(This post was updated November 24, 2014)
Well whether we like it or not, the holidays really are upon us.  Many of us are already thinking about Thanksgiving dinner — some may be contently planning knowing they’ll be cooking their own gluten-free dinner, while others may be “white knuckling” it until Thanksgiving, worried they’ll get glutened by a well-meaning friend, family member or co-worker.

I, myself do not have celiac disease, although my daughter and brother do, and my dad eats gluten -free, and when I attended the General Mills blogger summit recently, I was struck by a common word people were using: fear.  Fearful to get glutened, fearful (in some cases) to allow others to cook for them, fearful (in some cases) about being impolite and speaking up  if they can’t eat something.  It’s one thing to avoid a food because you’re on a diet for weight loss, it’s another thing to be scared of eating anything from a spread that could have a hidden “landmine” of gluten.

This post is for the people who want to cook for gluten-free eaters and the celiacs who want to drop them a casual hint 🙂

Well-meaning hosts: consider this when offering to cook gluten free

1. If you don’t understand it, please don’t do it.  We are okay with it!

It took many of us months and years to understand the gluten free diet, cooking strategies and ways to prevent cross contamination before we really felt comfortable with it.  We don’t expect anyone to be an expert in a day.  And as a result that makes us fearful that any gluten-free food you make will actually contain gluten.  This is something some folks will never say to you for fear of being impolite.

Gluten free means no wheat, barley, rye, oats (that aren’t labeled gluten free), spelt, durum, brown flour, malt, and more as reported by the Celiac Support Association. Corn, potatoes and rice are okay (unless the person is particularly sensitive to one of those ingredients as well).

2. If it’s found in a bakery or in a mainstream grocery store, it’s probably not gluten free

I get a lot of questions like, “How about cake, is that gluten free?”  or “Cookies?  are they gluten free?”  The basic answer is yes, anything where flour is an ingredient, 99.9% of the time contains gluten.  Plus, mainstream baking IS gluten full and NOT gluten free.

Our grocery stores have come a long way when it comes to carrying gluten-free products.  But only in 2014 have I started seeing just a few gluten free baked goods appearing in the bakery section of grocery stores.  Udi’s and French Meadow are available there, plus Kowalski’s and Whole Foods have yummy gluten-free baked goods readily available.

The typical pita bread, English muffins, pizza crust, Italian bread, baguettes, bagels, cakes, pies (crusts have gluten), cupcakes that you will find in the bakery section all have gluten. Labels need to be clearly  labeled they are gluten-free before purchasing.

You, the host, are shopping and you don’t see any gluten-free items in the bakery, then you need to check the freezer section.    Bottom line:  unless you’re going to a specialty gluten-free bakery, there is only a small chance you will find any fresh-baked gluten-free goods at a mainstream grocery store’s bakery.

3.  How do you know your ingredients and utensils in your home aren’t already cross-contaminated with gluten?

Please, honestly think about your cooking practices when I pose these questions:

  • Do you regularly double dip when cooking or baking?  In other words, do you use the measuring cup in your all-purpose flour and then just dip it  into the sugar?  If you’re double dipping, the sugar is contaminated  and no longer gluten free.  You can say the same for Crisco, butter, peanut butter, mayonnaise and anything you’re reaching in and scooping out.
  • What about while you’re cooking?  Do you use one utensil to stir up the gluteny turkey stuffing and then use the same spoon to scoop the sweet potatoes?

Your wooden or plastic cutting boards and your colanders are also off limits to people who eat gluten free– they harbor gluten in the nooks and crannies, that even when cleaned in the dishwasher, they aren’t “clean” for us.

4. What will I do about stuffing and gravy?

First, you’re going to have to check to make sure your turkey or ham is gluten free (they can be injected with broths that contain gluten), and gravy is an issue.  Most premade gravy has gluten and anyone who makes it from home usually uses their flour as a thickener.  Corn starch is a viable option to make gluten-free gravy with turkey drippings, but just a forewarning — it’s clear and gelatinous– basically tastes fine,  but looks funky.  You could ask your gluten free guest to bring some gluten free flour to thicken your gravy so it is safe for everyone.

Second, only in the last two or so years have companies started making gluten-free stuffing.  Which makes for a much quicker prep for we gluten free eaters who don’t have time to make it from scratch.  Check out this post on my stuffing taste test.   Don’t stuff the turkey with regular stuffing. If you do, you will contaminate the turkey.

5. Let’s barbecue some ribs!

Again you must check the gluten-contamination factor of your grill. Do you put gluten on there? In other words, do you put hamburger on there that has bread crumbs in it or grill your hamburger buns, or put steak on with a gluteny marinade?  If you don’t know– the only way to use the grill in this case is to put the gluten-free item on aluminum foil.  But also look for a gluten-free barbecue sauce.  We use Sweet Baby Ray’s.  Please keep in mind not all BBQ sauces are gluten-free.

