It’s time again to “bring a dish to share”. Mmmm sounds like fun except for the celiac in the corner who’s not eating because she can see just how the tongs from the vegetables are being used to pick up the bread next to it. Or worse, you don’t see the cross-contamination and brave the food. In many ways, the holidays can be tough for people with celiac disease — and the family members who love them.

During the holidays many members of work, groups at church, even old friends gather for a nice meal, shared by all. A hotdish (yes I’m from MinneSOHtah), vegetables, bread and usually a good old fashioned plate of brownies are the staples of this gathering. If you eat a gluten-free diet, how do you cope?

Working the potluck to create a gluten-free advantage

Here are some suggestions on handling a potluck, some ideas are from my parents group, some just from little old me.

Talk to the host/hostess about what you bring: Try not to let people assign your dish. If you would like to bring a gluten-free hotdish so you have more variety, talk to the person who’s having the gathering about it. Offering to bring more food items will likely help you feel more comfortable. One parent suggested bringing both a main dish and a dessert. If you have celiac children, another suggestion from our group is to find out the menu and make your own gluten-free versions so any gluten-free kids don’t feel left out.

Help with placement of the food: At my house, we don’t always have gluten-free-only potlucks. So for example in the summer when we’re having burgers on the grill, I try to keep the buns (which is usually the main gluten item for us) last! So when people go through the line to get their food, the chips, veggies, deviled eggs; anything that might be grabbed by hands is first, before people start touching the buns.

Go through the line first: Once you have seen all the food, and you know what is gluten-free, hit the line right away, before the spoons are shared and the dip is spilled all over the chips. Just be sure to take enough so you won’t desire seconds.

Discuss with the host your food needs: I would want someone with another food sensitivity to alert me to their diet restrictions. I don’t want people to feel left out and I would do what I could to make sure I had a few things handy for them. I also do a reminder of gluten-free manners before everyone eats (this is if the attendee is “out” with his or her celiac disease and is okay with the announcement). Even just this Thanksgiving I reminded family members that we “plop” food instead of touching the plate. Believe it or not, no one rolled their eyes at me; instead they remembered this simple cross-contamination concern.

Eat before or after the gathering: This is honestly not my favorite choice, but if you are truly uncomfortable about the whole thing, this may be the option you choose.

Join a celiac support group: Support groups often have potlucks that are entirely gluten-free. This helps you meet people with celiac disease; you’ll get new recipes, try new foods, and all of it safe to eat.

Ultimately remember what the gathering is all about, as one parent said – “try to focus on the people, and not the food”, and everyone should have a good time.

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