5 Tips for Making Gluten Free Guests Feel at Home for the Holidays

Connecting with other gluten-free foodies and health conscious folks is a top priority for me. That means interacting here on BlogHer has been on my (lengthy) “to-do” list for some time. Instead of waiting for the New Year to jump in, I decided the holidays are the perfect time to start sharing here.

Right now, for those of us who must live gluten-free, a successful gluten-free holiday is at the top of the list. If you have Celiac disease, like me, or another food-related illness that requires a gluten-free diet, you already know there are a few more challenges this time of year – holiday parties, cookie swaps, family get-togethers – they can all pose a “gluten hazard”.

But how about for those who aren’t gluten-free but will be hosting gluten-free family as guests during the holidays? It can be complicated.  

While there’s always more to learn about living gluten free, I’ve compiled 5 of my most useful tips to help you keep the holidays merry (and safe!) for your gluten-free guests this year. (If you are gluten-free and plan on visiting non-gf relatives this holiday season, you may want to share this post with them! It may ease their mind on how to keep you safe and happy this Christmas.)

5 Tips for Making Gluten Free Guests Feel at Home for the Holidays

1. Chat about it. 

Talk to your guests about their special diet as far in advance of their visit as possible. If you’re hosting out of town friends or family who are gluten-free, you’ll need to think beyond a single meal. Take into consideration points like the length of their stay, their personal food preferences, all dietary restrictions – remember, many individuals with Celiac disease or another gluten-related health issue have additional food allergies/intolerances – and whether or not they are comfortable dining out.

2. Plan ahead.

Once you learn a bit more about your guests’ dietary needs, it’s time to plan. Consider planning menus in advance for the main meal of the day (for most of us, that’s dinner), what you will serve for smaller meals like breakfast and lunch, as well as what snacks you plan to have on hand. If you plan to dine out with your guests, research area restaurants that can accommodate their special diet and call ahead to be sure the kitchen staff understands a gluten-free diet.

3. Menu planning.

When it comes to feeding a “mixed group” – gluten free and non-gluten free individuals – simple usually works best, especially for the host. When planning your meals, keep in mind all the nutritious, naturally gluten free foods that exist. For ideas, check out my “No Thought Required” list of gluten free foods.

Also remember, just because they are eating gluten-free doesn’t mean your guests can’t enjoy festive holiday treats. Simple recipes like my Christmas Meringue Stars and Gingerbread Bites are so simple, and anyone will love to help themselves to these sweet nibbles!

4. Shop smart.

Before your guests arrive, a shopping trip is in order. To keep it affordable, stick with mainstream gluten-free foods, like those listed in my “No Thought Required” food list. For foods like crackers, cookies and breads there are several brands available for purchase, although they are typically quite expensive. Because someone’s health is at risk, it is best to be sure prepackaged foods you purchase are “certified gluten free”. This will be clearly noted on the food label. You can learn more about gluten free certification in my article, “Gluten Free Certification…Three Ways“.

5. Kitchen cleanup.

While your kitchen may be in tip-top shape, if it is not a dedicated gluten-free kitchen, there is a good chance it’s in need of some cleaning before you begin preparing food for your guests. That’s because the risk of cross-contamination is serious for individuals on a gluten-free diet. Even a small particle of gluten-containing food can cause health problems for an individual with Celiac disease or other gluten-related illness.

While these are not all of them, here are several tips to help you keep meals safe and gluten-free when cooking in a non-gluten free kitchen:

  • Before you begin preparing any food (even cutting up fresh fruit or veggies for a snack), be sure to wipe all counter tops, faucets, appliances (especially handles), etc. to remove any traces of gluten. Gluten can hide in even the smallest cracks and crevices.
  • Wash all dishes, baking pans, glasses and utensils you plan to use to prepare and serve your gluten free meal. The dishwasher is a great idea for this, although washing in hot soapy water is also fine.
  • Be sure to consider small kitchen appliances like the food processor, blender and immersion blender, too.
  • Keep in mind utensils like wooden spoons and other items made of wood (like serving bowls and cutting boards) can harbor unseen gluten. Also, beware of using porous baking vessels (like those made of cast iron or clay), as they may also harbor gluten particles.
  • If you plan to serve gluten-containing foods as well as gluten free foods, always try to sanitize the kitchen, appliances and cookware, then prepare the gluten free foods first. Once prepared, store the gluten free foods, then work on the dishes that contain gluten ingredients. Be sure to keep gluten free dishes separate from gluten-containing foods at all times.
  • Never use the same serving utensils for gluten free and gluten-filled foods.
  • Toasters used for toasting gluten-containing breads are NOT suitable for toasting gluten free breads.

Always remember, there is no need to be nervous or fearful when hosting gluten-free guests. The key is to be diligent in your communication, planning, preparation and serving.

Of course, if at any time you are in doubt about whether or not a food is 100% gluten-free, never serve it to your guests. Their health is at stake, and no food is worth what a person with Celiac disease goes through when they consume gluten.

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