Safe eating as a Coeliac guest

You’ve been invited for a birthday or Christmas meal with extended family.  How nice to be invited, but if it’s early in your gluten free adventure, anxiety may take over.

“What will I do? How can I eat safely?  Should I just take my own food? “

 To answer these thoughts, you need to think about the person preparing your meal and what type of person they are.

  1. How knowledgeable is the host on gluten free catering?
  2. How likely are they to follow your requests and take your requirements seriously?
  3. How good is their attention to detail?

Type 1.  The host is AMAZING!!!  This person knows what’s going on, listens to your needs, tries their best and you know they will get things right.  Woohoo…we love this host!   Communicate, eat up and enjoy!

 Type 2. The host needs a little help.  This host has great intentions, but needs a guide.  We love this person too, because they try. Even if they need a little overseeing to get things right, they are willing to try and to learn.  Turn up early and help, then you will know exactly what you can eat with confidence.

 Type 3. DANGER!  DANGER!  High Risk!

Through either poor intentions, or good intentions but poor attention to detail, you won’t feel safe eating at this person’s table.  Explain your needs politely, and BYO all your own food. 

We probably have friends or family that fall into all 3 categories.  The world is full of different people and to be honest, we may even have even been type 3 ourselves before diagnosis.

When invited, regardless of which scenario fits, you need to start by communicating with your host.   Explain your requirements up front.  Don’t turn up on the day and expect to be catered for without prewarning.  Give your host a chance to excel, or to accept defeat.  If you don’t know them well, ask your partner or whoever does, for introductions or a phone number beforehand.

Explain that you can’t eat anything with barley, rye, oats or wheat. Keep it simple and stick to those 4 foods without elaborating on the exceptions.  Explain that no part of your food can have “May Contain” warnings for these four ingredients, can touch other foods made from these four ingredients, can share utensils or plates with foods made from these four ingredients or can be cooked in the same water or oil as these four ingredients.  Proper gluten free cooking is not just about leaving the wheat out.

Gauge their reactions and make mental notes of which host type you believe your host to be. Kindly offer to bring your own food or help with the cooking to avoid stress.  Most people will appreciate the offer, and if they aren’t certain they can provide food safely (or you have decided it’s high risk), then you shouldn’t eat their food. 

If your host is type 1 or 2 and wants to cook for you, make sure you ask plenty of questions.  Send them a copy of GF Pantry’s Christmas blogs which highlight many gluten free foods, but will also help identify danger areas.  Common problems include contaminated dips and spreads, flours added to gravy or custards, croutons, crispy noodles and dressings on salads, stuffed meats, shared serving utensils, breadcrumbs on roasted vegetables, contaminated herbs and sauces, and messy crumbs on preparation areas.   GF Pantry has gravy mixes, salad dressings and custard powders to help, but most people are happy to leave the salad undressed if required, or provide a separate butter container once they understand.

We are all different.  Cooking with the chance of making someone sick can be highly stressful. Don’t be surprised if people need help, or ask you to BYO once the intricacies of providing are understood.  It’s better to BYO, then to eat the wrong food and pay dearly later. If they would like you to bring a plate to share, explain that you may remove your portion before everyone else digs in, to avoid cross contamination.

What happens if you thinks your host is type 1 or 2 but everything goes wrong and you realise on the day that you can’t eat safely?

Firstly, remember you don’t have to make yourself sick, in order to be nice. Just politely decline.

And secondly don’t cheat.  If you are intolerant you will know what your limits are.  If you are coeliac, any gluten is a big NO.  Don’t pick around the meat, leaving the stuffing to the side, don’t just eat the pie filling without the crust, and don’t lick the icing off the gorgeous cake.  Whether you have obvious symptoms or not, you will be doing harm.

Unfortunately no matter how much preparation you do, sometimes it just doesn’t work.  That’s how life goes!  Ask for a piece of fruit, an egg or the leftover carrots from the crisper, and grab your emergency snacks.  Make sure you always have something extra delicious in there for occasions such as these, and try not to make the well-meaning host feel disappointed.  The desire not to hurt people who have made an effort is usually strong, but staying true to your health is important.  Just as Aunt Martha wouldn’t smoke a pack of cigarettes (or any other vice you feel is appropriate), you don’t need to make yourself sick with a poison.  And sometimes if you gently explain it that way, it may help.   Thank people for making an effort, but clearly explain the situation and eat your own supplies. 

If you can’t share the festive food, it’s hard not to feel left out.  Remember you were invited because of who you are, not because you eat like everyone else.  If they don’t understand or get things wrong, try and remember what you thought coeliac disease meant before you were diagnosed.  It’s not easy to get everything right. 

And if good old Uncle Bert is suggesting “A little bit of gluten won’t hurt you love,” remember that he’s also pushing your sister to find a boyfriend, your cousin to have a baby and your mum to leave your dad.  Ask yourself…does it really matter what he thinks?

The real purpose of a shared celebration meal is not the body’s fuel you ingest, but the social aspects of the gathering.  Remember you are there to chat, tell tales, laugh, and exchange good will.  Sing Happy Birthday or Christmas Carols with good cheer and enjoy the time you have together.  Sharing food is just one part of the occasion, so enjoy yourself.