of gluten will become contaminated, a serious health risk for someone with celiac disease. Fortunately, identifying your cooking strategy ahead of time and being mindful of a few cross-contamination hazards in the kitchen can help you execute everything safely and easily.

• Fresh & Clean. Wash everything you plan to use completely with soap and hot water, or run it through the dishwasher prior to getting started. Pots, pans, utensils, dishware, measuring cups, and food processors — you name it. Make sure to wipe kitchen counter tops and appliances down as well. Gluten can hide in tile crevices, or stick directly to any surface when wet — so use disinfecting sprays and wipes, or soap and hot water when you clean your cooking area.

• Get Organized. Identify a plan for avoiding cross-contamination before you start. Designate certain kitchen supplies, even a special area of the kitchen, for preparing gluten-free foods only. Labeling or color-coding supplies is another easy way to prevent you from accidentally contaminating anything as you are cooking. Customize your strategy to your kitchen and cooking habits — there’s no right or wrong way, as long as your gluten-free food stays 100% safe from start to finish.

Here are a few tips for preventing cross-contact as you cook:

• Don’t Rush. Being diligent and careful is the best way to ensure the safety of your meal. While allotting extra time to cook sounds simple and easy enough, when you’re crunched for time and hurrying to prepare your menu, it’s much easier to make a mistake.

• Enlist a Sous Chef. Preparing two separate menus in an effort to accommodate your special diet guests is a large undertaking, especially for just one chef — so enlist a friend to help you in the kitchen. Or better yet, invite your gluten-free guest to help you cook. Appoint one chef to the non-gluten-free dishes and the other to the gluten-free meal. You can greatly minimize the risk of cross-contamination if only one person is responsible for cooking your gluten-free items from start to finish.

• Prepare Gluten-Free Foods First. Many people don’t have enough kitchen supplies to cook your gluten-free meal separately using designated pans, colanders, or utensils. Should you need to use something to prepare both your gluten-free and nongluten-free items, use your clean tools to prepare the gluten-free items first. This also goes for kitchen surfaces, appliances, etc. If you accidentally use any gluten-free utensils, such as a spatula or carving knife, on something that isn’t gluten-free, replace it or clean it thoroughly before you continue cooking your gluten-free dish. Once gluten has touched something in the kitchen, it cannot come in contact with gluten-free foods again.

• Lids & Foil Are Your Friends. If you decide to prepare everything together, keep your gluten-free foods completely covered and separated. Lids and aluminum foil are easy ways to protect your gluten-free foods, in the oven, on the grill — wherever you’re cooking.