Cooking Gluten-Free Meals For Guests

I’ll start this post by saying when someone invites me over to their house for dinner, I don’t mean to do it, but I know I must cringe. The thought of someone trying to prepare a gluten-free meal for our family scares the begibbies out of me. I’m not going to lie or sugarcoat it.

You may think that wouldn’t be true, that somehow I’m different maybe. That because I wrote the cookbook it’s easier on our family, but it isn’t.

There are few people I trust enough to plan a safe gluten-free, allergen-free meal for me. I don’t know if I even trust my own family to cook for me and some of them have celiac. But remember, too, we also have other food intolerances and the rest of my celiac family is not as sensitive as our family is. My own mother tried cooking for me recently and I was sick as a dog.

Cooking Safely for a Guest Following a Gluten-Free or Allergen-Free Diet

In order to cook safely for us, you really have to understand and do your homework on what are safe foods and safe practices for preparing food for someone on a gluten-free diet. Not everyone is willing to do this. I understand that. It’s a lot to ask.

But please also understand that I don’t think I want to spend the next week being sick just to come over and have dinner with you. Don’t get me wrong – our family loves the fun, being together, laughing – but a week of brain fog, nausea, headaches, body aches, memory loss, ears ringing and a slew of other reactions just isn’t worth it to us.

So after reading that last paragraph, can you see why I was hesitant about even writing this post? Cooking gluten-free meals for guests who have celiac disease and are following a gluten-free diet is not the easiest thing to pull off and accomplish without someone getting sick.

Inviting Those on a Gluten-Free Diet for Dinner

If you’re cooking gluten-free meals for guests, here are a few things to consider first:

1)  Ask your guests if they’d prefer to bring their own food with them. My personal choice. Tell me what you’re preparing and I’ll prepare something similar that is safe for us to eat. That’s the absolute easiest way to have a guest over who has celiac or food intolerances. We don’t feel left out, we’re not hungry all night and we leave your house happy and more importantly, not sick.

2)  Don’t make a huge deal about us having to eat differently or belittle us for it. It’s hard enough and often isolating. If we come with our own food and you don’t even mention it, that would be fine by us.

3)  Understand that eating even the tiniest amount of gluten or other protein in a food we’re intolerant to will cause a reaction. Our immune system becomes under attack and our whole week following this one meal can be a nightmare.

4)  Don’t be offended if we don’t want to eat something you assure us is gluten-free that you’ve taken the time to prepare. Many well meaning people have tried to prepare foods for us and unless you’re very knowledgeable in regards to gluten-free cooking, we’d rather not take the chance. Often I’ve had people that were so proud of the gluten-free dish they had prepared for me, that I couldn’t bring myself to tell them I couldn’t eat it, because it contained some ingredient I couldn’t have or because they’d prepared it using gluten laden utensils and pans. Not anymore. I just don’t want to give up a week or two of my life anymore to make you feel good.

An Educated Host Can Serve a Safe Gluten-Free Meal

It can be done. I’m a strong believer in anything being possible. It takes some planning and someone who takes the time to truly understand how foods can effect our health.

Now after reading the four points above to consider and you still for some reason want to cook for a gluten-free guest or someone with food intolerances, here are some ways to make that more enjoyable for everyone:

