Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Savvy Celiac: Cooking Gluten-Free for guests? Read this first!

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 this week, I was really 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 celiacs and the celiacs who want to drop them a casual hint:

I have complied a list of things for these well-meaning family and friends to consider when offering to cook gluten-free for a person who has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

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 guaranteed gluten free –hint if the ingredient label only says “oats” or “oat flour’ — it’s not guaranteed gluten free), spelt, durum, brown flour, malt, and more as reported by the Celiac Sprue Association. Corn, potatoes and rice are okay (unless the person is particularly sensitive to that as well).

2. If it’s baked and found in a mainstream grocery store, it’s probably not gluten-free

Yes, our grocery stores have come a long way when it comes to carrying gluten-free products.  But the only actual grocery store chain that is baking its own gluten-free bread is Whole Foods.  Any other grocery store is bringing in gluten-free bread or baked goods.

IF they have gluten-free bread, you usually will find it in the health food section freezer –not the bakery and not the bread section.  Pita bread, English Muffins, pizza crust, Italian bread, baguettes, bagels, cakes, pies (crusts have gluten), cupcakes all have gluten.  Bottom line:  unless you’re going to a specialty gluten-free bakery, you will likely not find any fresh-baked gluten-free goods at a mainstream grocery store.  And if you ask bakery people about it you’ll likely get a confused look or a quick no that they don’t have that available.

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. You may want to make divinity (which is inherently gluten free — eggs, sugar and corn syrup are the main ingredients I believe), but if your sugar is cross contaminated — a gluten-free person will get sick (or have damage in their gut) if they eat it.

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. I just won’t make stuffing and I’ll get an ice cream cake!

Whoa, you’re still going to have to look at your ingredients for cross contamination.  Plus you’re going to have to check to make sure you 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, looks funky.

And if you’re doing an ice cream cake, you better make sure it’s gluten free.  Dairy Queen’s ice cream cake has crumbles in the middle which contain gluten. Have those removed and double check the other fudgy stuff in the center to make sure it’s gluten free and you’re set. Other places may have cookies or something inside their ice cream cakes too.

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 form flour tortillas– 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 flavored stuff.

Rice Krispies cereal seems simple enough, but in actuality it has malt. Gluten-free folks cannot eat this.

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!

None of us actually wants to think that our cooking would make someone sick.  But it is possible in this case — even to 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 great experience as possible.

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

This post was written by Amy Leger and posted on the Savvy Celiac. Follow her on Twitter: @AmyLeger

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Comments (1)

Less than 1% of Americans have celiac disease, yet there's an increasing amount of buzz regarding the gluten-free diet. Is this simply the latest food trend? Yes, some folks lose weight on a gluten free-diet, but it's most likely due to the resulting drop in calories consumed, not something magical about gluten. Check out the research.