Each month FBC member and nutritionist, Sondi Bruner, looks at ways to make eating with allergies or specific diets easier – whether it’s adapting classic recipes to be allergen friendly or providing tips and tricks to make entertaining for your guests with different diets a breeze! Today, she’s giving us the lowdown on how to cook for gluten-free eaters.
Preparing a meal for someone with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance can be stressful and confusing, particularly if you’re a gluten-free cooking virgin.
Of course you want to be a good host, and I know you don’t want your guests to get sick from something they ate and be stuck in the bathroom all night long. There’s no need to panic, though. With a few essential tips, you can cook a gluten-free meal with confidence and ease.
But before we get started, I want to define the difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance:
Celiac: Patients with celiac disease experience an immune reaction to the proteins in gluten, leading to inflammation and severe damage to the digestive tract, which prevents nutrients from being properly absorbed.
Gluten Intolerance or Gluten Sensitivity: People with gluten intolerance experience similar symptoms to those who have celiac disease, but without the immune reaction and intestinal damage. In many cases, gluten intolerance or sensitivity stems from poor digestion.
If you’ve invited someone with one of these conditions to dinner, here are my recommendations for how to handle it.
1. Ask Your Guest About His/Her Level of Sensitivity
Before you start planning, ask your guest if he or she has celiac disease or gluten intolerance/sensitivity. The answer won’t change your menu options; however, it will impact how you actually prepare the food. It’s also helpful to ask if there are any other allergies or intolerances, as someone with a gluten sensitivity may also have issues with other common allergens, such as dairy.
2. Build Your Meal Using Naturally Gluten-Free Foods
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, spelt, rye, kamut, barley, farro, couscous, bulghur, semolina and more (for a full list, consult the Canadian Celiac Association’s Foods to Avoid). Basically, you’ll find gluten in a lot of carby foods like pasta, bread and pastries.
While some view a gluten-free diet as restrictive, there is actually a ton of naturally gluten-free foods to eat, including:
- every single vegetable and fruit
- nuts and seeds
- beans and legumes
- gluten-free grains such as rice, corn, millet, sorghum and teff
- pseudo-grains like quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and wild rice
There are a lot of food choices here, don’t you think? I suggest making gluten-free dishes that all of your guests can enjoy, rather than creating a special meal for the rogue gluten-free people at the table. For example, you could make fish tacos on corn tortillas with salsa and guac, black bean chili, a vegetable stir-fry over brown rice, or a simple roasted chicken with vegetables. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
3. Select Gluten-Free Alternatives to Glutenous Foods
If you desperately want to make pasta or pizza, there are plenty of delicious gluten-free alternatives to choose from at the grocery store. There are a number of gluten-free pastas and pizza crusts made from rice, quinoa and corn. If you’re looking for a gluten-free bread alternative, check the freezer section at the supermarket. And, for a special treat, you can select from many different brands of gluten-free cookies, cakes, brownies and other goodies.
The one downside to some store-bought gluten-free products is they can be filled with refined ingredients that aren’t great for our health. Feeling adventurous? Try making something gluten-free from scratch. This gluten-free flatbread is my favourite recipe to use as a pizza crust, while this multi-grain nut and seed recipe is the best homemade gluten-free bread I’ve ever had.
4. Keep an Eye Out for Hidden Sources of Gluten
Sometimes, gluten can be hiding in a place we don’t expect it to be. For example, sauces, soups, gravies, and dressings may contain wheat flour as a thickener; gluten may also be hiding in canned beans (flavoured beans or baked beans in particular), ice cream, trail mix, deli meats, or frozen foods.
So how do you know if gluten is hiding in a product? Read labels. Canada’s food labelling laws require manufacturers to list common allergens on their products, so if a package contains gluten, it will be clearly listed on the label.
5. Be Careful of Cross-Contamination
Cross-contamination happens when gluten-free food is prepared, processed or cooked alongside fare that has gluten. If your guest has a gluten intolerance, cross-contamination might be less of an issue.
However, if you have a guest with celiac disease coming over, even small specks or crumbs of gluten can affect him or her. For example, a knife used to cut a wheat bread sandwich can cause a reaction if it’s subsequently used to cut a gluten-free sandwich. Here’s how you can be mindful of cross contamination in your kitchen:
- Scrub everything well: wash the sink, countertops, utensils, pots and pans thoroughly before cooking.
- Try to use glass/stone cookware and stainless steel utensils if you can, as plastic and wood are more porous, making it easier for gluten to hide in there.
- Use plastic wrap, parchment or paper liners for protection: throw a piece of parchment over your cutting board, use muffin liners when baking, or wrap your rolling pin with plastic wrap before working with pastry dough.
- Wash your hands if you’ve been handling glutenous flours or products before cooking gluten-free food.
For more great tips, check out the Canadian Celiac Association’s guide to avoiding cross contamination.
6. Label Dishes Clearly
If you decide to serve foods that contain gluten, ensure you label dishes clearly so your guests can determine which ones are gluten-free. I also recommend having the gluten-free guests serve themselves first, as this reduces the risk of cross-contamination (accidents happen, and sometimes another guest might unknowingly dip a utensil from a glutenous dish into a gluten-free one).
7. Ask Your Guest to Bring a Dish to Share
As with vegetarians or vegans, gluten-free folks are typically happy to bring a delicious dish for everyone to enjoy, so don’t be shy about asking guests to cook something themselves.
What are your best tips for cooking for guests who are gluten-free?
And here are some great summer entertaining allergy friendly remixes to try (they may not all be gluten-free):
- Allergen Friendly Remix: Ice Cream
- Allergen Friendly Remix: The Burger
- Allergen Friendly Remix: Potato Salad
- Allergen Friendly Remis: Sensational Salads
Check out more of Sondi’s Allergen Friendly Remixes for great ideas on revamping your favourite recipes to make them allergen friendly! Got a favourite recipe you’d like to see get an Allergen Friendly Makeover? Let us know in the comments!
Sondi Bruner is a holistic nutritionist, freelance writer and food blogger. She educates people who follow allergen-friendly diets about how to eat simply, deliciously and safely, allowing them to rediscover the pleasure of food. When she’s wearing her writer’s hat, she works with natural health brands to create content that will help their customers live fulfilling, healthful lives. Find out more at www.sondibruner.com. Or you can follow Sondi on Facebook or Twitter