  • Know what your guest can and cannot eat. Plan your menu and then go over all the ingredients with your guest ahead of time.
  • Have your gluten-free guest in the kitchen with you while preparing the meal to make sure every ingredient is actually gluten-free and safe to eat.
  • Keep things fresh, plain and simple. Cooking an elaborate meal leaves more room for error.
  • Try to avoid any processed foods.
  • Clean all cooking utensils, pans, measuring cups and spoons in the dishwasher.
  • Gluten can harbor in porous surfaces such as wooden utensils, wooden cutting boards and Teflon coated pots and pans.
  • If you’ve ever scooped your measuring cup from the flour into the sugar – the sugar is now contaminated with gluten. But please don’t even try to make me a gluten-free dessert! There’s not enough room in this post for all the possibilities for cross-contamination that could happen. Fresh fruit would be better or ask your guest to bring dessert.
  • Clean all counters – gluten crumbs are everywhere.
  • Avoid the toaster.
  • Use a new sponge (so many people don’t think of that) and a clean dish towel and pot holders.
  • Condiments – Any already opened condiments or butter and spreads in your home have probably been contaminated by gluten.
  • Flour can stay in the air for 24 hours. Depending on how sensitive your guest is, try not to use wheat flour the day before and of their visit.
  • Do you use a salt bowl? Some people keep their salt on the counter in a bowl (my mom) and reach in and grab a few pinches to season their food. Usually this bowl of salt will become contaminated by gluten.
  • Baking Sprays – Many baking sprays contain wheat flour now and almost all contain soy.
  • Sometimes gluten gets stuck in the holes of a colander or strainer.
  • If your gluten-free guest brings their own food, place it in a different serving area to avoid cross-contamination from other foods.
  • Grilling Tips – scrub the grill plates heavily and then wash with soap and water. Heating the grill up to 650 degrees for 30 minutes will break down the protein in gluten. You could then cook your food on cedar planks as an extra precaution. Or better yet, cook your food in a separate pan in the grill. Some people cook over aluminum foil as an added precaution. Many assume grilling foods is safe for those on a gluten-free diet, but it also carries a high risk of cross contamination from previously grilled marinated meats and also hamburger and hot dog buns that have been toasted on the grill.
  • When in doubt – Leave It Out! If you’re not sure that something is gluten-free or allergen-free, leave it out.
  • Read at least 100 more articles on the web about what gluten is, hidden sources of gluten, gluten-free cooking and how to follow a gluten-free diet. In other words, educate yourself. Okay, maybe that’s being a little overly cautious. Read at least 92. Knowledge is the key to understanding. It always is, in any area of life this is true. Educated people always make better decisions. And if this a good friend or family member take the time and learn more about what you can do to make them comfortable.
  • The Lemon Herb Chicken recipe is written for hosts who want to invest the time into actually following all the tips above and really want to prepare a meal for someone with food intolerances or with celiac disease on a gluten-free diet. This recipe (I hope) leaves very little room for error. (I’ll add, too, that the recipe is also just a great, easy recipe for anyone following a gluten-free diet to enjoy.) But still I’d have to also add that each and every time you’re eating a meal that someone who is not gluten-free has prepared for you, you’re taking the chance of getting sick. 


The Safest Way to Cook a Gluten-Free Meal For Guests at Your House

I told my husband I was writing this post. He let out a huge sigh. This has always been a concern for us: What to do when someone invites you over to their house when you’re a super sensitive celiac who also has other food intolerances?

He said the same thing I said in number one of the tips above and bears repeating:

1) Ask your guests if they’d prefer to bring their own food with them. My personal choice. Tell me what you’re preparing and I’ll prepare something similar that is safe for us to eat. That’s the absolute easiest way to have a guest over who has celiac or food intolerances. We don’t feel left out, we’re not hungry all night and we leave your house happy and more importantly not sick.

Closing Thoughts

People with celiac and food allergies and intolerances don’t want you to make a big deal of things. We don’t want to impose on you in any way or make you go out of your way to do anything special for us.

That said, we also don’t want to feel isolated and not come to events and gatherings, because you’re afraid to cook for us. We absolutely appreciate the understanding people who read all this and still love us enough and enjoy our company enough to invite us over for a get together. True friends indeed!

Image credit: duha127 / 123RF Stock Photo

Update on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 8:21AM

For those of you who follow my blog, you may remember my dad had a stroke in August. He’s doing well and we moved him up to a nursing home here closer to all of us while he’s in rehab. My mother came to live with my sister. This past week, my mother had a stroke. It did not turn out to be the Christmas celebration we had all hoped for this year. Instead, it was back and forth to the hospital. I was staying with my sister Barbara and I’d brought what little food I could with me, in the rush of all that had happened.

My brother-in-law John told me he could make anything I wanted and he’d make it allergen-free for me. Did I cringe? Yes, but then I remembered this blog post and had him read it and he made the Lemon Herb Chicken. He even went one extra step and emulsified the oil and lemon juice and seasonings with the immersion stick I had brought with me. It was absolutely delicious and I didn’t get sick. The next day I brought some with me to the hospital for lunch.

So, yes, it can be done. My brother-in-law was fanatical about keeping everything gluten and allergen-free for me. If someone will take the time to educate themselves and understand how to prepare a truly gluten-free meal, then yes, it absolutely can be done.

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