6. Don’t assume

Read labels. Example:  Tostitos are gluten free— the label mostly talks about corn, oil and salt, but if you grab the one kind of Tostitos made from flour — that’s a problem.  Double check the label.  That one will say wheat in it.

Potatoes aren’t always just potatoes.  You’d think they should be, but if you’re getting something out of the frozen section, check ingredients!  Wheat will be listed if it’s in there — but gluten is NOT required to be put on a label if it is in a product.   Some frozen potatoes are just that — potatoes.  Go for the simple ones and stay away from the fancy stuff.

So what can you have around the house for a gathering?

Wine, coffee, Blue Diamond Nut Thins, cheese, or veggies with Wishbone Ranch dressing as the dip. Check out Trader Joe’s for some goodies:  They have a great list here which includes some sweets too!

There is a Gluten-Free Rice Krispie brand cereal.  Please check that out, use butter and get Jet Puffed marshmallows to make a quick and easy pan of gluten-free Rice Krispie bars!

None of us actually wants to think that our cooking would make someone sick.  But it is possible in this case — even for the cooks with the best of intentions.  Please be open to talking with your gluten-free family member or friend to see what they can do to help you make this as safe of an experience as possible.

If you have some other quick suggestions on food or other tips — feel free to post them below!

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12 Responses to “Cooking Gluten-Free for Celiac Family or Friends? Please read this first!”

  1. Another great tip for the hostess:

    Please, please, please do NOT feel offended if your gluten intolerant guest brings a food item and eats only that! We always bring enough to share, but we want to feel secure in having an item we feel safe with.

    As I tell folks over and over again: truly, it’s not about the food! Yes, it’s a large part of our social gatherings but we have learned to enjoy being with the people we care about and not focusing on the food.

  2. This is a great post! My annual GF turkey list is finally up for 2010

  3. I can understand the fear. But people should not worry about offending others. It’s similar to a diabetic telling others he cannot each a certain dish. It’s a disease. Everybody is different though. I would rather someone bring something that they can eat verse trying to figure out how to make something they can.

  4. I just wanted to respond to this saying that I have celiac disease and where this said, Rice Krispies cereal seems simple enough, but in actuality it has malt. Gluten-free folks cannot eat this…… this is false. I have eaten rice krispies and have thoroughly checked them and found them to be gluten free. I have eaten them with no negative effects at all.

  5. Thank you Ashley, Thank you for your comment but right on the Kellogg’s website it states: “Rice Krispies have a small amount of malt flavoring, made from barley.” Source: http://www.kelloggsnutrition.com/util/faq.html#3b
    Barley contains gluten.

    Rice Krispies have been this way for as long as my daughter has had celiac — 10 years. Anyone with celiac disease should not be eating this as it will cause damage, even if you don’t necessarily react. Your best bet is to find a gluten-free “rice crispy”-type of cereal.
    Again, thank you for checking out thesavvyceliac.com I hope you come back!

  6. The list from Trader Joe’s has products that have a gluten free ingredient list, but not certified. My Celiac toddler had symptoms from some snacks that were made on shared equipment and/or shared facility, so we can only do corn chips etc. for him that are certified. The little G for gluten free I think inspired more confidence than it should have in me. Learned my lesson. Since I live 2 blocks from a Trader Joe’s I think it was wishful thinking.

  7. Thank you Sarah.
    It is interesting how foods affect different people. My brother is highly sensitive/reactive and has no trouble with the gf mac an cheese. My daughter gets her blood tested annually and it all comes out fantastic each year even though she often eats the Trade Joe’s GF brown rice noodles.

  8. I love this post so much that I sent it to all of our relatives before we saw them for the holidays. It made eating at their places a lot easier for me, and made our hosts more comfortable as well. Thanks so much for this.

    I’ve also added you as a GF resource on my blog Food & Fire.

  9. Excellent post!! However, I am confused. Didn’t Kellog’s come out with a GF Rice Krispies? (http://www2.kelloggs.com/ProductDetail.aspx?id=26251) Maybe that is what Ashley is eating? I seem to recall a post on them, not such a great review . . .

  10. CAri, thanks for the feedback. This post was written last year. I will update the Rice Krispies info…thanks again!!!

  11. Oh, sorry, I didn’t look at the date, I just clicked onto it from the FB page.

  12. I’ve had good luck with sticking to corn, potato, rice, and tapioca, as my main gluten free diet ingredients. First I found some starches to be gluten free but then found out it depends on the type of starch. So many things to keep in mind

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