I have some really fantastic friends who have wanted to have me over as a dinner guest. And they were willing to bend over backward to try and make me gluten free food.
The issue this poses is that, unless you or an immediate family member has celiac disease, you truly don’t know how to accommodate a dinner guest with celiac disease.
It’s not that people aren’t smart and capable, it’s that gluten is insidious. And unless your kitchen is gluten free, then the food prepared in it isn’t gluten free.
1. ASK US IF WE’D LIKE TO BRING OUR OWN FOOD & DRINK
Honestly, the absolute best way you can make a celiac feel comfortable is to let us know we are welcome to bring our own food and drink to your home.
There’s often an awkward dance for a celiac dinner guest with regard to: when do I show up, how long do I stay, and when do I leave so I can eat. I always try to schedule things to minimize the weirdness, especially for a long visit.
I’ve shown up late to people’s homes and left early in order to take care of my own need to eat. And it kind of sucks when you’re at someone’s house and having a good time, but it’s been 6 hours and your need to eat forces you to leave.
Many celiacs probably won’t feel comfortable asking if they can bring their own food because it can be perceived as rude. So offer!
2. PLEASE DON’T MAKE US FOOD
When you make gluten free food for a celiac dinner guest, the only thing you accomplish is making everyone feel bad. It’s a blunt statement, but it’s true.
And I know your desire to cook for us comes from the bottom of your heart and is born from a sincere desire to be thoughtful. But please, don’t do it.
Celiac disease isn’t an allergy, it’s an autoimmune response to trace amounts of gluten. That means if you prepare gluten-containing food in your kitchen, there will be cross-contamination in any gluten free food you make, and a celiac will get sick from it.
So when you say, “I baked [insert food here] just for you,” it breaks our hearts. If we eat it to spare your feelings, it wrecks us physically and then you try to do something thoughtful (and physically damaging to us) every time.
And if we tell you we can’t eat it, we worry about hurting your feeling and/or damaging our relationship with you.
3. BUY PACKAGED, CERTIFIED, GLUTEN FREE FOOD
If you really want to provide something for your celiac dinner guest, purchase only packaged food items that are certified gluten free.
But be aware that some celiacs have an auto-immune response to even certified gluten free foods. So don’t be offended if they can’t eat what you purchase.
Resist the urge to take the food out of its container—don’t put chips in a bowl, don’t set cookies on a plate. Leave the food sealed in its original packaging, and have it set aside for your celiac guest only.
I’ve gone to people’s homes where they’ve been kind enough to purchase gluten free snacks, but they’re out on the table in open containers with all the other food.
Cross-contamination takes very little to occur (we’re talking trace amounts of gluten) and it will make a celiac very sick.
4. FRUITS & VEGGIES
If you want to have fruit available, make sure it’s food that peels—where any contaminated skin can be removed like bananas and oranges.
If you want to offer vegetables, make sure they’re pre-cut in their original sealed container. If you’ve cut them in your home, cross contamination is an issue.
5. ASK YOUR DINNER GUEST ABOUT OTHER FOOD ISSUES
Most celiacs have a multiplicity of issues—celiac disease is a chronic condition that usually has several “friends” along for the ride. More is definitely not merrier for us.
So if you want to successfully purchase gluten free food for your dinner guest, ask if they have any other foods they need to avoid. Many celiacs also have to avoid dairy, refined sugar, corn, and soy. Some celiacs have to avoid all grains.
Shopping for a celiac can be a challenge (probably the understatement of the year). So it may be easiest to simply ask them what to buy!
Tell them you really want to have some food available for them and ask them what brand, flavor, etc. of packaged food or drink they are able to consume.
When dealing with someone who has celiac disease, food surprises and homemade food gestures are almost never a good thing. Be thoughtful by asking your celiac guest what they would like you to do for them.
I’ve spent a lot of my celiac years sitting and watching people eat. It’s not fun. Always let your celiac dinner guest know they are welcome to bring their own food over so they can enjoy the social event of eating with everyone else!