Going Gluten Free For Christmas
Having food allergies and sensitivities can sometimes limit the excitement of holiday dinners due to the smaller number of dishes one might be able to consume. Any time of the year is a minefield for people with coeliac disease, but it’s the Christmas holiday season that seems to be built around food. On top of it, Christmas is supposed to live up to our idealized memories from Christmas past. Perhaps an impossible task under the best of circumstances. When you take gluten out of the picture, it affects not only the food you want to eat but it also changes all the events where food is an important component and that seems to be the majority of events all around Christmas.
What’s the first thing you think about when you think about Christmas?
If some special food is not the first thing that jumps into your mind, it will probably be the second or third thing you think about. Odds are that your special food contains wheat, rye or barley, all off limits in coeliac disease. Often these foods are associated with specific activities around the holidays- it is a special activity you only do once a year and a special treat to go with it.
For many of us the last six weeks of the year is the biggest social time of the year with Christmas parties from work, drinks with the neighbours, dinner with friends, and all the various family events with various pieces of the extended family. Of all the events, dinner at someone’s home is probably the trickiest to handle when you eat gluten free. Restaurants and caterers are being paid to make you a meal that is safe, but how do you be a good guest without getting sick?
The most important thing about being a good gluten free guest is forgetting what you were taught about being a good guest. The worst possible thing to do is to show up for dinner and then let your host know you have dietary restrictions. Put yourself in their shoes – imagine your friend announces she is vegan just as you take the leg of lamb out the oven. You will feel embarrassed and a bit angry as you try and put together a vegan meal.
If you do not give your host a heads up or opportunity to prepare you might be left with an empty plate and despondent host. Gluten free is not always easy to create at the last minute. It is important to be polite and to recognize that your host will try hard, and you need to give them a chance.
There are a number of ways you can help:
Call in advance to discuss the menu:
Assist your host in substitutions and also where to source them. If need be, explain that you have a medical requirement to avoid even tiny amounts of certain foods. If there are concerns, offer to review ingredients over a whatsapp picture.
Does this sound too pushy? Unfortunately, this is one of your new healthcare responsibilities. This is one of your medical treatments. If you have diabetes, you would give yourself insulin shots. This is your ‘insulin shot’ equivalent. It may be unpleasant and not what you want to do. Over time it will get easier.
Offer to drop off some ingredients especially if your host is an adventurous foodie:
For the host that is not as confident in the kitchen you can even offer to bring your gluten free alternative option. If you have been invited to a braai, offer to bring your small grid to put on top of their grid to safely braai your food.
It can be hard for people who don’t think about gluten free regularly to understand that even small amounts of gluten can make their guests ill. Let them know that crumbs transferred on a knife or in a baking dish can be enough to cause problems for you. It won’t work for you to just pick the croutons out the salad or leave the noodles in your soup bowl or eat the filling of the pie and leave the crust. You need a salad that has never contained croutons and a soup made without wheat noodles.
Offer to bring a dish to share:
Desserts are often hard for people who don’t eat gluten free foods to imagine. Ideally bring something that you have tested on other people before, so that your host’s first experience of gluten free won’t feel like Styrofoam.
Communication is the key to a great experience and most hosts will appreciate you taking time to help them understand your condition so that the event can be fun, safe and enjoyable for all who attend.