Special Occasions and the Gluten-Free Diet

Amy Jones, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a dietitian and celiac disease support group leader from Bellefontaine, Ohio.

Q: My best friend is getting married this summer, and they are having a served sit-down dinner at the reception. I’m in the wedding and very excited, but the dinner has me worried. How can I get a safe meal without bothering my friend? She’s already so busy with everything else.

A: Weddings can be exciting, but they can also be stressful for guests following a gluten-free diet. Because you are in the wedding, I think it’s OK to have a conversation with the bride about your meal at the reception. You might be surprised—maybe she already thought about having a gluten-free meal available for you! If she hasn’t, you can offer to contact the caterer to ask what options might be available. Most catering companies are used to dealing with special diet requests, including gluten free. If the bride and groom have already set a menu, ask the caterer what will be served and how it might be modified to be gluten free. For example, will the entrée have a breading or sauce? If so, could a plain piece be set aside for you and cooked in a clean pan? If there is a cocktail hour before the reception, will there be veggies, shrimp or cheese available to nibble?

If the meal absolutely cannot be made gluten free, or if you don’t feel comfortable after speaking with the caterer, plan to eat a larger meal beforehand, and then bring along snacks to tide you over. If you think you’ll feel left out when it’s time for cake, also plan to bring along a sweet treat to enjoy!

Q: My daughter is going on an eighth-grade field trip for three days to Washington, D.C., this spring. It’s the longest she’s been away from me since her celiac disease diagnosis five years ago. She’s very comfortable with the gluten-free diet and will speak up for herself, but I’m still a little worried. Are there any steps I can take to help make sure she has a fun, safe experience?

A: School field trips, especially ones that involve overnights and meals away from home, can be worrisome for any parent. If a tour company is managing the trip, give them a call to see which restaurants the students will visit on the trip, as well as which hotel they are staying in. If the restaurants have gluten-free options, ask if students will be allowed to order from the menu. If there will be opportunities to eat in local restaurants, consider contacting the local celiac support groups for recommendations.

Ask whether your daughter can bring an extra carry-on bag with snacks and shelf-stable meals; these present a good option when a gluten-free menu isn’t available. Gluten-free pretzels, energy bars, popcorn, fruit cups, tuna packets and peanut butter are all easy and portable. If she has access to a microwave in the hotel, little cups of gluten-free macaroni and cheese will also work. Don’t forget to send plastic spoons and napkins, too!

If breakfast will be eaten at the hotel, there may be gluten-free bread or bagels available, but she still should bring toaster bags because the toaster in the breakfast area will likely be shared with regular bread and bagels. Yogurt, fruit, boiled eggs, cheese and gluten-free cereal with milk are a great way to start a day of sightseeing. Also consider sending packets of instant gluten-free oatmeal or grits that can be mixed with hot water.

Q: My new co-workers invited me to a cookout. I would love to go, but this is my first summer on the gluten-free diet, and I’m a little bit nervous. What kind of things should I watch out for?

A: A summer cookout can be a lot of fun, and you can eat safely with a little planning. If you choose to disclose that you are on the gluten-free diet before the cookout, it may help open a dialogue with your hosts about basic cross-contamination prevention. For example, you can ask about squeeze bottles of condiments or making sure there are enough serving utensils, so they don’t get moved around from dish to dish.

Be sure to bring a gluten-free dish to enjoy; salad, chips and salsa, or even a dessert are all good choices. That way, if you are uncertain about other foods, you will have something to eat. If at all possible, stick to meat that is plain. Chicken, beef and many (but not all) hot dogs are gluten free. If you don’t know what ingredients the marinade contains, it’s best to steer clear as some contain soy sauce or beer. Some seasoning blends also contain wheat, so try to get a piece of meat that has not been preseasoned.

Take foil with you and ask the host to wrap your meat or veggies before cooking on a shared grill so you’ll enjoy all that grilled flavor without the risk of cross-contamination. Bring a gluten-free bun or tortilla, or wrap your sandwich in lettuce. Be cautious with side dishes like baked beans or salads that may contain hidden croutons. Avoid veggie burgers as many contain wheat. Ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise in squeeze bottles are safe choices. If adult beverages are being served, bring along a safe choice like gluten-free beer or hard cider. 

-By Amy Jones 

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