Surviving the Holidays, Gluten-Free

Our Top 10 Tips

If you’re like my family, food is a big part of any gathering, but especially over the holidays! There are tons of holiday food traditions, and being celiac and having to eat gluten-free can pose a whole set of potential stressors. Being the mom of a celiac child, I go above and beyond to make sure my son never feels left out and can participate and enjoy any gathering. The key is being organized, planning ahead — and being proactive! Last minute and winging it do not always work so well if you want to enjoy food at an event or party. Here are some tips we’ve learned along the way, and live by…

  1. I said this already, but it bears repeating… first and foremost, be proactive. Plan ahead, call ahead, bring a dish, eat before you go. It’s all about thinking ahead.
  2. Offer to host! That way you can make sure there’s food that’s been prepared safely. There are many holiday events, so we always manage to host at least one, and we can control the menu and food prep, which takes away the guesswork.
  3. If you’re going to a friend’s or family’s home, ask your hosts about the menu. Offer to bring a dish for everyone: an app, a main, a dessert. You will know you can eat it, and everyone else can enjoy it too. At a minimum, bring similar food for yourself. For instance, if the host is serving chocolate cupcakes for dessert, bring yourself a gluten-free cupcake. If you’re drinking, bring something you can drink such as wine or gluten-free beer.
  4. Talk to your hosts ahead of time about your needs, and when appropriate: educate them! It’s not that people don’t care, in fact it’s usually the opposite. They want you to have something you can safely enjoy, and may even want to prepare it, but they don’t know the nuances of cross-contamination. For example, many people don’t know that preparing food with a spoon that’s been used with regular pasta can make someone with celiac disease sick. Most folks will accommodate when they can. Give some simple tips like using separate clean metal spoons instead of wooden ones.
  5. If you’re going to a restaurant, call ahead and speak with the manager or the chef. Most places will make accommodations if they are aware or your needs and ready for you. Again, educate about cross-contamination when appropriate.
  6. No matter where you are, don’t be shy! Make your plates first. Whether it’s apps or main courses, take your food first so you reduce the risk of cross-contamination. I even make a second plate, cover it and put it aside in case my son wants more. If you arrive late, ask the host or the restaurant to get fresh food.
  7. If you’ve planned ahead and something goes wrong — someone dips a cracker in the dip you made —don’t freak out! Look for naturally gluten-free food like a fruit platter, veggies or cheese (just make sure they’re not contaminated by crackers or a dip), munch on your own snacks (always travel with snacks!), or just enjoy the party and plan on eating afterward!
  8. Perhaps you’re going to a large party, or you don’t know the host well, or for whatever reason you’re not comfortable making a big deal about your food needs. Or perhaps the host can’t accommodate you in that situation. In those cases, bring your own food and heat it up — there’s no need to go hungry!
  9. When unsure or uncomfortable, don’t eat!
  10. Which brings me to my last tip: Eat before you go! Even if you know there will be some safe options, there’s no need to show up starving. We always feed my son a snack or meal before we go. That way he can just enjoy the event, and if he’s not ravenous, it’s more likely he’ll be happy with whatever is safely gluten-free.

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